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Phil? Phil Connors? Timely Thoughts on Groundhog Day

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“I've been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned,” Phil Connors (Bill Murray) tells his assistant Rita (Andie MacDowell). He goes on to tell her, "I'm a god. I'm not 'the' God... I don't think."  And you thought the movie Groundhog Day was about rodents seeing their shadows didn’t you?  Well, it is, but it is also the greatest déjà vu movie—ever.  What worse day to be “stuck in” than in the middle of winter on the very day when the northern hemisphere is hoping for a shorterned winter? 

Think about it.  Snow before and during Christmas is fun, but by the time January is through, all we want is spring.  But no!  We still have to put up with February.  What if you are stuck seemingly forever on the second day of this meanest month?  Phil thinks about that very fact:  “I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster and drank pina coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?”  Of course, if any of you are below the equator, you look at February 2 as the heart of summer so this whole diatribe won’t mean anything to you.  And if you are below the equator, when the blizzards of August roll around, does anyone reach into a Tasmanian Devil’s den to yank one of these creatures out into the sunshine, just to see if winter will soon be over?  Nope, Tasmanian Devil Day just isn't the same.

Being stuck in the dead of winter is bad enough, but what if you relive the same day over and over and over by running into the one high school classmate whom you hoped never to see again?  And now he is  an insurance salesman?  On top of that, this is the very same man who dated your sister in school!  Could the situation get worse? 

Well, yeah it can and does!  After the reality of living the same day over and over sinks in, most of us would probably behave like Phil.  At first, we would probably try to see what we could get away with, whether it was robbing an armored car, playing “chicken” with a train on the railroad tracks, or using our new found "power" to make a personal conquest.

Like Phil found out, the cheap thrills only last so long. The daily drudgery of facing every morning (which begins to the alarm radio playing the strains of “I Got You Babe” ) would soon get old, very old.  I would bet that some of us would probably follow Phil’s descent into deep depression and try to end our misery by bathing with a toaster, leaping off a building, or recreating the final scene from Thelma and Louise.  However in this rodent-centric movie, Phil and Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog, go over the edge of a rock quarry in an old pickup truck. 

How do you escape the depression and maybe get the calendar moving again?  Phil begins to explore more rewarding opportunities in his new “home,”  and he starts looking upon the residents of Punxsutawney as people worthy of knowing, even Ned Ryerson (well almost).  Triggered by the death of an elderly homeless man, Phil is determined that no one is going to die "on his day."  He sets out on a massive “personal renewal” through piano lessons, acts of kindness, and community service.  Through his genuine unselfish attitude, he finally is released from his purgatory.  He falls in love with Rita and they awake on February 3 (finally).  As the sun comes out, we hear the “Almost Like Being in Love,” which I didn’t realize until now (thanks to The Internet Movie Data Base) is from Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish village that is another story about being stuck in time.

Who knows how many years Phil Connors spent reliving Groundhog Day, but the way he knows every detail of all the Punxsutawney citizens, it must have been a substantial amount of time.  Thankfully, no one has to go through their own Groundhog Day, although Yogi Berra and the rest of us do have our déjà vu, all over again, moments. 

I think I’ve seen this movie probably as many times as Phil Connors lived through the day, but I never tire of it.  (I like Brigadoon and other "time" movies like The Final Countdown.  Maybe, I am weird that way?)  It has given me a new appreciation for this quirky American “holiday.”  If you think winter will never end, try flying with Southwest to somewhere warm and sunny like Southern California or Florida. Or if you want to visit Punxsutawney to see Phil in person, fly with us to Pittsburgh.

Here’s hoping for a quick end to winter, and also to all of us waking up on February 3.

4 Comments
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Hey now, don't you tell me you don't remember me 'cause I sure as heckfire remember you. Ned... Ryerson. "Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"? C'mon, buddy. Case Western High. I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing. Ned Ryerson, got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn't graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson, I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple of times until you told me not to anymore? Awesome - Arvin
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Thanks for the interesting insight on a classic movie, Brian! I'm certainly ready for winter be over soon. I'm hoping to send the the snow on its way after my ski trip this weekend. Upon my return, I'm taking your advise and booking a flight to warmer weather and sandy beaches whether Phil sees his shadow or not!
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It's great to hear from true believers!
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Good to see that someone still appreciates Groundhog Day...