Since today is February 2nd, it's only fitting that I do a little write up on one of my favorite movies- Groundhog Day. I should note that there's gonna be spoilers in this write-up, but you know, it's a 22 year old movie, so you had your chance.
For those of you living under a rock, Groundhog Day features Bill Murray as a weatherman who inexplicably gets caught in a time loop and is forced to relive the same day over and over. It was pretty much an instant classic and is considered by some to be Bill Murray's greatest movie.
And even though I could write at length about how well shot the movie is, how slick the jokes are, or how tight the plot is, I want to take a closer look at the development of Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, as there is something to be taken away from his journey.
Phil Connors starts the movie as a spoiled, arrogant prima donna. In a lot of ways, he's similar to a two-year old child: he thinks he's the center of the universe, he has no appreciation for anything anybody does for him, and has a complete lack of empathy. He's snarky and bitter and has a generally shitty attitude when he could instead make the smallest effort toward having a good time on Groundhog Day.
Phil soon realizes that he can do whatever he wants without consequence, as he will always wake up at 6am on February 2nd. So, like an unsupervised child, Phil takes complete advantage of his situation and uses it for his own personal gain: he steals a bunch of money, he tricks women into sleeping with him, and basically treats the village of Punxsutawney as his own personal playground.
Things continue to repeat. There can only be so much fun before things start to run smooth. Phil becomes extremely dejected and depressed. He's run out of ways to entertain himself. So he lashes out. Phil kidnaps the Groundhog and sends the Punxsutawney police force on a chase through the city that ultimately results in Phil dying in a fiery crash in the hopes that his death will break the cycle of repetition.
But, Phil wakes up at 6am on February 2nd like the hundreds of times he had before. He chooses to wallow in his despair and kills himself in a variety of ways. Even then, he still cannot find peace. The only thing that keeps him from killing himself for the rest of time is Rita, his producer. Phil has been able to get every other thing he's wanted thus far, save for her affection. So Phil tries (and tries and tries and tries) to woo her, shaping his personality into what he thinks she wants. All this gets him is several slaps in the face.
It's here that Phil makes a conscious choice to make the most of his infinite time in Punxatawney. Starting small with music lessons, this is the first instance where Phil tries to better himself by learning a new skill. From there, Phil goes on to learn French and ice sculpt. Yes, he learned these skills in order to impress Rita, but he is still growing as an individual.
Phil then realizes that while he knows everything about the citizens of Punxatawney, he has done almost nothing to better their lives. The first time we see Phil reaching out is when he tries to save an old homeless man who is destined to die on February 2nd. Eventually, he becomes so well acquainted with the needs of everyone that he must follow a strict schedule in order to help everyone who needs helping. His string of good deeds makes him a celebrity in the small Pennsylvania town, which of course makes him more appealing to Rita.
The cycle gets broken when Rita finally accepts Phil's love and they wake up together on the morning February 3rd. But what does this mean? Consider the fact that there is no villain in this movie. Phil Connors just keeps reliving the same day over and over. Instead of an interpersonal conflict, Phil is stuck only with himself. He even admits to Rita (albeit jokingly) that he hates himself.
This self-loathing helps inform Phil's bitterness. It makes sense that he behaves selfishly and treats everyone else like garbage because he is desperately unhappy with who he is as a person and wants to make everyone else as miserable as he is. When he is given a reprieve from the unhappiness of his everyday life, Phil is ecstatic at first. Since his problems stem from his dissatisfaction with himself, he grows bored and unhappy. It's only when Phil betters himself and the lives of those around him does he get to continue with his life as a new, happy individual.
Groundhog Day is a brilliant film with a wonderfully original plot and amazing acting on Bill Murray's part. However, these qualities cause us to overlook the deeper meaning of Phil Connor's character arc: that self-improvement and helping others is the path to self-satisfaction.
Anyways, you should check this one out since, you know, today's Groundhog's Day and all.