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.

353 thoughts on “Groundhog Day correction

  1. Sad confession time: In my early teens I loved this film so much I counted how many times Phil loops through February the 2nd (including his references to killing himself in various ways that we didn’t see on screen) and it actually added up to the groundhogs prediction (6 weeks I think it was, so 42 days).

    So you could argue the night with Rita would have been the last day in the loop no matter what happened.

  2. two things:

    embarrassed to admit that I never looked at the totality of xkcd until today, but i appreciate it and see why my son, heading off to study physics this fall, love it. Me too. thanks.

    Picking this blag comment to say the above, but I have almost the opposite reaction to Groundhog Day. Of course, I have always loved the time loop gimmick, but repeated viewings have only deepened my appreciation for the story of Phil’s emotional development. Maybe it’s because I’m on the other side of 50 now (but just over, son) but the idea that a person can change in such a fundamental and positive way is so appealing, even if its highly unlikely.

  3. He was in the loop much, much longer than was shown on screen… he mastered the keyboard and ice carving in his down time.

    He would (hopefully) have been trapped long term before killing himself the first time.

  4. Another interesting observation to make note of, and one I think XKCD would appreciate based on certain past comics like ‘angular momentum’ is that Murray was trapped for so very long that even though the day simply rolled over to the 3rd he should have been mellow about it. After all, it is just a different number on the calendar, right? Been there, done that, who cares what the paper says… and yet, to have someone to share it with suddenly adds a new modifier to all previous experiences. The promise of fresh new discovery, where old material is experienced in a new way.

  5. The message I take from the movie is that you unless you change yourself first, nothing else can change.

    I’d like to hear your interpretation of “The Little Prince”, many people read it when young and miss the main theme.

  6. “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.)”

    Have you made a head-count? And even if that head-count should turn out bad, there would still be enough of us to convincingly argue that we do, in fact, constitute most of the worlds population. Anyway, it would be fun tro try.

  7. Brian Aldiss felt peeved that an idea from a story his was used in this film without acknowledgement. It is a story of a couple in a living museum exhibit were forced to repeat one day in their lives every day for the benefit of visitors, (spoiler alert: they escape at the end of the story). I have heard him say this and I have read the story (but unfortunately cannot recall the title).

  8. Check out “Repeaters”… it uses the same concept as Groundhogs Day, except three people go through it simultaneously, and it explores the “Personal Revelation Exit Condition” concept a little more interestingly. It’s also a movie with high emotional intensity, as opposed to the lighthearted romp Groundhogs Day was.

  9. Am I right in thinking that this comic was a jab at Penrose’s idea that (roughly speaking) thermal photons from the heat death of the Universe travel “through the infinite future” to arrive at the next Big Bang?

  10. If you know what “eigenvectors” are (mutually orthogonal directions), then you’ll get this idea I’ve had for years about “eigenplots”. Just like any vector can be built from combinations of eigenvectors, any movie plot can be built from combinations of eigenplots. Some example eigenplots : “someone is thrust into a situation against their will”, “fights injustice outside the law”, “must learn to work together”, “two young lovers are kept apart”, “learns to be a better person”, etc. etc.

    Anyway, the “repeat the same day until you get it right” eigenplot is the only NEW eigenplot I’ve ever seen in the last 100 years! Think about it, all the others have been around since Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Robin Hood, and Romeo&Juliet. Then the idea spread, and I’ve since seen it used anywhere from Stargate to Xena (altho the goal in these later variations is usually to figure out HOW it’s happening so they can get out of it).

  11. Apparently this particular ‘eigenplot’ originated with Dick Lupoff’s 1973 short story ’12:01 PM’, which was made into a short film in 1990, and later a telemovie released in 1993 – about the same time that Groundhog Day was made.

    IMO 12:01 PM is a better movie than Groundhog Day – certainly there is a more ‘sciency’ plot device to explain the existence (and in the later version, resolution) of the time-loop.

  12. I wondered to myself if you’ve seen the movie “Primer”. Then I decided to suggest it to you if you haven’t seen it. It’s my favorite movie involving time travel as it doesn’t make mistakes in the theoretical physics of how it would work (At least, it sticks with one theory instead of jumping back and forth between pieces of different theories… and okay… they do make ONE mistake….). Anyway, watch it!

  13. Max, could you use a few more English-like words?
    And don’t call me a Sisyphus! :)

  14. As much as I love this movie, recent viewings for me have been tarnished with this tidbit I read on the wikipedia page: “During the filming, Ramis and Murray, despite their longtime collaboration, had a personal and professional falling out which remained unresolved for more than 10 years.” That makes me sad.

    From a scientific point of view, the only thing that troubled me about the movie is that his physical appearance doesn’t change. If he retains memories from all prior days, that means his physical being is advancing each day. If he were trapped for, say, ten years (no one agrees on the number), to everyone else it would look like he aged ten years in a single day.

  15. Charlie: He did kill himself a lot.
    If that kind of damage was magically fixed, one can assume that his physical being was rebooted to the state it was in when he first woke up, and that only memories were retained…

  16. I’m really impressed that Danny Rubin himself commented!

    Since people have been using these comments to recommend other time loop movies, I thought I’d throw in a couple of recommendations. If you’re an anime fan, two series were released last year that explore related territory. In the anime Steins;Gate, there’s a self-proclaimed mad scientist who attempts to induce a time loop to get one particular day just right. Madoka Magica is also worth checking out for a brief reference to this idea.

    These might have more in common with the TV show Seven Days than Groundhog Day. I used to love that series, but that may have been because I was a teenager ten years ago.

  17. I’m a long-time fan of Groundhog Day also. But for a completely wacky (and highly believable) take on what would happen if you could CHOOSE to relive a day, see the recent short film (Oscar Nominated Live Action short for 2012) “Time Freak”. Only 11 minutes long, but there’s a lot there :)

  18. On the other side of the time-loop conundrum is Red Dwarf’s take on it concerning Lister’s birth. He actually has a baby boy and travels back in time to place the baby on Past Earth, and the realizes that he is his own father, and calls it a “holding pattern” for humanity in the infinite future. “Or Rob, Or Ross” (ouroboros) is the episode name I believe.

  19. @Fieari

    I saw Repeaters and enjoyed it to a certain extent. The concept at least is solid, but as pointed out before, hardly original. I thought the story devolved into a basic shoot-em-up though, which was disappointing.

    The acting wasn’t so hot either.

  20. I was thinking about how many different shows I’ve seen the time loop re-imagined in, and finally I just looked it up at, which lists all of them. I would say that some of the ones listed are quite a bit different from Groundhog’s Day, but there are still a lot. Also, it looks like Star Trek: TNG did it a couple years prior to the movie.

  21. For those wondering about the length…
    The extras on the disc clearly show the original intent was 10000 years in the loop. That time length is also mentioned in one of the links given earlier in these comments.

  22. My take on the question of why February 3rd arrives is this:

    Everyone else isn’t repeating the loop; this curse is Phil’s. So everyone else is experiencing February 3rd the next morning.

    But Phil can’t just disappear without a trace from everyone else’s standpoint. That would make his predicament general rather than personal. So both things happen: the loop repeats for Phil, and a Phil-prime continues to February 3rd, every morning.

    So despite having become a better person, Phil is still trapped, right? Not exactly: Phil has become a boddhisatva. He remains on Earth for the benefit of others – note his many mitzvahs on his “last” iteration of the day. But at this point he is repeating a perfect day, and he has made peace with his circumstances.

    Arguably our lives are more like Phil’s than not. Time passes and things change, but not that quickly. We must repeat the same day many, many times. And whether we seem to move on depends on whether, like Phil, we can overcome the petty miseries that turn eternity into eternal torment.

    Of course, if Phil goes on to February 3rd every day and also begins another repetition of February 2nd, then an infinite series of new timelines are created, staggered one day apart. And if one could leverage their computing power, one could solve the game of Go for all positions before the stars winked out. But I digress.

  23. >Everyone else isn’t repeating the loop; this curse is Phil’s. So everyone else is experiencing February 3rd the next morning.

    I’ve often wondered if the bartender isn’t looping as well. He has these knowing looks….

  24. The thing that I took away from the film was the theme of reincarnation. Have not seen it since it came out in the cinema, but that’s what sticks with me. Something along the lines of you won’t be reunited with the eternal light of the godhead until you live an honest and pure life or some such nonsense :)

    Good film.

  25. One interesting way to read _Groundhog Day_ is as a reboot of Aristotle’s _Nichomachean Ethics_, which suggests that virtue (any practice that will lead to you on your deathbed feeling as if you’ve lived a worthwhile life) does *not* come naturally to humans but must instead be learned through practice. Through trial and error, which dear Ari says is the only way to get the job done, Bill Murray learns what virtue is and the personal benefits of practicing it. He leaves the loop when he becomes virtuous, not when he succeeds in getting a personal relationship.

    Meanwhile, this movie is also interesting b/c, it doesn’t do the usual time-travel movie ending of “Boy, playing with time just ruins everything! Thank goodness we can’t *actually* time travel!” After all, gotta recapture the narrative so as not to leave the audience feeling unsettled, right? _Grounhog Day_ suggests that it’s really unfortunate that we can’t time travel, as everyone does better if they’ve rehearsed. Too bad we can’t do it; our world would clearly be a better place if we could. Now leave the theater feeling all uncomfortable and selfconscious! A nice ballsier-than-usual move.

  26. Yes, the darker, more serious original short story and, even better, the subsequent short film “12:01PM” might be more your style. The short stars Kurtwood Smith (RoboCop’s Clarence Boddicker), and in that version, the time loop only lasts one hour. That sucks, but in the short, Smith points out that if it only lasted a second or less, it would be much worse. It’s still pretty grim. The time loop is caused by our universe bumping up against an anti-matter universe and then bouncing back an hour, only to do it again and again; what makes Kurtwood Smith special is a bit nebulous. The short ends with Smith realizing that there’s absolutely no way out.

    The feature-length movie 12:01 is quite a bit lighter. Like in Groundhog Day, the protagonist (perpetual failed-sitcom-star Jonathan Silverman) gets a whole day this time, and he has a comic relief buddy (pre-PCU Jeremy Piven) and a romantic interest (Supergirl, as herself). Martin Landau is also involved. Unlike the short, in the feature the time loop is a man-made, non-natural phenomenon, and Jonathan Silverman’s immunity is the result of a coincidental electric shock he received at the exact start time of the time loop’s first iteration. One nice thing about this one is that, when Jonathan Silverman finally fixes the universe, things aren’t exactly perfect like in Groundhog Day; Helen Slater points this out to Silverman, but he’s just happy that time gets to flow normally. I thought that was cute.

  27. Alan. Cf Red Dwarf and the birth of Lister, a similar thing was done in David Gerrold’s “The Man Who Folded Himself”, in which he through his GF has twins, and he takes the boy and raises him, pretending to be his uncle, and upon his (as the uncle) death, the story begins.

  28. For even darker reprisentations of time loops check out Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni and Umineko no Naku Koro Ni.

  29. “romanticized Sleeping Beauty idea” as I understand it is the magic inherent in “true love’s kiss”. Brings people back to life, and/or lifts a curse and changes them back into their real form. When this happens in Groundhog Day, it begins to snow, a surefire theatrical gimmic that signals BIG CHANGE, the same way a radical wind shift signals something BIG is coming, for example the arrival of Mary Poppins. Phil Conners looks up at the snow startled by something very new happening. Since he just declared his peace with being here, now (very bodhisattva/saintly),
    he takes the big change in stride. I think the loop ended with true love’s first kiss, and the start of the snow. It was just confirmed when the date changed the next dayfirst

  30. Great discussion. Several TV series have been mentioned, but I did not see mention of the excellent 13 episode series Day Break. Day Break takes the premise of Groundhog Day and smashes it into a conspiracy laden police drama. One major difference is that the protagonist, played by Tay Diggs, does age and his injuries carry over as well, so unlike Bill Murray, he still needs to not die. It’s pretty well done and finishes a complete story arc in its short run. It is currently available on Hulu(plus?) where I just watched it.

  31. I’ve always considered the possibility that Phil was caught in some sort of causal loop because failing to change and gain Rita would cause some sort of paradox in the future. Perhaps some descendant from the future zapped him in order to ensure his own birth.

  32. I just wanted to find a way to communicate with “Randall” of xkcd and thank him for the comic Click-and-Drag. I just spent roughly 3 hours examining the entire map, and I must say that it is the single greatest webcomic I have ever seen. You truly are an artist. Also, I like engineering and math and physics and music. Especially music. And at the risk of being spammed for the rest of my life by random people I don’t know, I would be touched if you could send me an email. I’m and I promise I won’t annoyingly reply. I’ll just forward it to my girlfriend who is also a big fan.
    Long live giant platypi from Siberia!
    Colin MacGregor

  33. Technically, it’s not a “that’s how we want movies to end” ending. “Groundhog Day” is steeped in a number of spiritual/religious ideas, and the one they focus on here basically says that if you don’t recognize and work to fix your own flaws, you’ll keep running into the same problems in your life, over and over again. Bill Murray’s major flaw is his narcissism, so he can’t break out of the cycle (a lifestyle where everyone around him is repetitive and annoying and always the same, and he can never quite reach his ideals) until he demonstrates empathy. Trying to play Andie MacDowell doesn’t work (it’s obviously selfish), and even telling her the truth doesn’t work (it’s still about him alleviating his pain, and he’s counting on her forgetting everything anyway)- it’s only when he becomes the type of person that puts other people first that he’s able to move on to the next day.

    So theoretically, even if he had conned Rita into sleeping with him at one point, he would have just stayed in the loop.

  34. I wonder why Phil wasn’t pissed about the whole loop ending just when he knew how to take Rita to bed…

    No way, of course the movie suggests that the real goal is to walk towards your goals with grace and excellence instead of speed…

  35. @Colin MacGregor : Y’know, there’s a jim-dandy set of forums at brimming with people you don’t know and who like engineering and math and physics and music, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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