Retro Review: “Groudhog Day” (1993)

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

For a Hollywood produced comedy of the early 90s, “Groundhog Day” left a deep cultural mark. The term “groundhog day” is now a trope used to describe stories that rely on the protagonist repeating the same day over and over again (like “Edge of Tomorrow”). The term is continuously used in military context as well, referring to operations that appear to be the same actions repeated over and over and over again. Many have speculated about the physics and logistics of the lighthearted film, and it has developed quite the cult following since its release in 1993. The movie isn’t just a cult classic, however, it has also been treated as a religious allegory by spiritual scholars.

The film has become a favorite of many Buddhists, who view the acts of selflessness and rebirth as spiritual messages. Some Christians believe that Phil was stuck in purgatory, and that he was released by committing acts of love and shedding his selfishness. For being portrayed as a lighthearted, family-friendly comedy, theorist revel in the profound questions of morality this film poses, as well as the logistics of how long Phil was actually stuck in that loop.

With all the time in the universe, what does a single immortal soul do? Likely, many of us would indulge in ways of life we usually wouldn’t, given the lack of consequences. Phil Connors used his power of infinite reset to seduce women, lead a riveting high speed car chase, and kill himself several times.

It is estimated that Phil Connors spent 30 years stuck in Punxsutawney, and the film does a good job of scouring the small setting to create interesting dynamics. The film was actually shot in Woodstock, IL, due to the real Punxsutawney being less photogenic. The Tip Top Cafe, originally a set design, was used several times as an indoor setting for the film, and after the critical acclaim and widely positive reception, became first a real cafe in Woodstock, and then a chain of coffee and Italian ice cream shops.

Visually, the film is a typical PG Hollywood fantasy comedy. There were no expensive special effects, besides one car exploding, and the several groundhogs needed throughout production (they kept biting Mr. Murray, necessitating replacement).

The simplicity of the set, the straightforward comedy, all on top of the cerebral subject of living the same day over and over, somehow synthesized into a classic American film.

“Groundhog Day”’s shadow is long and wide, and the concept of time loops has steadily integrated itself into entertainment of all sorts. Films like “Primer” and games like “Stanley’s Parable” explore the effects of consecutively going back in time, and what it does to its subjects. However, no entertainment piece has better captured both the abject horror and the bizarre hilarity of an indefinite looping situation quite like “Groundhog Day.”

Review by Caleb Barber

At a Glance:
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott
Producers: Trevor Albert, Harold Ramis
Rated: PG

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