I ended yesterday’s comments on Danny Rubin’s script notes with a simple justification: “…it’s appropriate that Rubin overthought it even before he wrote it because now, more than 20 years later, I’m overthinking it all over again.”
Rubin’s got additional benefits to repeating the same day over—in addition to the generic “no consequences” and the “no hangovers” bit we get from Gus (and which is in Rubin’s notes): “No fear of V.D. No fear of what other people think.” Two very different benefits there. And, there’s more:
Don’t have to wash clothes or dishes.
Don’t have to go to bed.
Always know where you left things.
And, there’s a point in Rubin’s notes where he takes it farther than the script would ever go. First, there’s a note about deer hunting, noting cleverly, “All the sport could’ve gone out of that. He knows where all the deer are.” Then, there’s more killing:
Since death had no consequence, (and he had grown bored with killing deer)), it’s [sic] couldn’t be immoral to kill people. After all, they always resurect [sic] the following day with not so much as a scratch.
He makes it a game to see how many people in town he can kill in one day. (THIS is TOO DARK for TV). He perhaps plots this out, but can’t bring himself to do it. He realizes that everybody is already dead, so he no longer has any respect for them.
Maybe he decides that the only way to stop this nonsense is to kill Punxsutawne [sic] Phil.
The interesting thing there is how Rubin goes from the darker idea almost immediately into backing down from it with Phil only plotting this but not doing it. Then, there’s that odd bit about realizing “everybody is already dead” which suggests some philosophical angles that neither Rubin nor Ramis nor the film take. But, even that is diminished within the very same sentence, into a matter of respect. But, then, all of this comes around to the one killing bit that does get into Rubin’s original script and stays (though in a lesser form) all the way to the final film.
I’ve said before, and will probably say again, that killing other people would be a logical extension of not only the “adolescent” phase but also the “depression” phase of Phil’s situation, if we took it completely seriously. However, just like Rubin’s seven-act structure, the reality of being stuck in the repeating day gets in the way of telling a good story here. If Groundhog Day were reality, Phil would at some point turn on other people; he wouldn’t just punch Ned that one time (or every morning in Rubin’s original), he would kill him. And, when the stalking of Punxsutawney Phil in the library fails (again in Rubin’s original), Phil wouldn’t try to just take out the groundhog with a “big kitchen knife” at Gobbler’s Knob (as in Ramis’ revision), he would find himself a better gun and take out everyone on the stage, the Inner Circle along with the Seer of Seers.
(Sidenote: I just jumped back several minutes in the film to check on a line of dialogue and neglected to jump forward to where I had been. And, I didn’t even realize it for a few minutes. This stuff repeats so much for me, I guess I shouldn’t ever rewind or I’ll be here forever.)
Anyway, Phil would turn to homicide at some point, I’m sure. Probably sooner than later. And, he could do far worse things than just trick women like Nancy into bed. But, then the story gets so dark that the audience not only won’t believe Phil can redeem himself but probably won’t want him to. This kind of story, with the depths to be found within, is far more palatable as a comedy anyway. So real darkness is verboten.
Not to imply that Phil’s suicide sequence isn’t dark. But, it’s just the right amount of dark, presented briefly and timed perfectly so it makes sense.
Several pages into the notes, Rubin has a “to do” list, and on it are some big details he’s skipped, notably his #1:
Learn about Punxsutawne [sic]. What does Phil do for a living? How old is he? Where does he live?(Missed the note on Phil being the main character’s name between yesterday and today. It was simple: “His name is Phil – just like the groundhog.”)
After the “to do” list, there’s a note I am hesitant to include because it could fuel the Bacha/Faust camp—and if you don’t know what that means, you should read this blog more regularly—and it’s got three checkmarks by it. Most notes have one, some have two. Some have question marks. Anyway, the note: “After he falls in love, he could vow to try to get out of this loop.” Rubin’s own planned structure contradicts this, though, since he’s put falling in love into Act Two and the discovery about the clock being the key to getting out of the loop in Act Six. Of course, Rubin still hadn’t written any of the script at this point; in fact, #7 on that “to do” list was “Write the sucker.”
So, then Rubin’s got notes on Punxsutawney. He spoke with Sally at the Chamber of Commerce and typed up some notes on the town (for example, “On Feb 2nd, there are about 3,000 tourists for groundhog day to see Punxsutane [sic] Phil”), and in the process figured out that Phil could be “a low-level reporter sent from Pittsburgh to cover the groundhog.” While that changes slightly once they cast Murray, this is what Phil is in the original script. Amusingly, though Rubin has already put Ned (unnamed) as an insurance agent, here he suggests, “The guy he socks every day could be some other reporter who sorta knows him and keeps teasing him about how ‘important’ this job is -- a real jerk who each day would increasingly remind him about what a nowhere guy he is in a nowhere world.”
You know, I take back all the horrible things I’ve said about Phil’s voiceover. I think I’d actually like to see a film—though probably not Groundhog Day—with a Rubin-penned voiceover. I’m not sure I’d enjoy is as much as, say, a Shane Black voiceover, but it could be fun, if for no other reason because he describes Phil’s soon-to-be-written journey as a “whimsical descent into madness and return back.”
A couple notes on Phil as a character:
We will feel his loneliness, and we don’t want him to be lonely. We will also see him grow up. Even his narration will become more sophisticated.
We will understand why he’s not making it as a reporter. He’s very unsophisticated. Very self centered. More interested in his career than in the world or his responsibility.
That changed a little, obviously, when Murray was cast and Phil was an older, more experienced newsman. But, mostly, that’s Phil. Rubin did figure out his character before he got to writing.
There are a few handwritten notes after all the typed ones. The first, with an arrow pointing to it and a box around it, implies a love story Rubin was not trying to write—he didn’t really want it to be a romantic comedy. That note: This is about a mature pursuit of love, which he finds is impossible until he stops only living for today.” And the next note, “the ‘high school’ line doesn’t work on his love. She went to some obscure int’l school in
Switzerland Paris. None of his gambits work.” There’s an arrow directing to the last note: “He learns French. Tries again. She doesn’t speak French.” That last detail is one I think might’ve actually been funny in the film. Rita studied French poetry and Phil learns some to impress her, but she doesn’t even speak it. Or maybe that’s just silly, but, hey, so is Phil quoting a song from the 1950s when Rita studied 19th-century poetry.
The last notes are all about Phil and Rita (though she not only doesn’t have a name yet, but also would likely be Tess and not Phil’s producer, since that’s how it goes in the original script). One note perplexes me. It is:
The day he winds up pursuing is the only one where he failed miserably. That’s the only one with [illegible] potential.
This note perplexes me because Rubin has spent pages and pages of notes getting into little details of where the story might go, and seems to understand, even before he writes page one of the script that little changes will affect the day. But, here, it’s like there are only a handful of versions of Phil’s day, and he figures out which one he likes and goes for it again. On the one hand, that is basically the point of the date sequence in the film. On the other hand, it would impossible for Phil to pursue a day in the past, and how would he deliberately fail miserably in repeating it? I actually reread this note a few times, thinking maybe I misread Rubin’s handwriting and “day” was actually “dame” or “girl” or something, because that would make more sense. But, I’m pretty sure it’s day.
And, the last note, a line of dialogue and a followup: “‘The truth is, I’ve been waiting my entire life to meet you.’ She goes for it.” This reads like a line from their date more than something Phil would say later. Film Phil, that is; original script Phil, on the morning of February 3rd, tells Rita:
I feel like I’ve waited for you every day for an eternity. And here you are. It’s incredible! I have dreamed of you every night of my life. You’ve been my constant against total despair, and just knowing you exist has kept me alive.
So, Rubin’s Phil is still throwing out sappy stuff like that in the end. From film Phil, we get something bordering on but not quite sappy: “Whatever happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now, because I love you.”
Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: I’ll embrace the sappiness and say I’d like the extra time to find “my constant against total despair” because that would be a nice thing to have.