February 2, 2013

"In discussions of the film 'Groundhog Day' on this blog, I’ve noticed a couple of people questioning..."

"... why the Bill Murray character would find Andie McDowell’s Rita deserving of all those years of his devotion and energy. For example, '…[W]hat, exactly, made the lovely but, let’s face it, vapid Rita worthy of Phil’s centuries of effort?'"

Was it centuries? I haven't seen that movie since it came out. I didn't remember the extent of the time frame. I can't picture myself in the mood — ever — to rewatch that one, but I do have a special affinity for stories and, especially, humor that has to do with extravagant comparisons or variations in size. So, here, that would be what appears to be a day is reframed as a century. The single funniest thing I ever heard in my life was: I was cutting someone's hair and I noticed a bright red dot on his scalp. I said: "What's this red dot?" And he said: "That's my Santa Claus hat."

I wish I'd made a tag for this concept long ago, because it would have collected a lot of different things that are impossible to put together retrospectively. It's not like, for example, deciding after 9 years of blogging that I ought to have an Andie McDowell tag. I could easily do a search. Also, that tag could only have one possible name. This other tag... what would I call it? Size? That size thing I like? Size-osity? Big and small? I have a "light and shade" tag, so I think I'd do big and small. Too late now. But not a century too late. Only 9 years. Oh, what the hell. I'll start now.

That reminds me: Have you ever seen this? It's the best graphic representation of all time (and all space).

62 comments:

Kevin said...

I always saw it as, he spent the time and effort to make himself right. Getting Andie McDowell was just an incidental outward indicator of that. Maybe it motivated him some of the time, but it wasn't the point in the end, and that's one of the things he learns.

Chip S. said...

How many centuries are there in an "ocean of time"?

Maguro said...

Right, the point of reliving Groundhog Day over and over again was for him figure out how to stop being a douchebag.

Gahrie said...

In the original story, he repeats the same day many thousands of times. I've also read that in one version, Rita (the Andie McDowell character) is also repeating the same day over and over.

I'd love somebody to novelize the story...it is just the type of book I'd love to read.

Gahrie said...

Right, the point of reliving Groundhog Day over and over again was for him figure out how to stop being a douchebag.

Actually, one of the great things about the movie is that the reason/mechanism is never spelt out, so the viewer is allowed to speculate.

The movie does sort of imply though that the reason he stops repeating is that he stops being a douchebag.

Nonapod said...

Harold Ramis claimed it was intended to be 10,000 years.

Andy R. said...

Wikipedia:
"Reports regarding how long Phil is trapped in the time loop vary widely. Ramis states in the DVD commentary that he believes 10 years pass. However, in an e-mail response sent to Heeb magazine, Ramis said, "I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and allotting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years."[3]

According to Stephen Tobolowsky, Ramis told him that the entire progress of Groundhog Day covered 10,000 years. "I always thought that there were nine days represented [in the film], and Danny Rubin, the writer, said that he felt something like 23 days were represented in the movie, [but they lasted] over 10,000 years."[4]"

Nonapod said...

...and vapid is the right word. Maybe I'm just a cynical jerk, but I do find it hard to take any woman seriously who unironically says something like "I always toast to world piece" who isn't a beauty pagant contestant.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Harold Ramis once speculated that Murray was trapped for 10,000 years or so, but some of the other people associated with the movie have guessed between three years and a million (?)

Also, Gahrie, the original script explained that Murray's character was trapped in the time loop through a curse given by a vengeful ex-girlfriend, but the writers dropped the reference because they (wisely, I think) believed that knowing the mechanism responsible distracted the audience too much.

tim in vermont said...

I was home sick one day during a Groundhog Day marathon. Yes, they showed the movie over and over. I noticed at the time that he goes through the seven deadly sins, not sure how that relates to there being nine days represented.

Robert Cook said...

I haven't seen it since it came out, but I got the impression is was months of time, not years or decades and certainly not centuries.

kentuckyliz said...

Dante's Purgatorio.

How can you say it's any longer than a day, since time does not progress forward?

Cinderellastory said...

Your link to the time and space scale is wonderful! I will use it in my Soil Science course at SIU.

Robert Cook said...

10,000 years, even if claimed by Harold Ramis, is crazy!

The character himself--hell--I--would have killed himself long before then.

Robert Cook said...

"I always saw it as, he spent the time and effort to make himself right. Getting Andie McDowell was just an incidental outward indicator of that. Maybe it motivated him some of the time, but it wasn't the point in the end, and that's one of the things he learns."

This is exactly right.

rhhardin said...

Space and time sizes discussed.

Writ Small said...

He's in the cycle long enough to become a talented pianist by visiting the tutor each day. How long would that take?

What I always wondered was whether the Andie McDowell character was just having a very good day. He keeps seeing her again and again, and she is always cheerful, kind, beautiful and intellectually curious. It must seem to him that she is eternally full of grace, but she could just be on her best behavior with a new colleague.

Paul Kirchner said...

I agree that the Andie McDowell character is not at all worth it. She's boring, insipid, politically correct, full of cliche concerns. The cranky, cynical, wise-cracking character Bill Murray plays at the outset of the movie is a type that would appeal to a lot of women.

Blake said...

Robert,IIRC he couldn't kill himself. (I think he tried to drive his van off a cliff, right?)

Maguro said...

Yes, he tried kill himself by driving off a cliff with the groundhog in the passenger seat.

Palladian said...

Blake, he does drive his van (with the kidnapped groundhog inside) off a cliff but still wakes up the next morning on Groundhog Day. He tries to kill himself in other ways as well but it's clear that suicide isn't possible.

Blake said...

Thanks Maguro (and Palladian). I always forget there's a website called YouTube to look this stuff up rather than ask in a comment section of blogs.

Darrell said...

If he did manage to commit suicide, he'd go to Hell. And there 10,000 years is just the indoctrination session.

Palladian said...

Oops, Maguro beat me to it. Also I thought it was the TV van that he drove off the cliff.

m stone said...

The movie does sort of imply though that the reason he stops repeating is that he stops being a douchebag.

I agree. This is true redemption.

If mastering the piano is used as a measure and 10,000 hours often accepted as the minimal amount of time one must devote to be expert, we're talking maybe three years of time passage. But then to master a few musical pieces could halve that time. (This is based on 10 hours of practice each repeated day.)

For what it's worth.

JHapp said...

The groundhog seems to be a friend and not at all kidnapped. I put Bill and the groundhog in the same boat.

Rabel said...

Althouse, it's a great movie. You might give it a second chance. And I'm not a big Bill Murray fan.

But, I can't get my mind around the Santa Claus hat remark being the funniest thing you ever heard. To each his own, I guess.

Ann Althouse said...

@rabel. I enjoyed it the first timr. I just don't feel like rewatching it. The surprise is gone.

southcentralpa said...

The question I'd like answered is, why do men seem to like Groundhog Day more than women?

Martinkh said...

Maybe in the real story they cut out a mind-boggling BJ scene and then he knows at that point he just HAD to get more of THAT.

Martinkh said...

Or maybe in reality, men are really just more romantic than women, we just don't consider movies that blather on and on about inane BS to be the height of romance?

Rabel said...

My perspective is probably prejudiced by the presence of Andie McDowell.

Baron Zemo said...

Well the problem is that she dumped him and married the Instapundit.

Talk about a fickle woman!

MisterBuddwing said...

Funny, I thought Bill Murray went through 365 Groundhog Days before getting it right.

wildswan said...

I like the "yoctometer" measuring "string" and "foam"

wildswan said...

I like the "yoctometer" measuring "string" and "foam"

LoafingOaf said...

If mastering the piano is used as a measure and 10,000 hours often accepted as the minimal amount of time one must devote to be expert, we're talking maybe three years of time passage. But then to master a few musical pieces could halve that time. (This is based on 10 hours of practice each repeated day.)

He also learns French and studies literature, gets to know everything about everyone in town, sees the movie playing in the local theater at least 100 times, learns how to make ice sculptures, etc. And he obviously wouldn't have been diligently working on all this all the time because many days he was just depressed and trying to kill himself, or doing nothing, or having fun with the situation, or working on bedding a townie. I didn't think it was centuries, but decades.

Elliott A said...

string theory is much more interesting than "Groundhog Day"

Rabel said...

And equally connected to reality.

Pogo said...

An asshole dies, and a mensch is born.

Like It's a Wonderful Life, full of grace, redemption, and gratitude. It, too, has aged well.

As long as bedding the girl was his only motivation, he did not grow. By the end, he was no longer chasing her at all, but she chased him, bidding on him in the auction fundraiser. Even then he didn't sleep with her.

jr565 said...

We do have to realize that as cute as McDowell is he is still stuck with the pickings in Punxsutawney, and based on the movie the pickings were slim.
So maybe she, despite being vaccuous was hotter than the others.

I always had a soft spot for McDowell visually, but she struck me as a bit of a snobby bitch in that movie, and not at all necessarily one that someone would pine for for eternity. Maybe five years, tops!

jr565 said...

I wonder if in any of the alternate days he simply took her by force or went on wild killing sprees.
They didnt show those days of course, but that doesn't mean he didn't do them.

jr565 said...

Cook wrote:
I haven't seen it since it came out, but I got the impression is was months of time, not years or decades and certainly not centuries.

It had to be long enough for him to become a piano prodigy and ice sculptor extraordiaire.

jr565 said...

Heres the thing though. Did he become less of a douche, or did he just become good enough at stuff to show off?

WHen he tries to save the old man he genuinely seemed decent, but Bill Murray at the end of the movie stil came across a bit douchey.
I think a lot of that perception is because Bill Murray comes across as so douchey a lot of the time that even when he plays it non douchey his douchiness still comes through.

He did ramp it down in this movie a bit, and it was more evident in the Scrooge movie where he supposedly had this epiphany but still seemed like a smarmy ass, but he was still a douche at the end.

Or maybe Bill Murray can only really play douches of verying degrees.

(Don't get me wrong, I did like the movie a lot, I just don't love Bill Murray)

Strelnikov said...

With her flat, boring affect, this is one of the few movies in which she appears which somehow survives her presence. "Four Weddings and a Funeral" is another, but in general the material and the performances of the other actors must be strong to overcome her stultifying personage.

So I guess my answer is "no".

CatherineM said...

Althouse - I have seen it many times since it's one of those always repeated on TV, like Clueless, and I enjoy the silliness and can do other things while listening without having to watch since I know the movie.

Phil? Phil Conners? Case Western Reserve? It's me! Ned, Ned the Head...I don't know. Or, "you say this is your first time playing the piano?" "Yes, but my father was a piano mover, so....." Or, my favorite, "then, we made love...like sea otters." Love that movie.

I don't think Andie McDowell's role was fleshed out much, but she's definitely the goodness to Phil's selfishness.

I think Ramis is being ridiculous about 10,000 years.

Kelly said...

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies. I guess I never thought to deeply about it, but I always thought Murry's character liked Rita because she was decent, sweet and the kind of girl who wouldn't go out with a guy like him so she was a challenge.

Matt said...

To me, it made the most sense for the film to last a reasonable number of years topping out at around twenty at the most. I took the movie to reference how most people stuck in their day to day lives doing the same thing over and over again. And, if you are unhappy, you can dedicate yourself to changing who you are to break the cycle and make yourself a better person and bring happiness to those around you. As such, having it an excessive length of time like 50, 100, or a million years defeated that message.

It is possible to become as proficient as Phil Connors was in the movie without dedicating ten solid years to each activity. Otherwise, there would not be people in their twenties who excel at musical instruments or languages or ice sculpting given the demands of school and work during those years. He did not have to work. He could spend every day practicing each activity for an hour and become quite adept within a few years.

richlb said...

Andie McDowell has terrible teeth in that movie.

I saw the movie the night my grandfather passed away. I was a bit distracted and didn't truly appreciate it until I saw it on DVD a year or two later. Now I find it to be a perfect movie.

MikeR said...

Terrifying, chilling movie. He learned a lot of things in his centuries of repetition, but unfortunately he never learned quantum physics. If he had, he would have heard about the Many Worlds Interpretation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation), where every possibility in a quantum wave function is actualized in a new world where that possibility is what happens.

If he had learned that, he would have realized what was really going on.

He is not going back in time, repeating the same day over and over. He is simply living many different versions of that day - as all of us do always. The difference that made him remarkable: Some of his versions wake up with memories of other versions. Timeline 1 lived through Groundhog Day and went to sleep at the end. In timeline 2, he woke up with memories of timeline 1. In timeline 3, he woke up with memories of timeline 2 - which of course also includes memories of timeline 1. By timeline 10000, he has acquired memories of years of practice at ice sculpture, medicine, piano playing, French poetry, and card-flipping, a virtual superman.

Why is this terrifying? Because he thinks there are no consequences to what he does, and there sure are. Every single one of these timelines actually "escapes" the loop, and goes on to live normally from them on. None of them was ever "trapped". Sadly, in many of them, he is in jail, or engaged to an angry girl he has wronged, or dead. In some later versions, he is very annoyed - he is able to win the girl of his dreams, but keeps waking up before he can marry her.

If he had learned physics, would he have behaved differently? Maybe. His attitude(s) might be different. Anyone can put up with a boring day, if it's only going to last one day. Which of his days would you have chosen - if you only get one? I don't know if he would have bothered to go to his piano lesson, knowing that he himself in that timeline would never be very good, in order that some other timeline could be an expert. Would he even bother to learn that girl's name and high school English teacher - so that the next Phil can make time with her?

Kind of eerie, knowing that he lies down to sleep knowing that he'll then go on with his life. Some other Phil will carry on with the story.

tim maguire said...

Great movie. Watched it a number of times, could watch it again.

Time? 10 years minimum. Maximum? Who knows? Doesn't have to be a maximum.

Astro said...

I think the 10,000 number comes from the hours it takes to get good at something like playing piano. Ten thousand hours, practicing 5 hours per day is 2000 days, or about 5.5 years. He begins his lessons maybe halfway through the movie, which would give a duration of 11 years, so 10 years would make more sense than 10,000 years.

He gives his reason for pursuing Rita early in the movie - love at first sight. Also, of all the women there, she is the unattainable ideal. He's figured out Nancy and he can have her anytime.

This movie has a really good 'arc' as the critics like to describe a character's emotional change.

As to the 'Scale of the Universe' - I've seen it before. It based on the movie 'Powers of 10" made sometime back in the late 1960s. I saw it in college in the 70s.

Astro said...

Here's a link to the 1977 version of the movie 'Powers of 10'. I saw the 1968 version. Both were based on the 1957 book 'Cosmic View' by Kees Boeke.

Powers of 10

According to Wikipedia, this film is listed on the National Films Registry of the Library of Congress.

William said...

I think that if I were given 10,000 shots at it, I could pull off a perfect day. But the way the universe is presently structured, where you only get one chance, it's tricky enough to have an even passable day..... Alternatives exclude. If you devote too much time to ice sculpture, you'll never achieve mastery of the piano or the enduring love of Andie McDowell.....My pursuit of ice sculpture has never left me enough time to be as cognizant of quantum physics as I should be However, my guess is that the Murray character is caught in some kind of Mobius strip that can only de-infinitized by an act of pure love.

MisterBuddwing said...


You can see "Powers of Ten" as well as "Cosmic Zoom" on YouTube. (They also list "Scale of the Universe," but since I've never seen that one, I don't know if it's the right one.)

kentuckyliz said...

I think it's genius to pick a minor holiday for the movie, thereby ensuring its re-airing annually forever. Royalty checks!

Scott M said...

Bill once gave a time, but it wasn't necessarily how long he had been cycling. He made a comment, six months or so, while throwing cards into a hat in response to her asking "So this is what you do with eternity?"

Revenant said...

It was pretty clear to me that he spent centuries, at least, reliving that one day.

He learns intimate details of lots of townspeople's lives, becomes a world-class pianist and ice carver, figures out the timing of armored car delivery to the exact second, becomes freakishly good at flipping cards, etc.

DannyNoonan said...

I read a magazine article about it years ago and Harold Ramis said the original script had him stuck on that day for 10,000 years. Ramis said it ultimately ended up being about 10 years.

Smilin' Jack said...

The single funniest thing I ever heard in my life was: I was cutting someone's hair and I noticed a bright red dot on his scalp. I said: "What's this red dot?" And he said: "That's my Santa Claus hat."

Good grief. That admission may be the saddest thing I've ever heard in my life.

deborah said...

"However, my guess is that the Murray character is caught in some kind of Mobius strip that can only de-infinitized by an act of pure love."


MikeR had that very theory in an alternate timeline.

Mitch H. said...

The question I'd like answered is, why do men seem to like Groundhog Day more than women?

It's a masculine romance. The Rita character is an insipid postmodern princess of a character, very two-dimensional. All the agency is on the Phil character.


It is possible to become as proficient as Phil Connors was in the movie without dedicating ten solid years to each activity. Otherwise, there would not be people in their twenties who excel at musical instruments or languages or ice sculpting given the demands of school and work during those years. He did not have to work. He could spend every day practicing each activity for an hour and become quite adept within a few years.


The problem here is that these skills like ice sculpting and playing the piano rely on muscle memory, callus-building, and muscle mass as much as mental learning, if not more. What exactly of Phil is carrying back to 6 AM every morning? It has to be limited, or the first time he dies, we're suddenly in a very different movie, one more like Zombieland. And hey! Maybe that explains how these zombie pictures end up with the nominally clever and fast human population suddenly overwhelmed by the brain-damaged, shuffling undead. It's because the infection point was Puxatawney, and Dead Phil slowly ate more and more of the town every cycle until there wasn't anyone left alive. Then begins Night of the Living Dead. They're both set in Western Pennsylvania, after all.

I think Ramis is being ridiculous about 10,000 years.

It's probably some sort of Buddhist doctrine. Sounds like it.