Sunday, May 11, 2014

yo, mama

In the real world, it is Mother's Day. In the film it's about to be Groundhog Day, obviously. But, in honor of Mother's Day, I thought I'd share some detail of a scene I've mentioned before from Danny Rubin's original script so you can meet Mrs. Connors, Phil's mother.

INT. APARTMENT HALLWAY -- NIGHT

Phil stands facing a closed door. It opens. A little old LADY in a bathrobe answers.

MRS. CONNORS
Philip!

PHIL
Hi, Ma.

THEY hug.

MRS. CONNORS
Philip! What time is it? What’re you doing here?

They enter the APARTMENT

PHIL
Sorry about the hour.

MRS. CONNORS
You look freezing. Take off your shoes.

PHIL
I’m fine.

MRS. CONNORS
Put your feet up on the table. It’s warmer up there.

PHIL
I’m fine, really.

MRS. CONNORS
You’re gong to make yourself sick.

PHIL
Ma!

MRS. CONNORS
Go on.

Phil pulls off his shoes quickly, like a petulant child.

MRS. CONNORS
Doesn’t that feel better?

PHIL
Much.

MRS. CONNORS
What’re you doing here at this crazy hour? I thought you were starting a new job today.

PHIL
I did...

MRS. CONNORS
What’s wrong?

PHIL
Nothing. Really. I just wanted to see you.

MRS. CONNORS
What kind of job is a weatherman, anyway? People want to know the weather, why can’t they look out the window?

PHIL
Ma...

MRS. CONNORS
You are wasting your talents.

PHIL
Ma...

MRS. CONNORS
You could be anything you want to be. I always told you that.

PHIL
Ma, we’ve been over this a hundred times.

MRS. CONNORS
Maybe you need a hundred and one to get it through that thick head of yours. You know your problem...

PHIL
Ma, I didn’t come here to...

MRS. CONNORS
Your problem is all you think about is yourself.

PHIL
What?

MRS. CONNORS
It’s true.

PHIL
How can you say that? Ma, I just flew four hundred miles in this blizzard thing...

MRS. CONNORS
...Because YOU were lonely. When’s the last time you visited me because I was lonely?

PHIL
Ma... you don’t understand. I’m not like everybody else.

MRS. CONNORS
Yeah, well, who is? Could I get you some soup?

PHIL
No, thanks.

SHE proceeds to open a can of soup.

PHIL (V.O.)
Every visit to my mother was an exercise in aggravation. That hadn’t changed in three hundred years.

MRS. CONNORS
I’ll put the shoes on this radiator by the door. That way you won’t forget them on your way out. (Rubin, 1990, p. 58-9)

Mrs. Connors seems nice enough, I suppose. And, though this scene doesn't add anything to the story--and I've even argued that it detracts from it--this does seem like the mother Phil might have had. I know, technically, this is the mother Phil had, since Rubin invented them both, but, hey, I'm a writer, and I will let you in on a secret: sometimes characters do things we don't expect, sometimes characters are not what we want them to be and sometimes we write them how we want anyway. But, I think Mrs. Connors, a little pushy but not overly annoying, is just the kind of woman Phil probably had for a mother.

(I'm not sure he had a father, but that's an issue for another day.)

Mothers can say a lot about who we are, who we want to be. Phil's mother, in just this short scene, tells me that Phil doesn't like being offputting, would rather have people want to be near him, even want to do things for him. I'm not sure if he's looking for a new mother--and I'm reminded of a bit from Bacha (1998):

The women [after a screening of Groundhog Day] seemed to see Phil's seductions as honest attempts to become whole through a merger with some other parts of himself. [These] other parts might be seen as his female side. This suggests [that a] woman who has been chosen, like Rita, might want to believe [that] she can make her lover whole and, further, she is necessary to his wholeness. This suggests that a woman can get hooked into this kind of relationship through a desire to accomplish some similar closeness to her mother inside the man. (p. 394-5)

--but on some level, we might all be looking for someone to take care of us when we are looking for that person who, as Bacha puts it, "is necessary to [our] wholeness." Benesh (2011) describes how "Rita repeatedly smooths Phil's lapel before the groundhog ceremonies" (p. 74). But, she makes no value judgment as to what this gesture means. She also mentions the slaps and throwing cards--this is in Benesh's section on hands (and remember she's mostly concerned with visuals, not a textual analysis, so it may be unfair to say she makes no value judgment when she, in fact, has no obligation in the context of her dissertation to make one)--and reaching out to Phil after buying him and over him the next morning. My margin notes describe this evolution as follows: "motherly-->hostile-->accepting?" I suppose, if I included the card throwing, there would be a playful in there after the hostile or maybe the card throwing fits with accepting and I should add a loving to the end. But, my point is, in context of Benesh's focus here on hands, I took Rita's smoothing of Phil's lapel as motherly even though, really, she's his segment producer and she wants him to look good. The detail that really makes it motherly is not when she smooths his lapel but when she recognizes that Phil is not feeling well. "You look terrible." she says. Of course, she deflects her own warmth a little by a light tone that follows as she asks, "What happened? Rough night?"

I do not mean to suggest that we all want someone to take care of us... I don't think. But, I think it is important that we realize and acknowledge that some people, like our mothers, have such huge impacts on our lives that they help shape who we are and who we become.

And, it isn't just mothers. Nor just fathers or siblings or teachers. Everyone that comes into our lives has an impact, some small, some so massive as to reshape us... I almost wish Phil had continued to carve stone in the film instead of ice because the use of hammer and chisel would make for a nice metaphor here (and I'm not sure if one takes the same approach to ice). But, maybe the shaping of the ice that we see works just fine. What do we see Phil using on the ice in the film? A chainsaw and a chisel. The former he uses to make deep cuts in the base of his angel statue. The latter he uses to make minor adjustments to her wings. It's actually almost too easy to suggest a parenting metaphor there, or a mentoring metaphor, or even a friendship metaphor...

Permit a little cheesiness, some lyrics from the song "For Good" from Wicked:

(Glinda):
I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
(Elphaba):
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
(Glinda):
Because I knew you
(Both):
I have been changed for good

We like to believe in free will and personal agency, that we are who we choose to be. And, on some level, that must be true. But, we are also the sum of all of our interactions with everyone we have ever met, and the chemical impulses brought on by our genetic makeup, and the whims of serendipity.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to appreciate all of the orbits I am pulled from and all the centers of gravity that pull me from them.

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