So, let’s get this out of the way early on. The big question on everybody's lips—on their chapped lips—just how long is Phil stuck in Punxsutawney?
This question has been posed and asked before—and director Harold Ramis even weighed in at least once. Back in 2009, Wolf Gnards put the total estimate at 3176 days, calculating that to 8 years, 8 months, 16 days. In 2011, Simon Gallagher over at whatculture puts the total at 12,395 days, that is 33 years, 350 days. Ramis suggested, in response to Wolf Gnards—and I really hope that is an actual guy’s name, because, hey, that would make the world more interesting—that “it had to be more like 30 or 40 years.”
But, let’s get our own figure going. To start, how many days (February 2 only) do we see on screen? Gallagher puts the total (erroneously, I’d say) at 38 days, while Gnards says 36. I’d break it down as follows:
Day 1 – the original Groundhog Day.
Day 2 – the first repeat, ending with the pencil breaking.
Day 3 – the day Phil sees a doctor and a psychiatrist and hangs out at the bowling alley with Ralph and Gus.
Day 4 – the day Phil punches Ned and Rita quotes Sir Walter Scott.
Day 5 – the day Phil gets together with Nancy.
Day 6 – the day Phil steals from the armored truck and sees Heidi II. Gallagher puts these as separate days, but I’m trying to get a minimum base number, and the movie does not require these to be separate. To be separate, we must see the alarm clock turn 6 or see a specific moment repeated anew.
Days 7 to 10 – the days Phil works on his date with Rita. Assume it’s the same day until he switches drinks at the bar (repeat scene day 7 to 8). Then, day 9 for saying a prayer and drinking to world peace. Day 10 to recover from laughing at Rita studying 19th century French poetry. This night ends back at the bed and breakfast, and we get the first slap.
Day 11 – the day the date gets weird because Phil’s trying a little too hard when they get in the snowball fight… and another slap.
Days 12 to 18 – we see seven more slaps. Let’s assume Phil is not stupid enough to get himself slapped twice in one night. Phil ends Day 18 walking past ice sculptures.
Day 19 – the day Rita says Phil looks terrible. The depression gets going.
Day 20 – the day Phil watches Jeopardy.
Day 21 – the day Phil calls the people of Punxsutawney “hypocrites” and makes his winter prediction.
Days 22 to 24 – the mornings Phil breaks his alarm clock. And, the film does not require his stealing Punxsutawney Phil to be a new day (though Gallagher lists it separately), so Phil’s first death is on the 24th February 2nd that we see.
Day 25 to 27 – the days Phil kills himself.
Day 28 – the day Phil proclaims himself a god and Rita spends the day with him.
Day 29 – the day Phil first gives the Old Man money, picks up coffee and pastries. There’s no cue for a new day before he’s seen reading then goes to get his first piano lesson.
Day 30 – the day Phil quotes Coleridge, has a piano lesson, and is seen ice sculpting.
Day 31 – another piano lesson, and he’s already playing “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Also, though Gallagher puts his “sexually harassing” Ned on a separate day, we can assume it’s on this day; after all, if Phil is now picking up coffee and pastries, maybe he’s skipping the interaction with Ned… except, I just put the coffee and pastries on Day 29 right after he gave money to the Old Man which would have been at the same moment he’s been interacting with Ned every morning, so there’s a flaw here. But, this interaction with Ned is not in the same location as the usual one. And, there's no necessary break putting him taking the Old Man to the hospital on a separate day.
Day 32 – the day Phil feeds the Old Man, and the Old Man dies in the alley.
Day 33 – the day Phil inspires people, saves a kid, changes a tire, saves Buster, gets Debbie and Fred Wrestlemania tickets (off screen), fixes Felix’s back (off screen), plays at the Groundhog Day ball, and gets bought by Rita, i.e. the last repetition.
What else can we maybe assume based on, say, dialogue?
On Day 6, Phil tells his French maid date that he’s seen Heidi II 100 times. Maybe he’s rounding that number off or maybe he’s just lying. He’d already proven to be a liar by this point, when it suits him.
On Day 28, Phil claims he’s been “stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.” He could be making that up. Or it could be another six days (since we did see him electrocute himself on Day 25, or these things could have all happened at once, a la Rasputin, who was supposedly drowned after being shot multiple times after being poisoned.
Also on Day 28, Phil tells Rita she can become an expert at tossing playing cards into a hat in six months, 4 to 5 hours a day. But, maybe he was just good at it in the first place or had learned it before all this got started, and was just making a joke.
So, what takes up more time?
Gallagher and Gnards both assume Phil actually learns French. There’s no reason to assume this. Phil demonstrates the ability to remember things easily enough when he’s out on the date with Rita, so memorizing a few lines from a poem isn’t much. If we add only an extra day or two to the date sequence (days 7 to 10 above), then he could have tried out the French lines a few times, and if Rita never pushed for more French, he probably never would have bothered to learn more French.
Similarly, we don’t have to assume that Phil can actually play any more piano than we see him play on screen. That is, he plays two songs, the jazzy number he’s playing when Rita enters the party and “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Sure, he knows that last one well enough to jazz it up, but if we assume he knows exactly when Rita will enter the party (though that implies he’s played at the party more than once, which might mean some refiguring) then he could have learned the song just as he plays it, knowing what he needs to know. I’m playing the cynic here, I suppose, but let’s assume Phil has learned to improve himself but only so far (at least for now). Gallagher cites Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours figure from Outliers for becoming an expert at something, but we’ve no real on screen reason to assume Phil is an expert at piano.
Ice sculpting, on the other hand—Phil can clearly do that pretty well. Gallagher makes the mistake of assuming Phil couldn’t work on ice sculpting for long hours because of the risk of frostbite; Phil would not have to worry about frostbite, because he would wake up the “next” morning without it anyway. Assuming Phil is an “expert” ice sculptor (though I also take exception to that a little bit, as well), if he dropped everything else to learn ice sculpting, it would take him 416 days, 16 hours to become an expert. Add a bit because I’m sure he’d like to eat and practice his piano and get to know more townspeople (just because we only see him date Nancy, the French maid, and Rita, doesn’t mean he didn’t go out with everyone in town at least once—how easily might he get Debbie to go out with him, since she was having second thoughts about marrying Fred, for example?). But—and this is a big but—must we assume he’s an expert ice sculptor, or can we assume one ice sculpture is all he’s capable of? On Day 30, we see him putting some finishing touches on an angel, but that doesn’t mean he did the rest of the work on it. Unfortunately, while we might be able to quantify what it takes to become an expert at something—in this case, ice sculpting—I don’t know if we can quantify how long it would take to be able to sculpt one sculpture perfectly.
Gallagher assumes Phil learned chiropractory to help out Felix, but all Phil has to do is get someone to teach him the one move he needs. We don’t even see this move happen, and maybe Phil got lucky on the first try, or maybe his parents weren’t piano movers (not that I believe they were, of course) but chiropractors, and he already knew this. Similarly, it only takes a day to figure out that a boy falls out of a tree and Buster chokes on his steak (and just one time saving Buster to notice that woman who needs her cigarette lit; Phil shows himself to be fairly observant) and those women get a flat tire.
Gallagher also assumes that memorizing the details for the armored truck robbery would take a long time—he suggests as much as six weeks—but Phil could probably figure out what he needs to figure out far more quickly. Keep in mind, Phil recognizes the radio chatter as repeating on Day 2 when he wasn’t even necessarily paying much attention to it on Day 1. And, he’s quoting it verbatim already on Day 4. And, it’s safe to say that by the time he’s in the bowling alley with Ralph and Gus on Day 3, he’s already assuming this repetition is an ongoing thing, so he’s going to be paying extra attention to, well, everything from the on. I certainly would be. And, Phil Connors, out to exploit his circumstance early in the film, and out to make the best of it later in the film, would certainly be motivated to pay attention and make note of everything.
So, what’s the answer?
Eh, who knows? And, does it even matter? What really matters it that however long Phil is actually repeating, it’s long enough to change who he is and how he interacts with the world. It might as well be a lifetime.
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: To figure out just how long it takes to figure out how to sculpt Andie MacDowell’s face out of ice like that, not that I’d ever have reason to do so.
Edited to remove the previous "Day 32" as I noticed today (i.e. four days later) that there is no necessary onscreen break to put his taking the Old Man to the hospital on a separate day.
Found a link to your blog on a YouTube comment. As this is one of my favorite films, it's immensely fascinating to see someone so thoroughly deconstruct and analyze it.ReplyDelete
I like to think it was a million years. And he speaks not only French but Italian too. I like to think it's fluent and he became an actual doctor. And the best piano player to ever have lived. And he sculpted all the ice sculptures.ReplyDelete