Bill Murray in GROUNDHOG DAY

I finally watched Groundhog Day—yes the gaps in my cinematic knowledge are large—and it was a fun and illuminating experience.

Director Harold Ramis who co-wrote the script with Danny Rubin explores some interesting development options for the central character Phil the Weather Man, played by Bill Murray – a thoroughly unpleasant man who finds himself having to live through the same day over and over again.

The redemption arc is strong in this one but Phil gets a lot worse before he gets better. Apparently the co-writers resisted the urge to go full dark with the character but there is still a lot more texture to Phil than the average central character in a lot of today’s mainstream movies. He gets to indulge in all kinds of unsympathetic activities including robbery, damaging property, and behaving inappropriately with impressionable women. He even attempts a few forms of suicide after getting depressed by the idea that he may never leave this weird living-the-same-day-over-and-over loop he finds himself in.

All of this really serves to highlight the improvements in Phil when they finally come.

That got me thinking about the nature of life—this being the last day of the year and all. While most of us are not literally stuck in a Groundhog Day type situation things can get to a point where the average year in a person’s life can become a repetition of the same set of routines with little deviation. Whereas the next year is just another year in life on Earth, perhaps there is room to think of it as a unit of 365 parts in which we can work to – say it together now – “become better versions of ourselves”. As earnest as that sounds, there’s some merit to at least trying to refine behaviours/thought patterns/habits/time-sucking hobbies that do you no good so you don’t find yourself in the same place next time this year. Think of each New Year as one more chance. Maybe this time you’ll do a better job with it than you have so far.

Groundhog Day is such an iconic movie that even if you haven’t watched it, you’re definitely aware of what it is about. Like I was. I still learnt something from actually watching the movie, like:

  • Knowing the idea of something (the movie in this case) and actually experiencing it, are two different things. I would like to experience more of the things I have ideas about and find out whether they match, exceed, or fail to meet up to my expectations.
  • There is more than one way to play out a high concept idea (this is for the writer/filmmaker in me). The exact same device as Groundhog Day is used to stunning effect in Edge Of Tomorrow, one of this year’s movies that really surprised me by how much I enjoyed it.  A version of this idea is also at play in 50 First Dates. So note to self: just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean there isn’t another, equally valid, exploration of the idea.

I’m glad I finally saw this movie, and doing so towards the end of the year seems to have given it more heft than it might have had if I’d seen it around February 2nd – the actual Groundhog Day in the movie. And let’s face it, we ain’t never getting six more weeks of winter here in Mumbai.