Sometimes, going into a movie, you know the risks involved. Groundhog Day is a fairly legendary movie, so pretty much anyone going into it is going to know the general premise: Phil (Bill Murray) is cursed to live the same day over and over and over again. Taking on a premise like that, there’s not much point if you’re just going to show the day twice or thrice, so, going in, I was aware that the scenes and characters were going to get very familiar, very quickly. But, part of what makes the movie so successful is its ability to tip-toe around the possibility of arduous repetition and, instead, toy with familiarity and novelty in such a way that you only feel weary of the sameness at the same time that Phil does. By fleshing out to different parts of the town and introducing new characters or interactions with familiar ones, the film maintains an unweary plausibility.. Of course Phil wouldn’t just follow the same courses of action every day, just like we wouldn’t want to watch it happen.
Groundhog Day‘s other big accomplishment is the darkness in which it dabbles. I heard once that there is a deleted scene from this movie which makes it clear that Phil has lived the same day for 10,000 years worth of days. During even a fraction of that time, of course you would come to a point where it seemed like the only course of action was to commit suicide. Not only does Phil hit that breaking point, he hits it for an extended period of time. Again, the film tip-toes around the touchy stuff by making his suicides humorous (however darkly) but it’s still the story of a man who legitimately feels like he has no other option. It’s not until he realizes that ending it all isn’t an option that Phil starts his journey into self-improvement and redemption.
And that, my friends, is the last part that makes Groundhog Day so great. Despite all of these potential buzz-killers and film-ruiners, it’s all pretty simple. The premise that you are offered is what keeps the film going, with a central character who goes through a self-discovering transformation. There’s no pretentiousness to the story; it just suggests what someone in that position could possibly go through and leaves us with a satisfactory, heart-warming conclusion. Sure, there are some uncertainties left over like “Why the hell did this happen in the first place?” and “What makes him to special that he gets to transform into an uber-cool renaissance man?” and “What makes that last day so different from every other day that it’s the one to break the cycle?” but sometimes it’s just nice to accept what’s in front of you, and instead of having questions unanswered just realizing that there’s no point in asking.