Notes and thoughts on the film “Groundhog Day” (1993).
Phil Connors learns to becomes finite again.
In these notes and thoughts on the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” (dir. Harold Ramis, February 1st 1993, 101 minutes) I want to examine some of my thoughts and ideas surrounding the philosophy of the film. These ideas were provoked partially by some of the research I undertook about the film, and were extrapolated from some of the theoretical concepts highlighted in the behind-the-scenes making of the film documentary, which examines the realisation process from script to screen.
In the behind-the-scenes making of the film documentary one of the actors Stephen Tobolowsky talks about some of the thematic concepts prevalent in the film, with reference in particular to the protagonist Phil Connors philosophical and spiritual journey. Phil’s initial hedonistic egocentric approach to his situation is transformed into a more fulfilling virtuous mode of living. In the documentary Stephen Tobolowsky suggests that Phil learns how to become finite again, he realises his mortality and that he will age, and the nature of the human condition (Tobolowsky, Groundhog Day DVD). Afterall Phil’s previous condition in the film was to live in the notion of the infinite. He was able to act upon any desire that fulfilled his wants, albeit apart from any kind of escapism from reliving “Groundhog Day”. Phil could live without finite values, in some cases, as the film evidences, his sensibility is like that of a god immortal. However, once he appreciates the crucial value of the “moment”, he reevalues the “weight of time”, and engages in sustaining a “good life”, helping people and engaging in the task for the greater good. It is when he does this that he is granted the gift of mortality and the preciousness in the ending of things. Perhaps Phil’s foray into the particulars of the “good life” is in some way a reaction to the transformative experience he has when he tends to an old beggar in the street. Phil’s attempts to save the beggars life but is unable to on any terms. This transformative act shows him mortality, and the preciousness of mortality as a provision for value or life meaning. Therefore Phil’s infinite, valueless existence evolves into a finite, mortal and meaningful existence. The film portrays the infinite and the finite as differing means to value and wealth, and our assumptions surrounding these ideals.
Perhaps it is the purgatory of reliving “Groundhog Day” that can be seen as a filmic “thought experiment” for Phil to recognise and reconfigure his identity as a subject for the study of the human condition.
The idea of being a god is somehow repugnant to Phil, for it does not seem to bring him the joy of the emotional and constitutional power of self worth, instead its unendurable eternality is tedium for him. While the finite actions and notions of being he adopts in the latter half of the film, provide him with fulfilment which the eternality of a valueless subjective world does not.
It is as if Phil finds his moments of catharsis through small finite moments in the interaction and relationship to the women Rita in the film. There are simple but important moments Phil cannot reclaim in their everyday relationship, which in themselves indicate how privileged they are as life “moments” in their finite value. For example in one scene towards the end of “Groundhog Day” Phil tries to improve an relive the bond between Rita and him, but is unable to. This is indicated when he attempts to reestablish the same physical position and attitude he adopted while the pair sit together in the snow. However, in his repetitions, he is unable to find a veracity or a truth in his “new take” of the scene, and he is left insincere, as if putting on an act in his own desire to attain immediate self goals. In the remainder of the scene Phil is punished, perhaps for his lack of truth, in a series of intercut slaps from Rita, as if he has tried too hard to invent a positive demeanour towards her.
At first Phil is unknowingly mentally and physically imprisoned in the freedom of the infinity of his situation, the infinity of this looped day. As Phil transforms his outlook and actions, as well as his sensibilities, Phil unknowingly assumes mental and physical freedom in the prison of his own finite mortality. The locus of Phil’s life outlook and life per se is defined both in terms of his sensibilities to the world, and to the environment situation that interacts as if in a form of mitosis with the former. In the first instance Phil’s mental and physical locus is fundamentally entrapped in fulfilment of egocentric and hedonistic desires, this is his response sensibility to his condition, and his condition is one of infinity, the infinite freedom of the looped, relived day. In the second instance Phil’s mental and physical locus is one of physical and mental freedom and virtuous living, while the backdrop that surrounds this sensibility to his condition, thus the condition itself, is one of finite mortality.
Crucially Phil is not explicitly aware or at least cannot appreciate the conditions of his freedom and life worth within each instance. In instance 1 Phil can seemingly enact and do anything he wants or desires. In instance 2 Phil is seemingly unable to do whatever he wants or desires. Yet at first his conditioned, infinite self becomes valueless, a then in the second instance of Phil’s being, his conditioned finite self becomes valued.
“Groundhog Day” (1993, Columbia Pictures)
“Groundhog Day” film poster image credit from Google Images.