fred, how was the wedding?
I already mentioned how I briefly thought the quilt on Phil’s bed was a wedding ring pattern—I’m not a quilter but I my mother used to be, so I’ve heard of some stuff like this. Anyway, found online a couple spots (like this one) where people were talking about that quilt and, well, apparently it’s an “irish chain” (maybe a triple irish chain) which has nothing to do with wedding symbology.
But, I wanted to write about the stuff that is wedding symbology today. Not just symbology, of course, but weddings themselves. In the movie, we don’t see the Kleiser wedding, but in earlier drafts, the big party at the end was the wedding, not the Groundhog ball. Rubin includes a version of this scene (though it was not part of the original screenplay) in How to Write Groundhog Day. Debbie is still named Doris, and all Phil says he did to get her to go through with the wedding was have “a little chat.” The movie presents this better; as Phil says, “All I did was fan the flame of her passion for you.”
The bachelor auction came into the story when Murray and Rubin went to the actual Punxsutawney to “experience the actual festival.” Rubin saw mention of a bachelor auction in the local paper. This combined with the Groundhog Banquet thrown in Punxsutawney became the centerpiece and climax for Act III of the film. But, in terms of gender roles and wedding symbology, there’s an interesting change here. Claire S. Bacha, whose “Groundhog Day: the individual, the couple, the group and the space between” I wrote about a few entries ago, suggests that Phil, in changing, has gotten closer to his feminine side… and I hate it when I can’t find the bookmark I want. I thought it was Bacha who mentioned how the wedding scene at the end of a drama is there to uphold traditional roles, to let the audience know that all is normal. But, apparently it wasn’t in her piece that I was reading that.
So, I will have to make the point myself.
If we take the film as romantic comedy, the main throughline being Phil’s realization that he wants Rita, and his becoming someone worthy of her, then an actual wedding in the end would uphold the patriarchal elements inherent in romantic comedy. The man pursues the woman. The man may have to change to get her, but ultimately, by upholding traditional marriage, the film would tell us that this is all normal; we must couple and marry and that is how things are done. Bacha’s notion of Phil getting closer to his feminine side holds up fairly well next to what we are given instead in the film. Phil, auctioned off to Rita, is now the commodity. Bacha argues that he is still trying to impress Rita at this point, but I disagree. I think he has moved beyond that; that is why we can accept the role reversal here, Rita buying Phil. In a way, the auction scene actually transcends the idea that this is a conventional romantic comedy. It makes it something much more interesting and unique.
Still, there are several references to weddings and images related to them in the film. Of course, there’s the Kleiser wedding. We learn of their wedding in the “god” scene. As far as upholding patriarchal values, here, it is Debbie, not Fred who is having second thoughts. Fred having second thoughts might be the more clichéd Hollywood idea, but Debbie having second thoughts, and here being called out on it by a man, Phil, upholds patriarchy in a way. And, of course Debbie’s second thoughts are one of the many things “fixed” by the all-knowing Phil on his final repetition. However much he has changed, he has taken it upon himself here to support this marriage, the wedding we no longer get to see. While the film might be slipping a little bit past tradition, Phil has not necessarily gotten so far.
There are wedding photos in at least two notable scenes as well. Behind Phil and Rita at the bar, there is one on the wall, though the camera angle doesn’t make it visible every time. And, on Mary’s piano there is a wedding photo framed at center of the screen for two nearly identical shots of Phil practicing piano. Now, neither of these things was necessarily placed there to promote marriage. But, let’s assume for a moment that they were. What do they tell us about, well, Phil and Rita? The bar is where the pursuit begins. That the wedding photo is framed between Rita and Phil could be taken as a clear symbolic reference of what is to come. If this placement is important than the placement of Mary’s wedding photo (presumably it is hers, but it could be her parents) on the piano also drives what Bacha suggests, that Phil is still just pursuing the marriage with Rita by learning piano.
(There could be some symbology of Mary as Phil’s mother figure, also, just like the Old Man becomes his father, but that’s symbolism for another day.)
Or maybe it’s just set dressing. But, even then, why do the set dressers take marriage as a given?
More importantly, in terms of the presentation of marriage (or at least symbolic marriage) in the film, we have the ending of the film. Stephen Tobolowsky (AKA Ned Ryerson) describes this well in his podcast, The Tobolowsky Files; he refers to Phil’s lifting of Rita over the closed gate in front of the bed and breakfast as a carrying over the threshold. Now, practically speaking, Bill Murray lifted Andie MacDowell over the gate because he saw that the gate was frozen shut and wanted to get the shot in one take so they wouldn’t have to deal with footprints in the snow. But, in terms of the movie itself, Phil carrying Rita over the threshold could easily be taken as the culmination of the wedding we don’t see. With the Kleiser wedding offscreen, it actually makes the symbolism here stronger, like the ending sequence in the film is the wedding of Phil and Rita. Whether he’s done it on purpose or not, he has won Rita’s attention… hell, he does look directly at Rita during part of his final Groundhog Day speech, so there is some evidence he’s still interested even if he’s no longer in pursuit. And, Rita’s purchase of Phil, going back beyond what we normally call “traditional” marriage, could be taken as her buying him as her husband, like the business contract of old time marriages. The dowry of sorts: $339.88. Which has gone to the city of Punxsutawney. Rita has purchased her new groom from the city that has raised him up from his narcissistic beginnings.
Though they spend the night together, they do not have sex. Phil just falls asleep, exhausted. They have not consummated the marriage yet, so the carrying over the threshold, out into the world instead of in from it, works. Does it reaffirm tradition? Maybe. Or maybe the gate was just frozen shut.
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to figure out how to deal with the movie’s repeated placement of trios in cars… I mean is it a subtle promotion of the idea of a threesome, an undermining of the religious concept of the trinity or what?
(Or maybe just coincidence.)
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