Saturday, April 19, 2014

a dream of spring

You want to know what's really amazing? I've been waiting for you every day for ten thousand years. I dream of you every night of my life. You've been my constant weapon against total despair, and just knowing you exist has kept me alive... (Ramis, 1992, 12 January, p. 115)

That's Phil Connors near the end of the second revision of Groundhog Day. I bring it up today because just this morning, Cracked posted a link on Facebook to an old article from 2011: "7 Hotly Debated Movie Questions that Totally Have Answers." One of those questions: Why Did Bill Murray Get Stuck in a Time Loop? In their answer, they cite the second revision to bring up Stephanie Decastro and to mention that Phil was in the loop for ten thousand years.

Now, let us engage our critiquing, nitpicking masks.

First of all, Bill Murray was never stuck in any time loop, as far as I know. Phil Connors was.

Second of all, looking at that quotation above, I gotta say, I don't think Phil is necessarily being literal about it having been ten thousand years. In fact, I think he's lying in a few ways in just those few lines--and this is at the end of the script when Phil is supposed to be a better guy. I think Ramis just couldn't manage some dialogue that was actually romantic. Hell, in the description after Phil's dialogue, it says, "Rita can't even speak. This is clearly the nicest thing anybody has ever said to anybody."

1. That last bit might be true if the content of what Phil said were also true.

2. If you have to tell us this is clearly anything, then it is not clear at all.

3. I think this bit of dialogue from Phil fails to be what it is trying to be, and I am glad it did not survive into the film.

4. Now, onto the specifics... but in reverse order (you'll see why in a moment).

You've been my constant weapon against total despair, and just knowing you exist has kept me alive.

That last part if blatantly false; the existence of the time loop and Phil's place within it is what has kept Phil alive. And, that first part is also false. Phil has killed himself; that is usually a sign of "total despair" so he cannot claim Rita has kept him from that... Okay, to be fair, he calls her is "constant weapon," he doesn't say that he won the fight he was fighting with that weapon. However, I would still question that constant since he was not even conscious of any attraction for Rita for quite a while. Hell, if the ten thousand year figure is accurate, then we can probably assume it was years before Phil actively pursued Rita.

I dream of you every night of my life.

I don't think Phil dreamed of Rita the night between February 1st and 2nd; if he had, he probably would have thought of going after her sooner. And, I doubt that he goes to bed every night in time to get any dreams before the time loop resets to the previous morning. I'm not sure that he dreams at all. Additionally, this sounds like a line. Like something Phil would say when he gets Rita into his room on date night. It doesn't ring true.

(Similarly, one line that is in the end of the film that doesn't quite ring true is Phil's: "I know your face so well, I could have done it with my eyes closed.)

It sounds like a bit of dialogue from a romantic comedy rather than something someone might actually say.

I've been waiting for you every day for ten thousand years.

Nevermind that even Harold Ramis puts the length of the time loop in the film somewhere around 30 to 40 years. There is no reason we should take what Phil says as absolute fact. Consider: had he actually lived ten thousand years, would he still be counting the days? Ramis' second revision doesn't even include the book calendar system that was in Rubin's original, so Phil isn't even counting the days in this version. He certainly hasn't kept track of 3,650,000 (plus) days. This also sounds like a line. If we want to find our figures from earlier drafts, I'd say go back to Rubin's original; he gives more specific numbers (though not at the end). Page 67, for example, when Phil is throwing his "birthday party" JOANNE asks him how old he is. He claims to be--and the implication is that this--minus his age, which in the original is younger than Bill Murray in the film--is how long he has been in the time loop--to be 263 years old. Phil in Rubin's original, is about 28 years old, by the way

(Consider this: Rubin calls Phil "a twenty-eight-year-old man mired in a life of shallow relationships and superficial aspirations was perfectly understandable to me as a similarly aged man when I wrote it" (Rubin, 2012, p. 74))

so that would mean he has been in the time loop for about 245 years when he celebrates his birthday. Of course, earlier in Rubin's script, Phil tells us in voiceover upon getting out of town to visit his mother: "Every visit to my mother was an exercise in aggravation. That hadn’t changed in three hundred years." 300 before 263 (245)... I don't think Phil can be trusted on numbers.

But, there is a bigger issue when it comes to the ten thousand year figure. Namely, if Phil has been stuck in the time loop for ten thousand years, he would have absolutely no useful knowledge or skill when it comes to living in real time. I've written before about how it would be difficult for Phil to return to normal life after the loop, and I wasn't even operating under the assumption of ten thousand years. And, what I said before was

I imagine Phil Connors will have some trouble getting on with regular life after the time loop. He’ll probably overthink everything. Or maybe, at least at first, he won’t think anything through at all. He’ll just act and hope for the best; hell he probably won’t even hope for the best, just that the best will become obvious as he goes. Think about it. He’s used to now being able to just do things, no consequences. He has to actually relearn the idea of consequences. He might quit his job. Let’s hope he’s got some money saved up. Or maybe he’ll keep that job and he’ll be the awesomely philosophical weatherman, and a network will notice him, and he’ll leave Pittsburgh for something bigger. And that will come between he and Rita, if they’re even still together. Though the film has a happy ending, I don’t see it as the “happily ever after” of a fairy tale. Phil and Rita will probably be fine for a while, but will it last? Is Rita really the right girl for Phil? Should Phil even be heading into a long-term relationship after the time loop? I mean, adjusting to regular life after that has got to be about as big an adjustment as coming off drug addiction. He shouldn’t be making any big life-changing decisions. But, he’s going to want to.

Separate from that romantic comedy/fairy tale ending, I question the idea that Phil getting out of the time loop after ten thousand years is even a happy ending just for him. His entire world would have just been yanked out from beneath him. Everything he knows--surely, he would have no memory anymore of life pre-loop, and really he only knows that life exists outside the loop because it exists maybe in some genetic memory, internal mythology within his mind. Think about how your life was going a year ago. Five years ago. Ten. Fifteen. If you're old enough, go for 20, 25, 50. Recall all the details of how your day-to-day life went. All the details.

Christ supposedly lived about two thousand years ago, yet we cannot prove conclusively that he even existed, let alone that he was who the Holy Bible says he was. And, we fight over what it really means if he did exist, how it affects our lives today. And, that is with a gap of only two thousand years. Go back further, Ancient Greece. We've still got some details of how they lived. Go back further, to cavemen. We've got some detail, but certainly not a perfect picture. Go back ten thousand years, and how much detail do we know? Maybe we've got facts, archaeological facts, but that sort of thing lacks the nuance of personal memory. I cannot imagine personal memory lasting that long. And, I really do not think Phil's memories of his pre-loop life would be still within him.

In fact, if we assume the ten thousand year figure is true, then maybe he isn't lying about Rita being his constant weapon against total despair; maybe he simply doesn't remember when he felt total despair. His yearning for Rita is a constant detail, a capital-T Truth, a driving philosophy or religion in the life of Phil Connors. He doesn't dream of escape. He truly dreams only of Rita, for what else is there?

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to remember everything, no matter how long it takes.

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