Monday, June 16, 2014

hello, father

Yesterday was Father’s Day, but I had people over and had to write about that. I had intended to write a companion piece to the Mother’s Day one. Today will have to do.

Two things:

First, Phil refers to the Old Man, Jedson O’Reilly as “father” and “dad” and “pop”—something that I have always found to be a bit, well, weird. Gilbey (2004) suggests that Phil’s use of “father” specifically, “with its religious connotations, is interesting here, though it doesn’t feature in Rubin’s first revision” (p. 74).

(Note: I have never read Rubin’s first revision, just Rubin’s original and Ramis’ second revision. A quick Google search just now and I still cannot find that one online. However, I just found Ramis’ third revision, it is already printing, and I will read it soon. So, I got that going for me.)

Me—I hear Phil call O’Reilly “dad” and it sounds to me like that moment in Back to the Future when Marty accidentally calls George in 1955 “dad” then awkwardly tries to cover it by calling him “daddio.” It just doesn’t seem natural. I think I’ve suggested—in my ongoing quest to explain every single detail within the film—that Phil’s father died or left his mother when he was young so Phil’s got “daddy issues.” The easy way to read into it is probably Gilbey’s since the “daddy issues” thing only matters, storywise, if we take God as the “daddy” in question. I’m sure Foley (2004) would appreciate that reading.

And, for the record, I’m not saying either reading is wrong. I don’t, necessarily, think any particular reading of the film is wrong.

Anyway, even weirder than Murray’s delivery on the patronymic nicknames is that, unlike the first time Phil calls O’Reilly “Pops” (the morning of Day 4), which sounds like Phil just calling the old guy something… cute, once Phil takes an actual interest in O’Reilly he calls him “father” and it seems at once both more personal and more ridiculous. One could almost suspect that O’Reilly is Phil’s father; in fact, at the screening of Groundhog Day, February 1st, in Woodstock, one little kid actually asked, when Phil is trying to revive O’Reilly, calling him “Pop” and “Dad,” “That’s his father?”

Another read on the attempted revival scene, along the lines of Foley, is that Phil is not actually referring to O’Reilly when he says “Pop” or “Dad;” rather, Phil is talking to God. This then leads right into Phil “plaintively look[ing] heavenward” (Foley, 2004).

And then, in a deleted scene, Phil covers O’Reilly and leaves a note for the paramedics who will find him…

Phil’s expressing his desire to have lots of kids on date night—

Gosh, I can’t wait to do this with my own children. Golly, I want kids, lots of kids! I want to adopt. I want to have my own kids. I want to have foster kids.

—that, oddly enough, fits right in with Foley. Foley , citing Freud’s phrasing, suggests Phil believes himself to be “a prosthetic god.” Foley argues that this part of Phil’s “conversion involves recognizing there is a God and he is not it.”

I’m reminded of William Makepeace Thackeray’s line, memorably quoted in the film The Crow: “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children.”

So also is “Father.” Parents have the power to ruin or raise up a child, too much power sometimes.

Keep in mind throughout all of this pseudo-religious discussion that Phil claims—talking to Mary the Piano Teacher—that his father was a piano mover. God the Father, of course is, via Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, the prime mover.

The second thing:

In Rubin’s original script, Phil visits another kind of “Father.” Here’s the scene:

INT. CHURCH – DAY

Phil looks around at the cavernous, empty chapel with the bright colored glass windows.

PHIL (V.O.)
For the sake of argument – I decided to consult a professional. What could I lose?

INSIDE CONFESSIONAL

PHIL
Nobody is anything like me.

PRIEST
I am.

PHIL
No, no, no you’re missing the point.

PRIEST
Am I?

PHIL
You are not like me. I am different.

PRIEST
Me, too.

PHIL
Okay, okay. What did you do yesterday?

PRIEST
Same thing I do everyday.

PHIL
Uh huh. Yeah, but what day was yesterday?

PRIEST
Not sure. They all sort of run together after a while.

PHIL
Yeah, okay, but I’m never ever going to die.

PRIEST
That’s my plan, too.

PHIL
You still don’t get it.

PRIEST
No .. uh ..

PHIL
Phil.

PRIEST
Phil.

PHIL AND PRIEST TOGETHER
Like the groundhog.

PHIL
I know.

PRIEST
Phil. You think nobody understands you. You’re all alone. Nobody has ever felt what you’re feeling. Could be you’re wrong.

PHIL
I doubt it.

PRIEST
People come in here all the time, saying just what you’re saying, going through what you’re going through.

PHIL
Really?

PRIEST
Really.

PHIL
Like who?

PRIEST
You say you’re lonely?

PHIL
Yes.

PRIEST
You say you live forever?

PHIL
Yes.

PRIEST
You say you have nothing but time on your hands?

PHIL
Yes.

PRIEST
Then go find them yourself.

The window between them slams shut.

On the one hand, the priest inadvertently responds more appropriately to Phil’s situation than the psychiatrist does in the film. On the other hand, the scene that follows this implies that even if the priest did not mean all of that literally, Phil takes it literally; he goes in search of other people around Punxsutawney who are experiencing the same day over and over. Really, this scene reads better, in my opinion, as being a bit like Hannam’s (2008) “Groundhog Day Effect” or even Ralph’s assessment of his daily life sitting at that bowling alley bar with Phil and Gus…

PHIL
What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

RALPH
That about sums it up for me.

If we’re lucky, our parents—even our pseudo- and stand-in parents—make our lives more interesting and varied than that. May 21, 2014, the Dalai Lama quoted (on Facebook) a saying I hadn’t heard before: “Wherever you’re happy, you can call home, and whoever is kind to you is like your parents.” Rita fixing Phil’s lapel before his report, that’s a producer thing but it’s also motherly. Anyone can fill that role in the individual moments.

Those who serve that sort of role on an ongoing basis—we should love them and celebrate them whenever we can. Or at least on those annual holidays reserved for them.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to be a better parent than I am and to appreciate my own parents more than I do.

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