Wednesday, October 9, 2013

i don't even have to floss

Phil Connors can't get fat. He doesn't have to exercise. He can veg out and do nothing at all--hell, he does this at one point in the film, when we see him sitting around watchingJeopardy! with the old people at the bed and breakfast, a big bowl of popcorn in his lap, a bottle of booze close at hand.

I thought of this tonight when my dinner options were limited. Let me explain two details. First, I've been a vegetarian for a bit more than a year now, so my options when out are fairly limited sometimes anyway. On the college campus, there aren't many meal options for a vegetarian. There are some good sides at a few places, but not much else. Second... or rather first and a half, just so you know, I didn't become a vegetarian for health reasons but I think it's had a positive effect on my health. Actual second, night classes, like those in the masters program, are scheduled 6:10 to 10:00 at my school. And food places on campus are all closed by 8:00, so teachers will have a break around 7:30 to give students a chance to grab some food. Thing is, lately, there aren't many food options at 7:30. Only three places open tonight: El Pollo Loco, Carl's Jr., and Sbarro. Only vegetarian options at those first two are fries, and I figured if I'm going to buy something oily, I might as well get pizza... more substance to it. It's not exactly good for me, especially Sbarro's pizza, but it's vegetarian, and it's filling. So, then I'm eating my slice of veggie pizza and it occurs to me Phil doesn't have this problem. He's lucky he's in relatively good shape--I mean, Bill Murray (and by extension, Phil Connors) is far from an Adonis, but he's fit enough we can buy that, say, women would be interested even if he wasn't also charming and funny. If he was out of shape like, say, Gus, the movie would be quite different. He could probably still steal all that money but he might not be able to get the costume he wants...

Of course, that makes me wonder if it matters that Phil dresses up like Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name. I mean it allows for a nice musical beat, giving us that little bit of the music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which makes the costume scene stand out even more as something unique and eccentric, a singular example of the adolescent phase of Phil's time loop even without the robbery or Nancy or the car chase with Gus and Ralph. But, I wonder if the Clint Eastwood bit doesn't serve some larger function in relation to, say, gender roles. Clint Eastwood is the quintessential man's man. Bill Murray, though I called him fit, has just enough extra flesh to him that some might call him effeminate... I wouldn't, but I have issues with constantly reifying the gender divide in order to make such points in the first place. The fact is, Bill Murray is not what anyone would use as a great example of masculinity. And, his "quest" in Groundhog Day isn't particularly masculine either (according to Claire S. Bacha, with whom I love to disagree, and according to Suzanne M. Daughton, with whom I take some issue but not as strongly); a masculine quest involves venturing out into the world to retrieve some external object while a feminine quest involves turning inward toward some internal harmony. But, in this particular scene, Phil has dressed up in the costume of one of our great American masculine ideals (even though, technically, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly could be termed an Italian film), and even goes so far as having his date--dressed in a particularly provocative and overtly sexualized feminine costume--call him not by his name but by the much more masculine nickname Bronco. Phil has already demonstrated the time loop seduction method with Nancy Taylor. His presumed womanizing (presumed in the film version, more explicit in earlier drafts of the screenplay) has come to its climax. So, he takes on the guise of what he has become--the ultimate male... even if the Man with No Name has no notable sex life (at least not that I can recall in those films).

I've seen comments from people who think that scene is just weird, that it doesn't fit with the rest of the film, or it does but only as a deliberate bit of eccentricity to demonstrate what kind of crazy shit Phil can get up to now that he's embraced his situation. But, it is more than that, isn't it? It serves as the culmination of Phil's... for lack of a better description, his descent into masculinity. And, in this light, his pursuit of Rita plays, I think, even less as a romantic pursuit than I've previously argued. Instead, it's a desperate attempt to cling to chauvinistic, patriarchal standards by conquering the virginal princess. Phil is entrenching himself in the worst remnants of his life before the time loop only to find that sometimes he still can't win. No matter how charming and improbably matched he can be to Rita, she still won't go to bed with him on the first date... at least not until later when he is a) honest and forthcoming instead of manipulative and b) remarkably lacking in ego.

Daughton's suggestion that it is Phil's identification with the Other that allows him to be free in the end makes for an interesting juxtaposition with this seemingly innocuous scene now. Phil here stands firmly on the side of patriarchy. And, though he has come by his money dishonestly, he emerges from a fancy car firmly on the side, visually, of the haves.

(Of course, how many of the haves do we figure got their money honestly, anyway?)

Though the more obvious structure of the film would put the first act ending with, say, the montage of slaps drifting into depression and death, perhaps it makes more sense to put Phil's pursuit of Rita entirely inside the second act. Then, the first act is not just the setup and adolescent stage but rather the presentation and upholding of the status quo, the world of the exploiter. Phil is not just one egocentric man representative of all of our various faults. He is the embodiment of our jointly constituted faults, the embodiment of the worst aspects not just of humans but of humanity, willing to exploit any advantage. The second act is then not simply a response to the negative ending of the first (as it would be if the act break comes with the slaps) but a distinct journey unto itself of the exploiter being beaten down in the face of everything that has worked for him up to this point coming to utter failure. So then, Phil's suicide is not so simple anymore either, but rather some revolutionary display of self-destruction on the part of the powers that be in modern society.

Act three remains relatively the same, though perhaps the redemptive arc is on a grander scale now. Phil's dive off the Pennsylvanian Hotel with arms out--I think I've avoided the comparison to Christ on the cross before, but now I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that it is entirely appropriate that Phil take on now the guise of the Christ. His arc as man ended with him as the Man with no Name. His scrounging around in the mud in pursuit of sexual conquest ends with him emerging Christ-like through self-sacrifice into--surprise, surprise--the notion that he is a god.

(And, the only specific reference to any religion comes in the "god" scene, when Rita namechecks Catholicism.)

So, then Groundhog Day serves not just metaphorically as our individual struggles with purpose and all the other nice stuff I've spent the last two months plus talking about, but also allegorically as our collective struggle with our cycle of exploitation and self-destruction.

And, all because I was stuck eating pizza when I didn't really want it.

Well, not to imply that made the movie this way. But, a long school day, a sore throat, and a little caffeine, got me into a less rambly mood (even if I did have to get to my point in a roundabout fashion).

A fatter Phil wouldn't serve this role as readily. But, neither would a more physically fit Phil. It is vital that Phil be slightly unassuming, maybe even a little frumpy, the kind of guy you wouldn't notice if this were Bill Murray's first role. He isn't just an everyman because he represents each of us. He's an everyman because he represents all of us.

And, while we might wish we didn't have to worry about love handles or cholesterol or flossing, that's really not the point to the time loop any more than being able to throw cards consistently into a hat is.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to embrace every angle.

No comments:

Post a Comment