Sunday, January 19, 2014

...if we're gonna stay ahead of the weather

This is like part four: written in a lounge area on the University of Utah campus. Just judged some informative speeches, not judging this round. So, it's time to explain what the sticky wet dreams referred to.

First up is sticky. Really, it's stick and it's not that exciting. In fact, having just checked the transcript of the movie, it's not exciting at all. I thought I had a line wrong in the transcript. When Phil describes "the same old schtick" of the Gobbler's Knob bit, he says "the guy comes out with a big stick and raps on the door." I thought I had it wrong--something like the guys comes out and raps on the door with a big stick. Nothing major. But, I want my transcript to be as accurate as possible. The version I shared here has already undergone some changes--well, the changes were made to my annotated copy, anyway. Interestingly, I didn't misplace the stick but I did leave out the and. So, there is something to fix. But, as I already said, nothing exciting.

So, next up is wet, actually weather. It's the line I mentioned two days ago... maybe. I still harbor the secret hope that there's some other awesome or profound line that stood out on that particular viewing and will stand out again. But, anyway, the line:

We better get going if we're gonna stay ahead of the weather.

Larry says it three times, and it's arguably the ultimate detail in the god day diner scene that proves to Rita that Phil isn't lying. I noted, back when I was breaking down the screenplay structure,

Phil Dyer in his Doctor My Script blog suggests that the first few pages of a screenplay should include someone actually stating the theme of the story. He cites When Harry Met Sally when "Billy Crystal tells Meg Ryan that it's not possible for men and women to be just friends because the sex always gets in the way."

I couldn't find that line for Groundhog Day, at least not conclusively. I noted how a couple lines--"I want to spend an extra second in Punxsutawney?" and "She's fun, but not my kind of fun."--have a retrospective irony, as does "Someday somebody will see me interviewing a groundhog and think I don't have a future." But, those don't really tell us the theme of the story. The 17-minute mark moment--Phil proclaiming himself a "celebrity in an emergency" as if that entitles him to special treatment over everyone else--does tell us what the film is going to be about, storywise, but not necessarily thematically. Plus, not in the first 10 minutes, so it doesn't fit Dyer's point.

Neither, of course, does Larry's weather line. But, hearing it without seeing the scene, I heard the line in a different way, and I think it does evoke and invoke a certain theme that runs throughout Groundhog Day. Metaphorically, of course. Consider those days (and I won't link to all of them) that I took the impromptu quotations from speech tournaments and linked them all to the film--and, I've got a page of quotations from yesterday burning a hole in my bag, by the way. If the quotation I had was "We better get going if we're gonna stay ahead of the weather" this is how I would link it to Groundhog Day:

The metaphor is simple. To get going is to make something of life, to do something instead of just lazing around. The weather is all that can get in the way, the hardships that make us not want to get up and get out and do things. I think this is one of the themes to Groundhog Day despite the fact that it would be hard to argue that pre-loop Phil Connors is a) lazy or b) doesn't get up and do things with his life. But, he's stuck in a job he certainly doesn't appreciate, if not outright dislikes. Some people might think that his womanizing means he is "making the most" of his opportunities, but obviously it has left him empty, and leaves him empty within the span of the film as well. This is one of those times I think it's good that part of Rubin's original got left behind. The film only shows us the Phil Connoring of Nancy and Rita. Rubin's original script includes this bit before the Phil Connoring of Tess (later replaced by Rita to give this scene to a main character):

Of the sixty-three eligible women in Punxsutawney, only forty-nine have so far been--accessible. The last few are proving more of a challenge.

This Phil who has accessed 49 women within the time loop does bottom out, of course. But, the narration (this was voiceover, of course) makes the Phil Connoring process into a far more deliberate and potentially heinous thing than it is in the final film. Phil Connoring Nancy just kinda happens, out of nowhere, and we're hardly given time to think about the moral and ethical issues at play. The Phil Connoring of Rita--that's trickier because by then we have a good inkling or two that Phil is interested in Rita on a deeper level than even he realizes. That stare when he first sees Rita, plus saying her name when he's with Nancy--these things are like cinematic shorthand for being in love. In all the days of "date night" I don't think Phil is pursuing love, of course. But, even then, we the audience can see that he wants more on the inside than he is seeking on the outside. He's still operating in his shallows but he's clearly got some depth.

But, I was talking about the metaphor. Phil ultimately learns to make something positive of his life rather than be lazily stuck in his shallows, pursuing women and giving in to hedonistic urges. Giving in may be an active step but that doesn't mean it isn't lazy. It is certainly lazy to take the easy road, and pre-loop Phil and early-loop Phil are definitely taking the easy road. Arguably, his disdain for his Channel 9 Pittsburgh job and his need to claim he's leaving comes from an unconscious recognition that he's already going nowhere. So, the entire film, then, can be taken as Phil learning to get going rather than just be where he is and complain about it. Ironically, he learns to not be stagnant by being stuck in one place.

The weather that he's got to stay ahead of: his own selfishness, the shallow pursuits of modern life--I don't have my Groundhog Day Project binders with me in Utah or I might look to Foley for a good quotation about Phil as representative of modernism--his panic and dismay at being in the loop, and for that matter, his dismay at his pre-loop life. There is no Stephanie in the final film because it's not some ex-girlfriend who is in all of two scenes who has cursed Phil to be trapped in Punxsutawney; it is Phil himself. He has cursed himself and that blizzard that forms the physical trap--that's the weather that, at the time anyway, he cannot get ahead of.

And, taking this metaphor broader to all of our lives, we can only get going by getting ahead of, avoiding, beating all the things that weather us down and keep us from doing something with our lives.

Tomorrow: dreams.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to mess with people by always starting in the middle of things I've already got going on.

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