Groundhog Day correction

A number of people have mentioned an issue with today’s comic—in the movie Groundhog Day, it’s actually implied that Phil, Bill Murray’s character, didn’t have sex with Rita. He took her home to his room, but they woke up in the same clothes they fell asleep in. I haven’t seen the movie in a number of years, but I think they’re right—and bit of Googling suggests that I’m not the only one who was confused on that point.

Groundhog Day is, like Office Space, a comedy containing a gimmick that really sticks with you, even as the rest of the story fades. Or, at least, it did with me—I’ve probably seen the movie a couple of times, but I think I’ve spent a lot more time dwelling on the time loop scenario it describes. Now that people have raised the question, I’m not even sure that I interpreted the scene this way when I was watching it.

From a sci-fi point of view, the whole idea that the time loop was broken by emotional/personal development seemed kind of cheesy, but I just chalked that up to one of those things movies do because that’s how we like stories to work. Nobody wants a movie where the climax consists of an hour of excitedly inferring and testing revisions to the standard model of physics. (Or, at least, there aren’t enough of us to support a big-budget movie.) So while drawing my comic, I remembered that the time loop ended after he took Rita back to his room, and I filled in the typical romanticized Sleeping Beauty idea that I assumed had gone with it.

I appreciate the corrections—in addition to being a reminder to double-check pop culture references, it’s driven home for me what a neat, original movie Groundhog Day really is.

And now I wonder what kind of misconceptions I have about Ghostbusters.

335 thoughts on “Groundhog Day correction

  1. Hah, I was just coming here to look for a way to contact you and point this out. I see the internet has beat me to it.

    Here are the pertinent lines from that scene. Phil is getting a little frisky (although mostly because he’s excited that it is finally February 3). Rita responds:

    Rita: “Why weren’t you like this last night? You just fell sleep.”
    Phil: “It was the end of a very long day.”

  2. from an interview:

    Stephen Tobolowsky: He [Bill Murray] said, “I refuse to shoot this scene until I know how I am dressed. Am I wearing the clothes I wore the night before? Am I wearing p.j.’s? Am I not wearing that?” That is, what happened that night between him and Andie [MacDowell]? So, he refused to shoot it. Harold Ramis, the director, had not thought of this question, and he didn’t know. So he took a vote from the cast and crew as to what Bill was wearing. Is he wearing the clothes from the night before, or is he wearing pajamas? And it was a tie, a tie vote, so Bill still refused to shoot the scene.
    Then one girl in the movie—it was her first film—she was assistant set director. She raised her hand and said, “He is absolutely wearing the clothes he wore the night before. If he is not wearing the clothes he wore the night before, it will ruin the movie. That’s my vote.” So Harold Ramis said, “Then that’s what we are going to do.” I’ve never told anybody that behind-the-scenes story, so keep that a secret now.

  3. Just to pile on, you were also off by about two weeks on the length of a pregnancy.

  4. “12:01 PM” is a short story with a few short films based on a similar time-loop with a single person retaining their consciousness/memory. They all predate Groundhog Day.

    My standard joke is “Groundhog day is a movie I could watch again and again.”

  5. “And now I wonder what kind of misconceptions I have about Ghostbusters.”

    Well, for one, it’s “Ghost Busters.”

    Just kidding!

    (No, really it is.)

    (Kind of.)

    (Not really.)

  6. The time loop seems to serve the purpose of teaching Phil that he is not as important as he thinks he is, and that there can be joy found in putting the needs and wants of others before his own. The universe wants to tell Phil, “It’s not all about you.” How does it do this? By altering the space-time continuum and forcing the ENTIRE UNIVERSE to repeat itself until Phil learns his lesson, effectively making him the most important person in the universe.

  7. Another alternate interpretation — with every loop, Bill Murray was split onto two separate subjective worldlines. This both means that the first time he went back, he also lived on without any of the self-knowledge he gained in the movie, and that at the end when he got out, that’s just because that happens to be the iteration that the movie followed; he also continues indefinitely to cycle through the loop…

  8. To further complicate things: wasn’t it implied that they *did* have sex in one of the previous iterations? I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I remember an iteration about halfway-through where he did manage to win her over and it ends with them in his bed and she asks him if he knows at what time the loop restart kicks in (unlike the final iteration, he told her about the loop in this one).

    Oh man, now I have to watch this movie again tonight.

  9. My understanding was that he did have sex with Rita at least once. He had one amazing night with her where everything just fell perfectly in place. Then ended up in his bed and while this is a family movie, I seem to recall that sex was strongly implied.

    After this perfect night though, everything reset as usual, and Phil was effectively back on the same bad terms with Rita he’d been before. Understandably, this was incredibly frustrating. Phil spent many iterations after that attempting to recreate that perfect night, but it was forced, and these nights usually ended with a slap to the face.

    I’m thinking his second good night with Rita was the last time through the loop — the one that broke him out of it. And on that one, the crew decided to shoot Bill/Phil in the same clothes from the night before, showing that they did not do the deed.

  10. @Charlie, nope, that one perfect night never happened. It *almost* happened, which is why Phil spent so much time attempting to recreate it. Phil didn’t get anything that night from Rita but a slap…followed by a series of more slaps as he tried to replay that day, until he gave up.

  11. XKCD! If you haven’t read it… this movie was based on the novel by Ken Grimwood called Replay. You HAVE to read this book if you liked Groundhog day… it will blow your mind. Seriously…

    REPLAY – Ken Grimwood

  12. I like Replay a lot, but that comment is true only if “based on” = “shares the plot device of a time loop.” (To pick one obvious difference among many, each loop in Replay lasts for years, not a single day.)

  13. Actually, each loop in Replay lasts a decreasing length of time, starting out years-long, but eventually converging. It’s a fairly central plot point.

    I wanna watch Starsea.

  14. The interpretation of the movie I’ve always loved is that of it being an illustration of Zen Buddhism. His egotistical self is trapped reliving the same life over and over until he lets go of his ego and attains enlightenment and wakes up the next day.

  15. OT: I also wanted to contact you, but didn’t know were to write. My comment is about comic 1075, the sign about going faster than evolution prepared us for. I had heard that same argument about how could humans drive 55 mph (or 200 km/h in Europe) when their visual cortex evolved at 10-15 mph max. It seemed like and interesting and intelligent question until I tried trail-running. Trail running is a rush (pun intended), more mentally than physically. I had to have 150% attention and processing to see details ahead as well as the current footfall, and move my body, legs, and feet so that one matched the other. I have actually never used my brain like that when driving (OK, except that time I was that guy weaving in heavy traffic on 101 from SJ to SF).

    In fact, the only reason we can drive so fast is because we’ve removed all obstacles by creating roads and rules for driving. Because of the speed and risk, we’ve built-in a huge margin of safety, so that we need even less attention and processing when driving on a freeway. I posit that the person driving 80mph from SJ to SF has about one tenth the visual stimulation and necessary reactions as an ancestor hunting game (barefoot–ouch) across some savannah in Africa. Cars use less attention than running over regular terrain.

    Actually, that barefoot comment is very similar and just as wrong as the comic: when you’re barefoot all your life, your feet adapt and you can hike and run on terrain that a shoed person could not conceive. And the shoed person loses that perspective, in just the same way we have with cars.

  16. “Nobody wants a movie where the climax consists of an hour of excitedly inferring and testing revisions to the standard model of physics. (Or, at least, there aren’t enough of us to support a big-budget movie.)”

    Perhaps not, but there’s an episode of Stargate where two of the characters get stuck in just such a time loop, and have to get the other ‘science-y’ characters to teach them the necessary science to get out of it over the course of many, many iterations. Watching them explain exactly what’s going on to the rest of the crew once they’d learned it themselves was pretty hilarious.

  17. Well, in Ghost Busters, it’s a bit clearer, because Dana even says that nothing ever happened in the bedroom!

  18. I forget whether the question of sex is addressed in the DVD commentary, but one thing they do mention is that in writing it, there was a stage where they wanted to explain the source of the time loop as a curse placed on Phil by an ex-girlfriend, but they later decided that having the source of the time loop remain completely undiscussed, let alone resolved, was better, artistically. But it does make the breaking of the time loop being contigent on his personal development make some sense: that’s much more a fairytale than a sci-fi trope.

    One thing I only really appreciated properly as an adult viewer is the number of days it loops for: it apparently is something like 30 or 40 of his years he spends in the loop (once you consider what is clearly only a selection of his suicide attempts, then later learning French fluently, becoming an ice sculptor, learning piano to a professional performance standard, and identifying every life in the city that can possibly be saved on that day, and solving the particular instance of the travelling salesman problem that lets him save them all, it adds up).

  19. The important question is… what is the cardinality of the groundhog day calendar? And what is the proof?

  20. I’ve always thought of the notion of repeating a day as a metaphor for repeating lives until issues are worked out, one of the ideas behind the belief in reincarnation.

  21. In reply to Bithead, there’s a Buddhist monk who’s famous for saying (I’m paraphrasing here), “before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

  22. Well there’s always the chance that they could have done it with their clothes on (just adjust a few things, pull this garment aside, etc, but that seems unlikely for a “romantic first-time” kind of encounter. Or they could have just gotten dressed again — also unlikely. The dialogue someone mentioned above about Phil falling asleep also seems to indicate that sex didn’t happen.

    BTW, here’s a cool vid of all the Ned Ryerson scenes strung together:

  23. It was fun to read the sentence ‘Nobody wants a movie where the climax consists of an hour of excitedly inferring and testing revisions to the standard model of physics.’ just after watching the Higgs presentation from the CMS experiment. (And while having the Groundhog-Day-like experience of watching the world’s focus switch to Comic Sans.)

  24. “Memento. “Not necessarily dependent on science fiction, but if you want to spend the last hour (or first, or middle, etc.) of a movie struggling to get your mind around stuff . . .

    “Pi,” as well.

  25. @Kurtis 264 days is roughly 38 weeks, the average time from conception (fertilization) to birth. 40 weeks is the time from the end of the last normal menstrual period to birth, and is the standard in maternity care (for convenience). Clearly Bishop Ussher was aware of this.

  26. I agree with Lars. Primer as confusing as it is; is well worth a second look however Groundhog day is always fun to take apart. I guess I’ll have to rent them both soon.

    Thanks for the blag, Randall

  27. First of all as the screenwriter of this movie I have enjoyed the comments on this blog, and really love that people are still talking about this film (and posting comics! That Bishop Ussher thing is awesome!)
    Harold and I had talked about whether or not Phil and Rita had sex on that final night of Feb 2nd. I think we agreed that if they did have sex it might support the idea that the sex itself was the key that unlocked the “curse”, and that might sort of trivialize the whole adventure. Tobolowsky’s story is probably true. It makes sense to me that the need to be specific in the script about what did or did not happen might not have been evident until the actual shooting of the scene. Movies work like that – the writer can’t predict everything. But in the end clearly the decision was made that they hadn’t had sex or else those lines about “you weren’t frisky last night” wouldn’t have been so purposely included (by Harold, I might add. By the time they shot that scene I was already back home in Santa Fe).
    Oh, and not that it matters but I didn’t base any of this on the book Replay or on Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence or 12:01 or any other source, as I hadn’t read or seen any of those at the time. It’s more that I feel kinship with those folks for being interested in the same sorts of things. All of these explorations of a time loop emphasize different things and I think they’re all fascinating.
    I’m happy to answer more questions if you’ve got them, but take note that I have a blog that addresses much of this, and there’s an eBook I wrote called How To Write Groundhog Day that really is quite thorough. Thanks again, everyone!

  28. I agree with Emily. It’s not actually a science fiction movie at all, it’s a religious or philosophical movie.

  29. If it was a science fiction movie, it would have explained the time loop. That version was called 12:01 and it was pretty good, but the genius of Groundhog Day is that it never even hints that a rational explanation exists for what appears to be happening, or even what stops it from happening, really.

  30. As another aside, until the film came out very few people in the UK had heard of this quaint US custom (you haven’t been around long enough yet for customs to become traditions :-)). The film had an indelible effect on popular culture, particularly in the military, particularly when deployed overseas. I partook of a number of “Operation Groundhog Day” tours!

  31. @Danny Rubin: Thanks for clearing those things up! It’s certainly very cool that you are willing to participate in these kinds of discussions.

  32. Today’s (7/6) comic is SO CLOSE to being perfect…the title text should start with 1. Nf3. Bravo!

  33. As long as you are aware that Ghostbusters is the best film of the 80s, it is not possible to have any kind of misconception about it.

  34. I have seen Groundhog Day many times (over and over and over again :) ) Like Randall, I always assumed that the loop was broken when he finally had sex with Rita, and that he had tried doing this by trickery earlier in the movie, but because she was a better person than that, he had to win her by learning to truly be a nice person. It does make sense that they didn’t have sex until the morning of the 3rd, however.
    I know when people try to calculate the days of Groundhog Day, they always think about how long it took Phil to learn French, ice sculpt, toss cards into a hat, etc. One thing that always made me think, though, is the line that goes something like “Thank you, Dr. Connors – Felix’s back is all better now.” I always interpreted this to mean that Phil somehow earned a medical degree, or at least read (and practised?) enough to at least have the knowledge, if not the credential, to be considered a chiropractor. (As a kid, I always imagined that maybe Punxsutawney had a college, and he audited classes until he could pass his medical boards in one day. Apparently there is a Punxsutawney campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, although I doubt they offer medical degrees there.)
    I also always wondered if he kept secretly robbing the armored car every day, even after becoming a “nice person”, in order to pay the piano teacher $10,000 cash.

  35. I remember reading (or watching) that in a deleted scene Bill Murray’s character broke up with a witch who cast a spell on him. His personal growth was what broke the spell.

  36. Actually on today’s comic, more precisely on the alt text, 2. Ne3 is impossible, since the horse is on the g1 square, it’s only legal moves are Nf3 and Nh3… Also, actually on the comic, the black King is on the d8 square, but it should be e8… The Kings face each other… I never bothered to check on your other facts as I assumed they were right, but you really let me down this time randall…

  37. I’m pretty sure it’s not possible to have misconceptions about Ghostbusters. It’s like a Swiss Army knife of cultural reference and spiritual relativism. Whatever idea you have about it is inevitable true.

  38. Part of an essay I wrote for a scholarship relevant to this discussion!

    I love science and engineering for the same reason that my favorite “superhero” is Phil,
    the protagonist of Groundhog Day. What? Yes. He was an ordinary man who one day
    awoke to find himself ensnared in an odd conundrum: every morning, the same day
    would repeat itself exactly. I admire him because of what he made of the situation:
    simply by reflecting upon the initial conditions and the results of his past actions, he was
    able to put himself in the right places at the right times to achieve seemingly superhuman
    results. He had no magical powers – only his intellect and an intuitive understanding of
    the scientific method – yet through curiosity and intuitive investigation he was eventually
    able to exploit the properties of his looping universe to save lives and achieve great
    understanding. Fundamentally this is what scientists and engineers do: exploit the quirks
    of the real world to make interesting and practical innovations. This way of thinking has
    captivated me my entire life.

  39. I think you’re missing the point. For most of the movie he obsesses over his desire to woo Rita who represents everything Bill Murray’s character is not. He only succeeds in wooing her by successfully emulating that which he is not (a good person). The fact that over the course of his last day in the loop he becomes so completely involved in the act of wooing that he is too exhausted to enjoy his victory — this is the reason, the moment at which the loop breaks.

    I chose to believe that he attains enlightenment at that moment. Earlier in the movie his character is plagued with discontent and malice. In the end, he seems to genuinely celebrate life.

    It would be awful sad if the audience were to believe that Bill Murray did not attain enlightenment NOR did he get to sleep with the girl.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>