Saturday, February 2, 2013

It’s Groundhog Day!!!!!!!!!

Prior to 1993 few of us in the UK had heard of Pennsylvania’s obscure Groundhog-related ceremonies carried out each year on February 2nd. Then Harold Ramis and Bill Murray came along and the whole world found out about Punxatawny Phil and the yearly events at Gobbler’s Knob; British TV now covers the Punxatawny ceremony, largest Groundhog Day event in PA, on a regular basis. 

For those who don’t know, Groundhog Day is something akin to St Swithin’s Day here in Britain, as both occasions prognosticate on the forthcoming weather. The ‘groundhog’, also known as a land beaver or woodchuck (How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?), crawls from its burrow. If it fails to see its own shadow, spring is on the way; if it does see its own shadow, it crawls back inside the burrow, because winter is sticking around for another six long weeks. Whatever the outcome, all the humans have a party and the groundhog can go back to sleep it if so desires.
For those of us who have seen the movie, the term ‘Groundhog Day’ has a whole other connotation. In the film Bill Murray plays a variant on his ‘Scrooged’ character—misanthropic and self-centred TV weatherman Phil Connors, reporting with reluctance on the folksy Punxatawny ceremony. The Universe intervenes bizarrely, however, and Phil finds himself reliving Groundhog Day over and over indefinitely, trapped in Punxatawny and his own personal hell until he mends his selfish ways and lives it like he should. With Murray on board and at his driest, the ‘personal hell’ is very funny indeed, though the film goes into darker places than your average PG comedy. Phil’s Groundhog-cycle takes him though confusion, panic, liberation, euphoria, frustration, desperation and despair, before he even begins to grapple with the meaning of his situation. There’s a genuine sense of developing claustrophobia for the viewer as he wakes endlessly into the same day with no one else aware of anything amiss. (Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ will never sound quite the same again.)
In short, the term ‘Groundhog Day’ now suggests the sense that you’re experiencing the same day repeatedly—a kind of protracted déjà vu. So when today’s events bear an uncanny resemblance to those of yesterday, you might say, ‘God, I’m in bloody Groundhog Day!’.

I tend to put the movie on February 2nd every year, even if it’s only playing in the background. It’s become an ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’-type seasonal event, the way I like to take a look at ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’ around New Year. In fact ‘Groundhog Day’ treads the same philosophical territory as ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, the impact of an individual of the world around them for good or ill. It also works as a better retelling of ‘A Christmas Carol’ than ‘Scrooged’ ever did, with the central character forced to rethink his life and behaviour due to some inexplicable cosmic intervention. The message, if message you’re seeking, is as applicable to Humanists as Christians or Hindus—make each day of your life the best possible version of itself. And the central premise is so wonderfully twisted, the humour so razor-sharp, that there’s no possibility of it being viewed as twee.
So watch ‘Groundhog Day’ if you haven’t already done so. And if you have, enjoy it again. You can even start asking obsessive questions like ‘If Phil rushes from the guest house on the third day, then how come he still meets Ned Ryerson at exactly the same spot?’ The latter don’t matter however. That’s just the craft of screen-writing in operation. It’s a glorious film and Murray’s performance is sensational, every conflicting emotion flickering on his deadpan face.

Just watch him as he reports on his second ceremony, wondering why the hell it’s not the next day and uttering the immortal line:
“Well, it’s Groundhog Day… again.”

1 comment:

  1. How spooky, I was only explaining the concept of the film to someone yesterday, after saying it felt like groundhog day, in repsonse to there question of how am I doing? :-P