Thursday, October 31, 2013

i hope you enjoy the festivities

Today is a day to celebrate. For today is All Hallow's Eve Eve and it is also Haunted Refrigerator Day. It's probably other things as well, but I picked those two because they seemed funnier. Today is also the 90th day of The Groundhog Day Project. And, I thought it was worth celebrating some milestone at some point... or did I celebrate one before? I can't even remember. I'm pretty sure I missed day 33 and day 40 and day 50 and day 67.

(That last one was a test. I'm pretty sure 67 has no significance for anyone.)

But, I don't actually want to talk about celebrations per se, so much as holidays more broadly. The hypothesis for today is that Groundhog Day could take place on no other holiday than Groundhog Day. And, I don't mean that we couldn't have a movie entitled Groundhog Day that actually takes place on Arbor Day, though that would be inappropriate, but rather that the plot of this film, if it were to be set on any holiday, had to be set on Groundhog Day.

First, a little background. I've mentioned this before, but will mention it again rather than just point you to some random earlier entry in which it was one passing point in some rant on some other topic. Danny Rubin chose Groundhog Day as his setting for no other reason than he was celebrating my birthday, January 29th, and was looking at his calendar trying to imagine a nice holiday setting for his film and he flipped forward and Groundhog Day was the first holiday he came to. Well, that is not entirely true. Rubin was not celebrating my birthday. He didn't even know me back in 1990... and that phrasing implies he knows me now; he doesn't. But, it was on my birthday that he looked at his calendar to find a setting for his Time Machine story. As he describes it:

While pondering all of this I started thumbing through my calendar, looking for ideas. Perhaps something would jump out at me. I didn’t have to thumb very far. The day I began working on all of this was January 29. The first day of interest that I encountered?

February 2, Groundhog Day.

Of course, there was always a chance that Rubin could have been flipping through his calendar a week or two later and come up with President's Day, about an arrogant businessman named George Washington who must learn to stop lying to his clients to get out of the time loop. Or, if Rubin's calendar included some lesser known holidays, and Groundhog Day didn't catch his attention, he might have noticed that the yesterday (i.e. January 28th) is Rattlesnake Round-Up Day, or that January 29th is National Cornchip Day or he might have landed on the Cordova Iceworm Festival on February 3rd.

So, we'd have Phil Connors (even though he wouldn't be named Phil, I can't find any reference to a name for Cordova's distinctive iceworm character. If I were writing it, I'd call him E.J. because the Iceworm Festival apparently began because of some guy called E.H. White.) traveling to Cordova, Alaska for a news report about the Iceworm Festival, and he'd take part in the oyster shucking and sucking contest instead of getting into ice sculpting, but he'd probably still learn to feel the warmth of his fellow man in his wintry small town prison. But, that would miss the bite of one of the key aspects of Groundhog Day in my opinion. As Rubin explains in How to Write Groundhog Day, there is a reason Phil is a weatherman...

I felt that the protagonist should be a person in unfamiliar territory—he should be an out-of-towner, far from friends and family and favored activities. So who would travel to Punxsutawney on this day? I had a vague perception that this was a place where weathermen would go to “report” on the groundhog ceremony. So my character could be a weatherman.

A weatherman is somebody who is supposed to know what’s going to happen before the rest of us do. Wouldn’t that be just the right person to get his comeuppance?

Yes it would.

The key there is that bit about what a weatherman is supposed to know. A weatherman is a guy whose job it is to tell us the future. And, Phil Connors predicts the future in the very first scene of the film. But, notably, he is wrong. He gets the blizzard wrong. He is not a very good guy, and as far as we can tell he's not a very good weatherman either. Well, he must be somewhat good since he's had his job for at least three years.

(In case you are doing the math, I am only counting as far back as his first report from Punxsutawney--this is his fourth year in a row reporting from Punxsutawney, but it's possible that his first was also one of his first reports, if not his first report for PBH. That is the situation in Rubin's original script, actually, where, as I've mentioned before, Phil is the young character experiencing his first field report while Rita is the more experienced character, a longtime producer who doesn't have much patience for Phil.)

And, I'm sure he's entertaining with his jokes about tall trees in the Pacific Northwest and expensive real estate in California. He's making fun of all those hippies out on the west coast so the conservative element of Pittsburgh has got to love him. And, at least one person in Punxsutawney does recognize him (and I don't mean Ned) from television--just after we see him yank out the van's distributor cap, a woman recognizes him. But anyway, the film gives us no reason to believe he's much of a meteorologist.

Unless there is a holiday dealing with psychics--October 31st, aside from being Halloween, is Increase Your Psychic Powers Day, but that is way overshadowed by Halloween, and we already had a cinematic Halloween--there is no good way of dealing with that irony of the weatherman unable to predict the future. Holidays have their appropriate messages. Halloween was celebrated with Halloween which is appropriately about a masked man killing mostly defenseless teenagers. Thanksgiving is celebrated with Home for the Holidays about a family get together that turns ugly. Christmas is celebrated rather appropriate with Silent Night, Deadly Night about a madman dressed in red that comes into people's houses and kills them...

Maybe that last one is a little inappropriate. Still an awesome horror film, though.

But, putting the time loop on, say, Christmas, would have been wrong. Part of the charm of Groundhog Day is that it doesn't go full Capra. Maybe it's because Danny Rubin is a cynic at heart or because Harold Ramis just doesn't do sentiment much--the moments with the most sentiment in the film have nothing to do with the small town setting (i.e. Capraesque) but the relationship between Phil and Rita, you know, fueling the notion that Phil's love for Rita is the driving force behind the third act. Maybe it's because Bill Murray and his haggard mug just can't manage the sappiness of a Christmas film. Interestingly, as I type this bit, Phil and Rita are dancing on the gazebo with "Christmas lights" hanging on and around it and in the trees nearby and there's snow falling, and Ray Charles is singing and it could almost be a Christmas movie. Almost. Hell, Rita goes to Phil's room at the Cherry Street Inn and there's a lot of Christmasy red about.

(Long-time readers will know that red is not common in Groundhog Day so maybe the visual setup here is deliberately invoking Christmas imagery. But then, we must wonder why this would be the case. Is it to play up the Phil as Christ metaphor? Rita is his Judas and she just betrayed him after he offered her Rocky Road, just like in the Bible. Phil isn't, of course, beaten by the Romans (though he is slapped a lot by Rita) and he doesn't have to carry his own cross through the streets, but he will still die very soon, only to be reborn.)

Sidenote: there are Christmas time loop movies, but I have yet to watch them because, well, a sense of dread. They seem like the schmaltzy kind of stuff that Lifetime would be embarrassed to show.

New Year's Eve or New Year's Day would seem like an appropriate setting for a time loop, but almost too appropriate. I mean, New Year's is already about people making resolutions about bettering themselves. Phil would hardly stand out from the crowd.

If we assume that the love story is central to the plot of the film, then we could reasonably move the events to Valentine's Day. But then, where's the room for cynicism? Groundhog Day straddles the line between cynicism and hopefulness quite delicately. Moving it to a day that is ostensibly about love would force it a bit too much in hopeful territory and we'd have the same issues as putting it on Christmas. And, Billy Murray has a good Christmas film already, anyway.

Groundhog Day could only be set on Groundhog Day. Sure, 12:01 P.M. makes a good case for the particular day being unimportant, but a feature film needs a better angle to grab our attention and setting the film on a holiday gives it a built in nostalgia factor, allowing yearly 24-hour marathons on television just like A Christmas Story on Christmas or Independence Day on the 4th of July... though I'm pretty sure no TV station does that last one.

Hell, I'd like to propose a new cable network. Every day, it will only show movies set on that day. Or, if a movie isn't available, it can show single episodes of TV series or they can produce their own documentaries about the history of each day of the year and what notable events have happened that day. We can call it something simple, like The Day Network, TDN.

Or maybe we can just have a cable network that shows Groundhog Day all day, every day.

We'll call it PBH.

Anyway, 90 days in. And, going pretty strong, I'd say.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to watch every station on cable for 24 hours, experiencing the world without going out into it. Then going out into it when that gets old, of course.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

i am an immortal

Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. - Ernest Hemingway

I was asked recently, "What the fuck is with this Groundhog Day thing?" I was also asked, less crudely, if I had laid out in this blog what I would do if I was stuck in a time loop. I've mentioned some things before, and there are things that would go in my "adolescent" phase that are more personal than I care to disclose at this time. I think I'd get to my "good deeds" phase pretty early, but mostly because I'd be conscious of the similarity to Groundhog Day and I'd want to manage more lives saved in one day, not that I could get that into Guinness... except maybe I could, as long as I was committed to a) saving those same lives every day on the off chance is was the end of the time loop and b) getting a Guinness Adjudicator (or at least someone with a video camera--

(Apparently, the process of getting a Guinness Adjudicator to verify your record in person as you break it can take a while. I would not have that in my one day, so it's going to have to be some good digital camera footage, preferably one extended take.)

--to follow me around all day, every day. But, where's the fun in that?

Maybe I could live blog the whole thing. And then, when the time loop finally ends, I'll have my 15 minutes of fame and then be forgotten.

Of course, just because the fame won't last doesn't mean it wouldn't be worth it. And, of course, I'd be saving lives and that's pretty good in its own right. Hell, as long as I was actually trying to use the time loop for personal gain after the fact I'd probably just be stuck longer. The time loop gods wouldn't let me out until I'd given up on good deeds entirely. Which is just wrong.

But anyway, I had intended to talk about life and death, not, well, just life today. I've written about obituaries a few times before in this blog, and I think in discussing a film that includes the main character killing himself four times, the topic of death is inevitable. But, I wanted to mention something about death in particular that Phil Connors never would have had to deal with, since the film takes place 20 years ago. Namely, he doesn't have to worry about social media after he dies. Before I go any further, I have to mention, a website which asks one of the important questions of our time:

What happens to your facebook profile after you die?

Meanwhile, "enables us to create a series of secret messages that are only published to our social networks once we pass away. This allows us to say goodbye in our own time and in our own unique way." Our online lives are twisted so tightly into the meat of our flesh and blood lives that this is something we might want to think about along with making arrangements for our funeral, if there's something in particular we want for it. Personally, I don't care to be embalmed and stuck into a casket under a concrete or even plastic vault so the ground won't cave in after I decay. I'd rather be, at best, buried loosely in the ground and not at some cemetery but someplace where I could feed more natural growth, perhaps fuel a tree. Or, at least, I'd go for cremation, keep it simple. Except, I think that by the time I get to this, I will--obviously--be dead, so really I suppose whatever happens to my body after I die should reasonably be left up to those closest to me. If they want my body in some memorial park, with a marker atop it for them to visit yearly, that's their prerogative. I won't be around anymore, so I'm not sure I need to have a say.

I think I'm more concerned about my social media now that I think about it. I almost want to write up some post-mortem tweets to let everyone know I've gone. But, what if I die in some weirdly embarrassing way and my tweet is a little too serious, or what if, just by chance, the phrasing in the tweet that accompanies the one year anniversary of my death also inadvertently makes a tasteless pun about how I died... Hell, now that I asked, I want to figure out just what kind of tweet I could write that would do nothing but come across a bit wrong and inappropriate--assuming that simply tweeting long after I am dead is not already inappropriate. I want to make people laugh as they cry--assuming they miss me, of course.

I wonder about getting a living will set up, preparing for my death. But, I don't really want to prepare for that sort of thing. Unlike Martin Manley, who blogged his own suicide, I have not yet gotten to the point where I care to welcome death. I mean, who would watch Groundhog Day everyday if I were unavailable? It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

Actually, a friend of mine recently referenced my blog in saying "people should do more weird things like this instead of just normal life stuff."*

* Though I put this in quotation marks, I'm sure I got some of the phrasing wrong. It's not as if I was recording the conversation.

I like that idea, that we should do crazy stuff like this blog to diminish the humdrum monotony of life. For ourselves, of course, but also for everyone else. This sort of thing can be inspiring, enlightening, or at least distracting. The levels may be different but all three of these things are positive effects that make life a little less bleak, a little more bright and interesting. Matlin and Stang argue in The Pollyanna Principle that "people assert by their very existence (i.e. refusing to commit suicide) that life is worth living, that there is more happiness than unhappiness in their life" (1978, p. 159-60). If I were stuck in a time loop, I'm sure I'd try out some bad things, some selfish things, but I hope that I'd get into the habit quite early of living for other people, of adding to the happiness in the world instead of taking away from it.

That's true in my real life as well. I hope often that I'm improving the world rather than ruining it. Or, because there's obviously plenty of middle ground there, I hope that I tend toward actions that fall on the more positive side of the continuum. I want the world to be a better place for having had me in it. And maybe, on some level, that is selfish. But, so what? Selfish motivation can lead to selfless end.

Besides, don't we all want to be remembered? Logically, it make sense. I mean at an evolutionary level. With our brains as complex as they've become, it makes sense that we would have evolved to value what is inside them, that we would share and communicate with others to validate our thoughts and make them concrete put them out into the world where they can have life if not influence. Our words, our ideas, they belong to us almost more than our genes do, because we have more of a say in what our words and ideas are. Our identities are constructs that come from a lifetime's worth of effort, so why shouldn't we put some proprietary value on it in our heads?

I've been researching confirmation bias--which I referenced a while back in this blog a while back--and it's amazing how much ownership people are willing to place on the simplest of things. For example, Mynatt, Doherty and Tweney (1977) tested subjects with computer images with basic geometric shapes on them, shot at them and had subjects hypothesize about why the shots behaved the way they did (avoiding certain objects rather than always traveling in a straight line). These shots meant nothing in the lives of the subjects. These shapes meant nothing in the lives of these subjects. Similarly, Wason (1960), tested subjects with trios of numbers and subjects had to guess the reason for the grouping and suggest other trios that fit that guess. In both experiments, subjects formed initial hypotheses and proceeded to deliberately test things in such a way as to promote their hypothesis over alternatives. They took ownership over their hypotheses and wanted it to be true. And, this was just about shapes and numbers; imagine then how much more ownership we have over our identities.

It's no surprise that we want to leave something behind, a legacy, a mark on the world. If there is no record of us, then our passing will have been for naught. That I would want to improve my bowling skill and learn to cook more complicated dishes if I were in a time loop is not so important in the grand scheme of things. That I would want to see how complicated a project I could build out of LEGO blocks in my time loop even knowing only I would ever know about it is meaningless to the world. But, there are things I do--and things I would do in a time loop--that I would hope leave some concrete mark behind in this world.

I don't own my kids or my students, but I like the idea that at least in some small way I am helping to shape their future selves. It's not an obvious, visible mark, necessarily, but it's still something that might remain after I am gone. And, maybe, just maybe, some of my students, or my kids, will appreciate my posthumous tweets and the disturbing puns I will use to remind them of the grief they just might be getting over as my tweet arrives. And, on the internet, I will always be around. I will always be watching Groundhog Day and I will always be blogging about it. Hell, I will always be writing this blog you're reading right now.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to come up with some great puns to put in those posthumous tweets.

Monday, October 28, 2013

maybe read... hustler or something

The now classic beginning for this blog is that I had a weird thought while watching Groundhog Day recently. This one was inspired by something my daughter said, and it has to do with bodily functions.

Imagine Phil Connors is the kind of person who has his... morning constitutional (and my son finds that phrase amusing because he's never heard it before) at the same time every morning, say, 10 minutes after waking. So, every February 2nd morning, Phil is not only having to use the toilet but he's... how to put this delicately? He's having the same exact bowel movement every morning. See, this thought occurs to me and rather than think at best that's mildly interesting and move on, I wonder if, like other things in his repetitive life, this one gets better. Or rather, he gets batter at it. Like after innumerable days of pooping the same poop, he just has to get near the toilet and out it goes. And, if so, what will he do on February 3rd when he has to basically re-potty train himself.

I've mentioned before that Phil can't get fat, that he doesn't even need to eat. But, he presumably ate and drank last night (i.e. February 1st) so he's got know choice in the morning when it comes to bodily functions. The thing is, at a certain point Phil not even needing to do such a basic things as eating makes him almost no longer human. But--and this is where this particular blog entry gets very serious--still having to poop every morning maybe grounds him in his humanity. Laura Newcomer at Greatist (citing Motyl, Hart, Cooper, Heflick, Goldenberg and Pyszczynaki, 2012) suggests that "natural bodily functions remind us of our 'creatureliness,' and therefore our mortality." She says this as explanation for us not wanting to talk about such things. Even knowing I was going to write about this topic, I was coy about it above, referring to Phil's "morning constitutional." But, Newcomer's argument also implies its opposite; our humanity is defined not by the baser bodily functions but by something more profound and likely internal. I don't use "humanity" as some separating term to mean we are not also animals. And, really, I think this "creatureliness" is a necessary element of what makes us human. And, retaining his humanity is vital, or Phil would do far worse things than crash a car or steal a little money or trick a girl into bed. Within the time loop, one might argue, poop has saved the lives of the people of Punxsutawney.

And, since Groundhog Day inspires one to consider the things we would really like to if we were about to die or if there was no tomorrow, I should share this article: 14 Places You Have To Poop At Before You Die.

Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to get my shit together, obviously.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

bundle up warm of course

Speech tournament the past two days, and today I judged, among other things, impromptu again. So, just like I did two weeks ago, it's time to connect Groundhog Day to all the... well, round one of impromptu didn't use quotations today but rather "haikus." And, I put that in quotation marks because some of them are not haikus by the usual shallow standard of syllable count and none of them are haikus by the less shallow standard of being about nature. But, anyway, I've got 14 of them--two each for up to seven competitors--and so my task is now to link them all to Groundhog Day.

We hunt perfection
true love and our destiny
but it hunts us too

Starting off with an easy one, these lines epitomize Phil's journey quite well, depending on what we take perfection to mean. We could apply it to Rita, or Phil's idealized version of Rita. We could apply it to the idealized version of Phil as well. The tricky part is that last line. Arguably, Groundhog Day tells us nothing about fate, and that last line screams fate to me, that our destiny is somehow decided and so whether we aim for it or not it will find us. Taking this as true, Phil's journey becomes less meaningful, so, while I would say this could easily apply to the whole film, I would also be tempted to disagree with the haiku simply to promote autonomy and human agency over the idea of destiny. Phil doesn't become a better man because he's destined to. He a) becomes a better man because he realizes that is a far better option than what he has been otherwise or b) he becomes a better man because he's exhausted all other options... which could almost fit that last line if we stretch it a bit.

If only I knew
how to find and heal lost souls
I'd be a shaman

Interpreting this one is strange, because it could mean two slightly but importantly different things: a) knowing how to heal people, I would choose to be a shaman or b) in knowing how to heal people, I would by definition already be a shaman. Phil's journey and his good deeds phase definitely falls in line with the former, but the latter is more a rhetorical exercise more than it really means anything. Either way, though, I think I could definitely argue that Phil does know how to "heal lost souls" in Punxsutawney--case in point, Debbie Kleiser--and by the end of the time loop he could easily take on the role of shaman of Punxsutawney.

To be a leader
one must first dream then act out
fulfillment is yours

Jumping right off the previous one, Phil is not a "leader" as we might think of it, but he is a great example, especially for us, of what we can and maybe should be. And, he has gotten there by dreaming (though his dreams at first were not good ones, per se) and acting out until the only acts left are good ones, fulfilling ones.

Loving you was
endless disappointment
with moments of denial

This is one that doesn't fit the 5-7-5 model of haiku. But, the connection to Groundhog Day is simple enough. With Rita as "you" this is date night in a nutshell. The endless disappointment is the series of slaps and the suicides, endings that end nothing. And, Phil's denial is one of positive change because he's too stuck on old ways and old expectations as to who and what he is and how he should act.

Your kiss is better
than finding twenty dollars
in yesterday's pants

Aside from the fact that, for Phil, yesterday's pants are today's pants and tomorrow's pants, I'd like to interpret this haiku to not only suggest that kissing is good but also that that twenty dollars is good as well. Effectively, I could extend this to mean that everything has value, and I could not only link this to Phil's journey but also Nietzsche's eternal recurrence. Taken to an extreme, you get the version of Phil I painted yesterday, but in simpler terms, you have Phil learning that everyone and everything has some value so putting so much effort into belittling the locals is a waste of energy.

Email malfunction
panic, sense of disconnect
belonging crippled

The email reference is maybe a little too current for Phil Connors, but I think this encapsulates his urban sensibilities pretty well. He doesn't form real connections with people because he's the modern man, and an egocentric one at that, seeing himself above everyone else around him. Because of this, he doesn't belong anywhere. He's got a good job at PBH but he brags--and the film gives us no reason to believe he's being honest--that a major network is interested in him. He looks to something he doesn't have as the life he wants. He can't accept and appreciate what he's got.

People united
to secure their liberty
out of many, one

This one is lame and, at first blush, uniquely and specifically about the United States. But, taking liberty as something more abstract, this could also describe Phil's ability later in the time loop to finally connect with the people of Punxsutawney, to be a part of the community. That the community can appreciate him as well--as demonstrated at the party--shows us that he is one of them.

The histories we try to forget
end up
defining who we are

Another one that is not a haiku at all. It actually seems more like a quotation one might see on a normal impromptu sheet. This one is interesting in terms of Groundhog Day because there's no real evidence that Phil is trying to "forget" anything. But, this could be interpreted to mean simply that we are defined by what we are not--that is, put aside the conscious effort implicit in the "try" and this is simple setting up a dichotomy of what we are and what we are not. Phil sees himself as one thing but moves rather steadily away from that person. His effort isn't even necessarily conscious, but his energy does direct him toward his own improvement. In a way, you could use Phil to suggest that this "haiku" is backward. He redefines himself by forgetting who he thought he was, finding instead some new core identity.

America is taxing my dreams
so I'm moving
to Canada

Not a haiku by any measure. But, taken as a quotation, I'd have to disagree with it in terms of Groundhog Day. This "haiku" comes from one who runs away from his problems to some imagined better place. Phil Connors, on the other hand, finds himself in what turns out to be a better place, and wants to run away but he cannot. Punxsutawney is taxing his dreams, but he can't go into Pittsburgh. This haiku is wrong, and Phil is forced to realize it--we cannot just run away from things we don't like. We might find they tax our dreams in Canada as well. So, instead we need have the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

A vibration is
motion that cannot decide
which way it should go

I get the feeling that a physicist who's into string theory would appreciate this one. And, I can see Phil compared to the hypothetical string of energy at the heart of all matter or, switching branches of science, as a stem cell that hasn't been assigned just yet. He's capable of anything but it takes him trying the wrong directions before he can vibrate in better ones.

Do NOT partake of
knowledge of good and evil
Satan's fruit, broad lies

I picture Phil in Ramis' second revision of the script more than film Phil here, hitting rock bottom drug addled and partying with "ANGIE and another, overweight, not-very-pretty MADONNA WANNA-BE." But, it also fits the lesser hedonism of film Phil. He ignores the advice this haiku gives, and he suffers for it... sort of. He at least sees the emptiness of it.

Some days I'm Cylon
other days I feel like the
last civilized

This one seems incomplete--I'd maybe complete it with "man" at the end. And, then this could cover Phil with the knowledge he gains from the time loop. Sometimes, he might feel like the last normal man in a town of crazy people--really, from his perspective, how crazy is it to worry about tomorrow for example? And, sometimes, he's more like the Cylons, something separate from but similar to humans, jealous perhaps of what humanity is allowed to be. And, like the Cylons, Phil is reborn after he dies to live again.

Destiny dictates
I will one day run and leap
as building explodes

This one is weird, but if forced to use it, I would interpret it quite simply. However much we plan things, sometimes they still blow up in our face. Like the saying, "man plans, god laughs." And, this is exemplified in date night; despite Phil's efforts day after day after day, he simply cannot perfect his interactions with Rita to the point that they will not eventually end with her slapping him. It is only after he stops trying to plan his way into her heart that he finally finds a place there.

To some, solutions
are answers. To chemists they
are still all mixed up.

This one is a silly pun on two definitions of a "solution." But, I could work with it in much the same way I did the previous haiku; no matter how much we might think we have found the solution to some problem in life, life has another problem lined up behind it. Phil knows this all too well on date night and in trying to save O'Reilly. Life does not simply work out just because we want it to do so. But, I'd argue, that's what makes it so fun.

Today's reason to
repeat a day forever:
to live and enjoy.

or were you just making chitchat?

I had a weird thought watching Groundhog Day last night...

Which could really be any night, I suppose.

I imagine Phil on the last day of the time loop--he's got a list in his head of all the "errands" he has to run, and he's been driven so mad by all the repeated February 2nds that every item on his list is just as important as the next. So, Buster choking is just as important as that woman's inability to light her cigarette. And, those old ladies' tire--that's just as important as the broken leg of that boy in the tree.

And, a Phil who is that far gone would probably be better off inside the time loop. Or, at least, the world outside the loop--

(Assuming the world beyond the loop even exists.)

--might be better off with him locked safely away in Punxsutawney. And, really, if he was in the time loop as long as some people say--

  • Wolf Gnards says 8.7 years
  • Simon Gallagher says 33 years, 350 days
  • Harold Ramis counters with 30 to 40 years
  • in the original script, Phil celebrated his 263rd "birthday"
  • and Danny Rubin has said 10,000 years

    --the town would be his entire world. He'd know that Pittsburgh exists, might even remember he was from there, but he's probably have no useful memory of his time there, of his family or his friends (assuming he had any).

    The interesting thing is, the longer he was in the time loop, the less his transformation is some great thing to be admired. Consider it. If all he knows are the townspeople of Punxsutawney, he wouldn't even know how to look down on them like he used to. And, given the repetition of his life, most of his old ways of looking at, well, just about anything, would be gone. Like Suzanne Daughton says, "Phil's situation, trapped in the time loop, parallels that of the economically disenfranchised." But, it's also more than that. Phil has been disenfranchised right out of life itself. He does not and probably cannot know how life really works anymore. His early days, or even weeks, outside the time loop will be painful.

    He will have to relearn some very basic things like brushing his teeth, like doing laundry, like watching television--he had to have given up on that a long time ago, even if the Cherry Street Inn has great cable for 1993. He will have to reacquaint himself with crossing the street, with meeting new people...

    And, this entry was supposed to be longer. But, really, it's a simple idea. The longer the time loop lasted, the less normal Phil's life became, the harder it would be to get back to something normal.

    Of course, my nerd side wants to nitpick because obviously, the time loop lasted only 24 hours, duh.

    How long it was from Phil's perspective, though...

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to lose track of all the institutions that make modern life so unbearable sometimes.

  • Saturday, October 26, 2013

    did you want to talk about the weather...

    My daughter accused me of being obsessive today. Not specifically because of this project, but because also today, taking a day off from grad school work and other busy life stuff, we went to Disneyland and I spent a good amount of the time looking through my copy of the 4th edition of Disneyland's Hidden Mickeys to find the titular items--

    (While there are decorative Mickey Mouse heads all over Disneyland and California Adventure Park, there are also hidden ones in and around most of the rides as well as some stores and restaurants, and this book is a guide to locating them.)

    --though it was also because of this project. I'm not so sure that being a little obsessive is a bad thing. It certainly works for Phil Connors when he's in the time loop. He can remember things pretty readily or his adolescent phase wouldn't go so smoothly... of course it also wouldn't end so painfully (with all those slaps and then the depression and suicide). And, his good deed phase couldn't happen without a good memory and a little obsession over detail.

    As for me, I wouldn't have done so well in my undergrad years if not for a little obsession when it comes to schoolwork; research, for example, can actually get a bit bothersome for me not because it's particularly difficult but because I kinda like it so I end up locating far more sources than I need. In grad school, that probably won't seem as excessive as it did before. At least I hope not.

    And, this blog provides a useful stability in my life at a time when a lot of things are in upheaval. And, this wouldn't be possible if I didn't occasionally obsess about the little things in Groundhog Day. Well, that's not entirely fair. This also wouldn't be possible if I didn't occasionally obsess about the big things in Groundhog Day either. I mean, I deal with the actions of extras in the background and I deal with the definition of love, I deal with the color blue and I deal with eternal recurrence, I deal with screenplays and philosophy, soundtracks and tarot cards. I think I've proven I can take this project in just about any direction and, as I have mentioned more than once, I still haven't gotten to some of the obvious stuff like actor profiles.

    Being able to take things in many directions, sometimes quite deliberately contradictorily (and who knew that was a word?), is what makes not only this blog but also debate (as a competitor and coach at the collegiate level, now also at the teacher and coach level for middle and high school students) and impromptu speaking. And, it's going to make teaching quite enjoyable, I expect, when I get to do it even more often.

    Though many aspects of my life seem to be very much the same from day to day, I don't really feel like I can quite relate to Ralph anymore. I used to work office jobs and at that point I could totally relate. But, lately, there are unique readings to do each day, unique research to be done, and unique ideas to explore right here in this blog. Lately, I've been around my kids a lot more again and that also makes each day a little more interesting than days had been, say, over the summer. Having students has a similar effect, but I wouldn't go so far as to put them at the same level as my own kids--no offense to my students, of course.

    I've spent time depressed before. Hell, in the past couple years, with my marriage drifting to and ending, there have been some dark moments. There have been moments where I certainly felt that nothing I did mattered. But, I think that was more a feeling than a reality. And, lately, I've got the feeling that, and see a reality in which, the things I do matter. Sometimes they matter a lot. As Phil says, "you make choices and you live with them." And, knowing that they matter, you think about them first. Some choices come too quickly, or rise up out of feelings we'd be better off not having--that I'd be better off not having--and those choices aren't as great as the more thought out ones. But, you still live with the consequence. I still live with the consequences.

    Life is better that way. Don't get me wrong, though--a time loop would be awesome. But, ultimately, life means something because there are consequences to everything we do. Ripples out into the pond of friends and family and out into acquaintances and friends of friends and so on. It's a simplistic metaphor but it works.

    Anyway, it's been a long day. It's been a long week. It's been a long month. It's been a long year. It's been a long life. I think I want to lie down and watch the rest of the film--Phil just got into his adolescent phase and he's about to rob the armored truck--then get some sleep. I'm judging at a speech tournament the next couple days and I've also got quite of bit of research material to read in the next few days. Like a Bokononist, I am busy, busy, busy.

    And, that reference just gave me at least 2 or 3 more ideas of where I can take this project. And, now that my desktop computer over here at this apartment, I think I will finally get to talking about race in the film finally. And, there's going to be at least one reference to Doctor Who coming up sometime soon as well. Look forward to reading it and I'll look forward to writing it... Well, I'll probably look forward to writing it no matter what you do.

    Anyway, I am off for today. I wish you all well, and hope life is as meaningful as you need it to be, less stressful than you can handle it being, and more wonderful than you imagine it can be.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to find all the hidden Mickeys... and to find some better shoes for walking around Disneyland all day.

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    close call, folks

    I swear there's a line--I thought it was in May or Grodal but I can't find it--that says that the ending of the film provides Phil another chance to "control" Rita. I'm not sure how accurate that description is but Rita is a bit robotic on February 3rd. Have a look:

    Anyway, that bit of awkward movement on Rita's (or rather Andie MacDowell's) part, is one of the things that bugs me lately when I watch Groundhog Day.

    There's also another awkward Rita bit when Phil tells her "we had a beautiful day together once" then heads off to steal the groundhogs, Rita remains behind, standing by the van with nothing to do.

    Anyway, I'm sure there are other things, so I'm going to list them as the movie goes.

    So, the plan, arriving in Punxsutawney, is Larry drops off Rita at the Pennsylvanian Hotel, drives Phil over to the Cherry Street Inn, then goes back to the Pennsylvanian. Why not drop off Phil first, you know, "keep the talent happy" by not making him drive the extra bit. Filmwise, then we wouldn't get the scene of Rita patronizing Phil when he's got a perfectly reasonable excuse to not want to stay at the Pennsylvanian. But, inside the story, that back and forth with the van makes no sense.

    Noticed this a while ago but it still bugs me--Nancy is not at Gobbler's Knob on Day 1. Phil walks past the spot where she should be and the camera angle should include her, but she's not there.

    Why is there a dog-shaped lamp on the windowsill of Phil's little sink alcove? And, with its cord dangling behind the towel rack no less. That's just dangerous. And, there are already two lights on the wall by the mirror anyway.

    It isn't what is in the film that bugs me for this next one but something I imagine (but that isn't included). When Phil crashes Gus' car, Gus hurts his knee. For some reason I imagine that he left the Navy because of an injury involving his knee. I'm not sure why.

    A bit of Rita's horribleness that I realized I haven't commented on before: she recites a poem specifically to insult Phil then asks in a tone that should not be so innocent, "What? You don't like poetry?" No, he doesn't like poetry deliberately used to insult his character. That's a trait common to we humans, I would think.

    But, Rita the Robot wouldn't get that...

    As Phil writes his note to Rita on "god" day, Rita asks, "Larry?" as if she has no idea who Phil is talking about.

    And, today's reason to repeat a day forever: to be bugged more.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    is this what love is for you?

    On the other hand, Groundhog Day provides us a superb and basic example of what love looks like. While May focuses on what the future means for a relationship, he also defines love as being "between two particular people in their particularity." I think this steps right past the issue of time and suggests that love is something that exists moment to moment. May, citing a hypothetical third party, suggests that "love is the filling of the present, not a projection into the future. It is now, in a moment that needs no other moments, that I feel the vitality of romantic love." In the initial stages of a relationship especially, I would argue that this existence exclusively in the moment not only exists but is the reason we are so insane as we get into a new relationship. Of course, we may dismiss our friends and our family for our new love--there is no future in our heads at this time, except some imaginary forever that exists entirely inside our heads. In fact, it isn't that we can't see the future; we can imagine a very specific future, and that future is just the two of us entwined together forever. Nothing else matters next to that, no matter how much it might have mattered even yesterday.

    And, I would propose that it makes sense on an evolutionary level that nothing would. Torben Grodal delves into the origins of romantic love in "Love and Desire in the Cinema" (Cinema Journal 43:2 (2004)), and he suggests quite simply that our tendency to couple not only for momentary sexual gratification but something more long-term comes from our species' need to raise children. Our offspring take time to develop and they need more than one parent around to survive. But, our urge to couple and our urge to copulate are not fundamentally the same thing. Grodal explains further:

    ...we see that sexual desire and love are different innate predispositions that developed in different stages of evolution. The basic elements of desire have a reptilian origin that can be traced back hundreds of millions of years. The predisposition to love developed more recently, perhaps some million years ago, probably as an offshoot between the fusion and transformation of the predisposition to care for offspring and the predisposition for sexual desire...

    That the evolutionary function of sex is procreation and DNA recombination and that the evolutionary reason for the bond of love is to provide resources for the care of infants do not themselves restrict the manner in which an individual may wish to follow through on his or her innate predisposition to bond.

    That last bit is Grodal's way of saying that, while it may be entirely natural for us to form romantic and/or sexual bonds with one another, we don't always do these things exclusively for the purposes we evolved these urges. That is, our urge for sex sometimes... often sidesteps our own evolution in favor of our gratification. Similarly, our urge for a deeper bond often sidesteps any notion of children to raise and simply draws us to another person because on a fundamental genetic level as well as a cultural and societal level, we want to find someone to be with. We call this love.

    And, since love is simply a label we put onto this (potentially) misguided relief of our basic urges, it is quite simple to define the attraction between Phil and Rita and then between Rita and Phil as love. But, more than that, I think Groundhog Day, like man a romantic comedy, tells us that love is not a misguided effort even if it is not working toward children. Instead, Groundhog Day tells us that love is a fundamental act that all humans want and maybe even need. Consider the juxtaposition of Phil's shallow pursuit of Nancy Taylor and his much more complicated pursuit of Rita Hanson.

    (Also, in between them, we have his date with Laraine, a standalone scene that might simply be a demonstration of Phil's stranger urges given the freedom from consequences or might be something far more symbolic. This date is notable regardless of deeper meaning in that as far as romantic entanglements go, it is not only fairly shallow but is is also costumed. That Phil and Laraine are not even dressed as one might traditionally dress for a date (and that he has essentially tricked her into dressing as such) detaches them both from the identities they might wear otherwise. Or, perhaps, it is something like the opposite that is true--our identities when we are dating is so in flux that these costumes actually anchor them in some altered state of reality. Our self-presentation in the face of a potential lover is not necessarily dishonest, but it is a better version of who we are than who we might be around friends we've known for a long time. We want this person to be more attracted to us than they may already be, so we present the best possible version of ourselves that we can. Effectively, when we date, when we first involve ourselves with a potential lover, we are not ourselves; we are some invention, and whatever we wear on our date is a costume.)

    And, I deliberately refer to Phil's pursuit on the collective days I call "date night" as his pursuit of Rita. As Todd May points out, there is good reason to deal with this romantic pursuit as a separate entity from Phil and Rita stepping into the future together at the end of the film. And, I think it's fair to assume these things are separate not just because they fall in separate parts of Phil's experience in the time loop, but because they represent, respectively, Phil's courting of Rita, and Phil's winning of Rita. That he has taken the time to court her--even if she cannot actually remember it happening--separates out his relationship with Rita as something far more special than his relationship with Nancy. With Nancy, it was about seduction and sexual gratification, and he lied deliberately to fool her--the process Suzanne M. Daughton calls "perfecting the art of psychological date rape" but which I less critically refer to as Phil Connoring. On the other hand, while Phil also deliberately lies to seduce Rita, I think it's fair to suggest that he is not doing it to fool her, per se. Instead, he is practicing mirroring and matching in order to actually win her over. Though the film only gives us Nancy and Laraine before Phil gets to Rita, it is worth noting that Rubin's original, as I've noted before, has Phil getting to Tess (to be replaced by Rita in this subplot) only after he has found 49 of the 63 available women in Punxsutawney "accessible." In the final film, we could assume that many of the days we see are representative of many days we do not see, so it is reasonable to suspect that Phil has similarly exhausted and even perfected the Phil Connoring process on numerous women before he gets to Rita.

    On the one hand, this could imply that Rita is just one more woman in a long line of them, and Phil is still not capable of love. However, the film's focus on "date night" as a sequence worthy of being shown--not to mention the direct link to Phil and Rita coupling at the end of the film in tandem if not directly as a result of his release from the time loop--implies it has more depth to it. So, then it comes to us to decide what that depth is. I have argued before that Phil's systematic pursuit of Rita on date night is the climax of his shallower pursuits, that he hadn't really figured out how to love Rita yet. But, not knowing how to love does not automatically mean that one is incapable of love. It simply means that one does not know how to act on it. So, then, the question becomes, what evidence do we have that Phil loves Rita?

    Grodal, dealing specifically with the cinematic portrayal of love, tells us that "love stories are concerned with personalized bonding" and that "love establishes an exclusive and individual bond between two people." That Phil and Rita form a bond in Groundhog Day goes almost without question--even by me. And, that he pursues no other love after date night implies that exclusivity Grodal describes. Additionally, that Phil and Rita never manage to consummate their relationship puts their bond explicitly in the camp of romantic attachment as opposed to sexual attachment (in evolutionary terms).

    As I said above (in the parenthetical about Laraine), when we date we present ourselves deliberately. When we see Phil Phil Connoring Rita night after night, we are simply seeing the very same process that happens on every date. The difference is in the repetition, not necessarily the checklist of white lies. Pretending to speak French--even if Rita has called him out on it by responding to those lyrics that Phil quotes--could still come across as endearing and cute, regardless of the manipulation we know is behind it. We might rehearse a conversation with a date in front of the mirror before we go out. Phil has the benefit of much better, far more thorough system. This doesn't really make him any more dishonest than you or I might be on a first date. Instead, it suggests that Phil is actually trying to form something more meaningful with Rita. If he wanted something shallow, more sexual gratification perhaps, he could return to Nancy or Laraine or any of the many women in town. Instead, as the film shows it, he tries and he tries and he tries to perfect the date with Rita. This implies, again, romantic over sexual interest...

    Not, of course, to imply Phil didn't want to get Rita into bed. But, his feelings for her--what drives him to want her in his bed--are far deeper than a simple physical attraction like that he must have felt for Nancy when he spotted her at the Tip Top Cafe. Phil doesn't court Nancy, but he does court Rita. Flirting, courting, seducing--Grodal calls these "terms that express social signals and skills used to persuade another to establish a relationship." Grodal is specifically talking about love, yet he says we must "persuade" another person to love us (as such). This might seem cynical but I would say it is also quite realistic; it is the reason we present only a selection of traits to our potential lover on a first meeting or first date--we are crafting an argument as to why they should choose to involve themselves with us. Romantic pursuit, at its core, is a persuasive tactic to create a bonded coupling. That Phil fails as this persuasion at first does not mean we have to assume his motivation was not genuine, or even that his tactics were inappropriate, but rather that a) he was still not as good a person as he probably hoped he was presenting to Rita and b) that even feeling genuine love for this person he admires, Phil just didn't know what to do about it.

    In fact, one of the messages, then, of Groundhog Day is that simplistic mirroring and matching is not worthy of returned affection. Neither, also, is the usual selective presentation we all practice when pursuing love. Instead, Groundhog Day tells us that we are only worthy of love from another person when we work to actually be our best selves rather than simply wear our best selves like a costume.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to strip away all costuming and still find someone who will return my affections, honestly and openly. Even as cheesy as that sounds.

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    i've always loved you

    Todd May, in "Love and Death" writes about Phil's love for Rita. May says, "One would not want to deny that Connors comes to love Rita during the period of the eternal Groundhog Day." I would. I have. Sort of. I suppose I don't deny that Phil loves Rita--I just question a) the extent of that love

    (By the time he loves her, I might argue that his attempt at "romantic" involvement with Rita has already come to an end. Of course, at the time he was pursuing a "romantic" relationship with Rita, I don't think Phil even knew what that entailed. For him it was all about getting Rita back to his room, into his bed. Any failure to do that was a failure as, well, who and what he believed himself to be.

    So then, it becomes a question of what sort of love Phil feels for Rita, because on some level, I think we could assume that Phil has learned to love everyone by the end of the film. This would include Rita. But, Hollywood convention and that speech Phil gives when Rita is asleep beside him tell us that his interest in her is still something approximating a romantic one, if not a romantic interest outright. There's evidence to suggest Phil is still interested in Rita, but then there is also evidence that his interest is quite readily sidelined for his pursuit of, well, himself. May suggests that it is only with an actual future ahead at the end of the film that Phil is able to display "passion" and "abandon" as life beyond February 2nd provides him with "new avenues for the intensity of his feelings for her. Without a future for growth and development, romantic love can extend only so far. Its distinction from, say, a friendship with benefits begins to become effaced."

    Phil and Rita are clearly not friends with benefits. We know from date night that Phil wants to get Rita into bed, and we can see on the morning of February 3rd that Rita expected and even wanted to do more than just sleep with Phil in that room at the bed and breakfast the night before.

    (But, then, we have a new question: does mutual attraction and sexual interest equate to love? In Hollywood shorthand, it qualifies often, but in reality, I would argue that the two things are very far from one another.)

    May goes on to imagine

    a limitless future would allow for even more intensity to love than a limited one. Romantic love among immortals would open itself to an intensity that eludes our mortal race. After all, immortality opens an infinite future. And this would seem to be to the benefit of love’s passion. I think, however, that matters are quite the opposite, and that “Groundhog Day” gives us the clue as to why this is. What the film displays, if we follow this interpretive thread past the film’s plot, is not merely the necessity of time itself for love’s intensity but the necessity of a specific kind of time: time for development. The eternal return of “Groundhog Day” offered plenty of time. It promised an eternity of it. But it was the wrong kind of time. There was no time to develop a coexistence. There was instead just more of the same. The intensity we associate with romantic love requires a future that can allow its elaboration. That intensity is of the moment, to be sure, but is also bound to the unfolding of a trajectory that it sees as its fate. If we were stuck in the same moment, the same day, day after day, the love might still remain, but its animating passion would begin to diminish.

    What this suggests to me is the best argument against the idea that, at the least, Rita is in love with Phil. Or, rather than put the strawman right into the camp of being in love, I think this bit from May implies that Rita couldn't love Phil or perhaps even feel a particularly strong romantic interest in him after that one day. Her experience with Phil amounts to the drive from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney (something like 90 minutes), the handful of minutes they were together at Gobbler's Knob for the groundhog ceremony, and what she saw of him at the party, which would have created such cognitive dissonance as to make her more confused than enamored. What May tells us is--and what I think rings quite true--is that love requires coexistence, and Phil and Rita have not really had any of that. Phil, in his way, has coexisted with Rita; he knows more about her from date night than she might admit even after having slept beside him, and he certainly knows her better (assuming his views are accurate) than we the audience do. But, knowledge is not love. Aside from "god" day, Phil has no genuine interactions with Rita that could constitute the beginnings of love...

    Unless we operate under the assumption that love at first sight a) exists and b) is what Phil experienced when he first saw Rita. Still, even if that was what happened (and in Hollywood, we must consider it a possibility), Phil is simply too immature to act upon it in any meaningful fashion in the first two acts and is preoccupied with other things in the third act, so I must argue now that Phil is not in love with Rita either. Claire S. Bacha (who I often disagree with on this topic) suggests,

    There is both an attraction to, and a horror of, this first moment of a relationship between Phil and Rita. The attraction is that it is familiar as an accepted version of love, being in love. It is the state to which both men and women generally aspire in their search for a partner and in their struggles to stay in their chosen relationships. It is generally accepted that relationships can work on this basis.

    The horror of this version of love, as is expressed so well in the film, is two-fold. First, it seems to be totally all right and totally impossible at the same time. Surely, although it feels familiar and right and attractive, there is no authentic way of being yourself with another and, at the same time, of carrying the ideal (and thus denigrated) parts of this person. This model of relationship precludes any authenticity or equality. It makes sense only as a son might experience his ambitious and frustrated mother.

    I don't know about the Freudian notions in that last bit, but I think the idea that what we call love--and I'm talking about the Western idealized version, of course--requires both authenticity and equality. That equality, I think, lines right up with May's coexistence and demonstrates a fundamental Truth about love. If for no other reason, it is because Phil, even when he isn't doing it deliberately, is taking advantage of an inherently lopsided situation in which he has unfair knowledge and experience over Rita, that I must conclude that Phil cannot be in love with Rita. He lacks the perspective from which to have such feelings.

    But, I do think it's reasonable to suggest that he loves her. And, on some level, that love may be romantic. Which brings me back around to my second question...)

    and b) whether or not that love is the driving force behind Phil's transformation. My personal bias makes me want to look to the message of the film--or rather my subjective measure of what is the best message available in the film--to answer this second question, and to look to Phil's interactions with Rita at the party to answer the first.

    First, a few questions:

    Why does Phil respond so readily to Rita coming into the party? Can we take his response and timing in changing the tempo as evidence of love? of romance? And, if we can, must we? After playing out his variation on Rachmaninoff, Phil goes to Rita and they dance. They are interrupted, and Phil allows his attention to shift naturally to the interruptions. On the one hand, his willingness to turn his attention so often away from Rita implies that dancing with Rita is not some piece of a convoluted plot to impress her. On the other hand, he does immediately return his attention to her after each interruption has departed. And, if all of his good deeds are just part of a convoluted attempt to be worthy of Rita, it makes sense for him to not dismiss the people he has helped in front of her. I don't claim there to be a definitive answer to this, but I tend toward the side that says Phil has improved himself because a) he had exhausted all other options and b) he finally saw the being good was worth it. While he might have been influenced by Rita (through idealizing who she was and wanting to be like her--something like Michael Faust suggests--or through falling in love with her and wanting to be worthy of her), there is, I would wager, some inertia to the process that overtakes the initial inspiration. So, while I cannot definitively rule out Phil's love for Rita as a driving force, I think that by the time Phil has turned down the path to being a better man, the driving force is irrelevant. Phil changes because Phil changes. Being good, doing good--these are states of being that certainly take on a life of their own.

    (On the flipside of that coin, being bad and doing bad are also states of being that can take on a life of their own, but that is a discussion for another time)

    I don't think Phil's behavior with Rita at the dance proves the issue of love in either direction. Not satisfactorily or definitively anyway. But, the film almost demands we interpret things one way and one way only when it comes to the Phil/Rita relationship. Everything else in the film is open to interpretation, but this one thing, an element not in Rubin's original script, provides the audience with a reasonable if not explicit explanation for Phil's release from the time loop.

    And, here I must come back around to the message of the film. Is Groundhog Day simply a romantic comedy with a science fiction twist? If so, then of course we must assume Phil and Rita have found each other, have fallen in love with one another, and our idealized notions about love are upheld by the ending of the film. Love is the one force that can break the curse. Phil is Snow White or Princess Aurora and Rita is his Prince... except she isn't deliberately saving him, is she? Perhaps a different metaphor is in order. Phil is at once the Princess in need of saving, and the Prince who does the saving. He hasn't just made himself worthy of Rita's love but also of his own. As he told Rita quite honestly on date night, "I don't even like myself." But, by the end of the loop, I think it's safe to say that Phil Connors does like himself. But, this approach means that Rita is a superfluous addition (a symbol at best) to a story about a man coming to appreciate himself by learning to appreciate everyone and everything around him.

    And, I think I'm okay with that one.

    Groundhog Day tells us that it is better to be a part of the world than to position ourselves above it. Groundhog Day tells us that genuine interactions are better than superficial ones. Groundhog Day tells us that selfless acts are worth our time and our effort. Why, though? The film lacks commentary on this, except inasmuch as we can take Phil's ending up with Rita as some reward.

    Of course, it is the film's lack of commentary on itself that makes it such a powerful statement about so many things it really tells us nothing about...

    And, I'm not sure I know what to make of that. I know what it means. I'm sure you reading this know what I mean. And yet, I'd like to be so much more clear. Let me try again.

    The film, in not telling us what it is about, allows us to read into it just about anything we want to read. It doesn't tell us that Phil and Rita are in love. It doesn't tell us that they are not. It doesn't tell us that Phil has genuinely become a better person. It doesn't tell us that he hasn't. It doesn't tell us that Phil has earned his way back into normal life anymore than it demonstrated why Phil specifically deserved to go through this process in the first place. It never tells us what to think, and yet that somehow induces in us an impulse to latch onto whatever we can find within the film to uphold traditions and standards and ideas about love and selflessness that we can at once take as universal and entirely unique to our culture (whatever that culture may be).

    I guess, sometimes silence is the most powerful statement one can make.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to love everyone, sure, but to be loved at least by one among them in return. I think the reason I have yet to get further into May's article is because I miss the passion he's talking about.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    are you drunk or something?

    So, we have Phil Connors, "arrogant, self-serving professional climber" in one corner, kindhearted, open Rita Hanson in the other. It's therapy, it's character growth, it's a cycle of birth and rebirth and rebirth and rebirth for Phil... what is it for Rita?

    Todd May, at The New York Times writes about Phil's passion, or rather his lack thereof in the middle portion of the film. Phil demonstrates passion early in the film, May argues, and has a different sort of passion at the end of the film, but after his pursuit of Rita, there's no passion. May's explanation: "Murray's character has come to terms with his situation. He alone knows what is going to happen, over and over again. He has no expectations for anything different... He radiates warmth and kindness, but also a certain distance."

    Again, I ask, what is there for Rita in the end of Phil's story? She can't remember their dates. Just yesterday, from her perspective, this jerk for whom she's responsible as producer, was ridiculing her, coming on to her, and basically bragging about heading back to his posh suite at the bed and breakfast to "read Hustler." This morning, sure, he shocked her by being deep and meaningful in his news report, and maybe she understands why another network might be interested in him now--before, she knew him only as the weatherman who made silly jokes during his reports. And then, he disappeared to run some "errands." They were supposed to be heading back to Pittsburgh, and since they didn't even try, she probably doesn't even know it would have been impossible because of the blizzard. She wanted to stick around for more Groundhog Day events, but without her onscreen "talent" her footage probably won't get used anyway even if she got Larry to carry around his camera rather than hitting on some local girl at the hotel bar.

    May uses Groundhog Day as a jumping off point for a discussion about love, and I'd like to do that as well... The problem is, I'm not so sure we really see "love" as such in the film. Don't get me wrong--I think post-time loop Phil Connors is capable of love much more than pre-time loop Phil Connors ever would have been, and I think Rita has seen something worth her time in this guy she thought was just a self-centered jerk--hell, she probably spent the previous night imagining the possibility of quoting "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" to him because there is a passage that seems entirely apropos. But, then he's playing the piano on stage and she's got a thing for guys who can play an instrument. And, then something even weirder happens. It turns out townspeople like him. These are good people, these Punxsutawney folk, and they are thanking him and hugging him and one girl even kissed him over some Wrestlemania tickets--and maybe there was something about a wedding, but Rita can't be sure because everything is happening so fast, and that girl had a nice ring on her finger--yeah, it was probably a wedding. And, Phil fixed some old guy's back and saved that Inner Circle guy's life? Who is this guy?

    Rita just has to figure Phil out, but keep in mind, she's the same person who hearing the world was about to end would "want to know where to put the camera." She's opportunistic just as much as she's genuinely curious. And, Phil is an enigma. An enigma worth her time. Rita wants something bigger than PBH, but imagines herself in the mountains in five years, so we can assume she doesn't want to stick to television. Does she want to get into documentaries, maybe? Feature films? This guy, with such divergent personalities, is the kind of guy she should be paying attention to if she wants to make it big. She imagines what could change him like this over night. She thinks maybe there's a movie here. Picture it: self-centered news man travels to small town America and... is he cursed? Is he forced to do as the Romans do... or as the Punxsutawneyans do? Is he being punished by God? Rita remembers when Sister Theresa talked about Job back in school. Rita likes the idea that Phil Connors was a jerk yesterday, but God and Satan got together and made a bet to weigh him as a man. Rita spent part of today trying to track Phil around town, but then she couldn't keep up, and she took to exploring on her own, trying to find locals that stood out as angels or demons, or God and the Devil themselves, sitting around watching over the contest. She remembers an old guy in a bright red hat--he could pass for either one. And, there was a homeless man that caught her eye. She wanted Larry to get footage of him, since she hadn't imagined a town like Punxsutawney to have any homeless, but Larry didn't understand what a homeless guy had to do with the day's celebrations. Still, she imagined God might appear as a homeless man, or maybe Satan would, tempting Phil to... No, the devil would be a woman; Rita hadn't met Phil until yesterday but she'd already heard stories about him making his way through the secretary pool. If this coureur de jupons was going to be tempted to do bad things, it would be a woman who did the tempting, some local woman, dressed in scarlet like the Whore of Babylon, or maybe pink to be more subtle.

    But, then the timeframe was an issue. Rita's dancing with Phil and she's barely able to concentrate on him because the story in her head isn't making any sense. How could he change so drastically in one day, even if God and/or the devil made him do it? It just wasn't possible. He needed more time...

    So, she brainstormed, and realized by putting God and the Devil in her script, she was already going to be making something fantastic, so why not something even weirder. What if time was repeating? What if every time Phil went back to the bed and breakfast to shower and read Hustler he instead slipped and fell and hit his head on the water spout and this marked the start of an endless loop, as he was forced to read the same Hustler before bed until he no longer had any shallow lust like he did before. And, in the morning, he'd have to go to work every day, have to do his report until he got it just right. No stupid puns, no sarcasm, just straight reporting. Then, he would have to get to know the locals; what other choice would he have? And, he'd get to know their foibles and their dreams and he'd come to appreciate them as if he'd known them forever. He'd be like de Lamartine's Parish man, "having no family, but belonging to a family that is worldwide." Or at least town-wide. He would help them out and they'd... they'd come up to him at the banquet like this and thank him for random good deeds. And, then, and only then would Phil be let out of the loop, God winning the bet because Phil had learned to be a better man than he had been before. Would there be a reward? Should there be a reward? Or should it all be about doing good for the sake of doing good? Rita liked that last idea but figured Hollywood would want something more concrete. Maybe he'd fall in love, but who would love him before? Ah, and there she had it; the Sisyphean task of bettering himself would be just the thing to earn the love of some girl. and his objet d'amour would be a good, wholesome girl, Phil's opposite in so many ways that their love would be nigh impossible, like Eloa falling in love with Satan. Then, they would end the day together, and when morning came it would be February 3rd and all would be right with the world. No, all would be righter with the world.

    Still, Rita wanted to know what had actually happened to Phil. So, when he was volunteered fro the bachelor auction by... was that the waitress from that cafe? When he was put up for sale, Rita had no choice but to buy him. She needed him. She needed to solve the puzzle of Phil Connors. But, payday was next week and her rent check had just cleared and she didn't have much money, and the bids were rising faster than she expected. She pulled out her checkbook and, while she was considering simply bidding up another five dollars, she couldn't risk being outbid. Phil had to be hers. So, eyeing the balance in her checkbook and imagining how she might have to skip her morning trips to the coffee shop for a while, she took the initiative. She was Rita Hanson, future award winning film producer/writer/director, and she had to take risks.

    When Phil got her out in the snow on Gobbler's Knob and started sculpting she began to regret her decision; this guy was clearly insane. His personality change was probably because he was more like Sibyl than Job. And, she's just spent her grocery money on a womanizer with a pile of snow... but then he showed it to her, and it was amazing. He might be insane but he could sculpt. And, she imagined a documentary or a subtle character piece, no more God or Satan, just a man out of his mind, a homeless man who would turn out to be one of the great artists of our time.

    Still, Phil intrigued her. So, she followed along back to his place at the Cherry Street Inn and went inside with him. She liked to present herself as some wholesome girl, innocent, maybe a little naive. But, truth was, she would have gone through the secretary pool as well if there were more men in there. She hadn't been laid in weeks and it was too cold out to walk all the way back to the hotel. And, really, if this guy had been with all those girls, some more than once or so she'd heard, he might just be good in the sack. She usually made a guy wait a couple dates but what the hell? Avoir la moule qui baille. She thought this out looking at the fake fire in his room and when she turned to let him in on her decision Phil was passed out cold on the bed. He hadn't even managed to get his shirt off.

    And, right then, Rita wished she'd had something stronger to drink tonight than vermouth. Maybe whiskey.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to see the day from everyone else's perspective, even if I have to make it all up.

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    i have an alcoholic now

    This isn't really part two to yesterday's bit about therapy. But, it does follow in its way, and I just had to use the rest of the psychiatrist's line as a title.

    Having dealt with Daughton and Bacha again yesterday, I wanted to get back to gender. In particular, I'd reference the following from Daughton:

    Connors must embark on what is traditionally a feminine rather than a masculine quest, journeying inward in order to encounter and submit to the power of the dark goddess, rather than outward in order to master and claim some object in the external world.

    I don't know about the dark goddess bit--I'll get to more on that in a moment--but I appreciate that, in this instance at least, Daughton calls it "traditionally feminine" instead of simply "feminine." I've said before, dividing the quest into two based on gender seems, in the present, inappropriate. But, looking backward, it makes sense to look at stories in terms of gender-divided cultures. It's like when I was in film class at USC and we talked about male melodrama as a subgenre of film emerging after World War II. Men, returning from the horrors of war, were a little more free than usual to explore their feelings, so Hollywood provided a mirror of that--films that focused, like Groundhog Day only as drama, on men exploring something more like that traditionally feminine quest. To think that we could only construct fiction that deals with men on external quests and women on internal quests--it's tragic and limiting. Myself--I've written stories about women on external quests, men on internal quests, and plenty in between. Often the two (internal and external, not really men and women) are one and the same. But, when we get academic about stuff, we love to break it down and label it. Internal exploration--that's a feminine quest. External quest--that's a masculine one. We've got the transmission view and the ritual view for communication. We've got stuff like the big man view or the Whiggish view of history. Even in film, we label genres and subgenres, and we act like mixing genres is the height of cleverness when life mixes genres all the time.

    But, I was talking about gender, and something about a dark goddess. Daughton cites Janice Hocker Rushing in describing "the myths of the goddess, who has been divided by patriarchal influence into light/dark, good/evil, upperworld/netherworld, and eventually, virgin/whore aspects." So, I suppose Phil's benign object is not a singular thing, then. Instead, Rita represents all of these various aspects in some way... I've seen the film so many times, you'd think I could point out the way these labels work without even thinking about it. I've pointed out how Rita isn't that nice early on. She's patronizing and seems to put up with Phil only because she has to. He's her means to a better end as far as producing goes. And, when they get to "date night" she lies readily enough, and her quoting Sir Walter Scott is so deliberately critical that she's certainly got her dark and her evil aspects. And, the light, good bit--that's what most of us probably see when we see Rita. She's playful and innocent in front of the bluescreen, she not only puts up with but seems amused by Phil's antics, and when Phil is depressed, she seems genuinely concerned for him.

    I suppose I could make a case for Rita's upperworld/netherworld aspects, like Plato's chariot in Phaedrus, pulling Phil to both better and worse versions of himself. Early on, she's not a draw for Phil--he's concerned with exterior things, his hedonistic impulses. And, when he turns that toward Rita, she certainly could be his draw toward the netherworld, the object not of his affection but of his lust. Still, in her unknowingness, she remains benign. Later, though, she serves as a draw to better things, the upperworld of good deeds and personal betterment. Jump into Bacha's camp and say it's Phil's love for Rita that makes him change, or Almond's camp and say it's Phil's idealization of Rita that makes him change, it's still Rita that makes him change.

    (I think there's a clear third alternative, but I think that may have to wait for another day.)

    Similarly, Rita as lust object embodies the whore aspect of the goddess--not as literally as she could, but Phil certainly is acting to get her into bed. But, Rita remains quite deliberately virginal; even when the tables have turned and she has purchased Phil from the auction block, they do not consummate their relationship. They merely sleep together. In the end, Phil doesn't need to conquer Rita any longer. There's perhaps an argument to be made that the turning of the tables in the end--Rita buying Phil like property, Phil offering to serve her the next morning--is countering one bad version of things with another, but it's fantastical enough to be rather quaint instead. And, it is so very far removed from where the film was just over an hour before. Daughton says:

    In fact, the rhetorical point of Groundhog Day has more to do with its protagonist coming to appreciate the stereotypically feminine focus on connection with others, than with reinscribing the stereotypically masculine individuation and domination glorified in films...

    And, I cut off that line because she cites JFK as her example, and I think there are far better examples of films that, as she says, reinscribe masculine individuation and domination. Most of the most popular films of the 1980s, for example, deal in lone male heroes facing down numerous enemies and demonstrating that all it takes is the right amount of force to win any conflict. These films often involves men traveling the world, maybe heading off to some exotic place (the jungles of Vietnam in Rambo: First Blood Part II, whatever that private island was in Commando, all the many places James Bond would go in each of his films, just to name a few examples), arguably to demonstrate the power of the First World over the Third, the Global North over the Global South, the Core over the Periphery, whatever divisory terms you want to use for it... I've put Phil as representative of exploitative patriarchy before and I think it's worth saying again; in the first section of Groundhog Day Phil very much falls in line with the Hollywood male of the 1980s (keeping in mind this film was released early in 1993 so it's not that far off from being an 80s film)--he's dominating and commanding. He wants what he wants and he hops into bed with Nancy (and maybe Laraine, though we don't get to see that) as readily as James Bond hops into bed with whatever female costar is available...

    I'm imagining Julia Nickson's Co and Rae Dawn Chong's Cindy in Rita's stead and, outside of the violence, the role in the overall structure is not that different... Or at least a case could be made that they serve a similar purpose, especially Co. She's there as a foil for Rambo, so he's got someone to talk to--he's not a very talkative guy--so we can get to know him. We get to know Phil Connors in much the same way--his interactions with Rita. Similarly, despite early scenes with his daughter, Schwarzenegger's John Matrix would hardly seem human if not for some of his interactions with Cindy. It's great that Rita, I think, has more depth than either Co or Cindy. Much of her depth comes, though, not from her but from what Phil says about her. We don't experience Rita directly as much as we experience her through Phil. Remember, per Richard Almond, Rita is Phil's benign object, his doorway into the therapeutic journey. She is only as human as Phil allows her to be.

    Groundhog Day, by its very nature and structure, only has time for Phil Connors in most of its scenes. Everyone else is a temporary foil for his behavior. Still, so many supporting roles, with only a few brush strokes of characterization and detail, come alive, even if they do not get to occupy their own personal worlds. Structurally, this should happen more as the film goes along, and I suppose that fits, except for maybe characters like Ralph and Gus, bit parts early in Phil's story that fuel him as he launches into the time loop head on. Daughton tells us that Phil learns to "revel in communion" (and I wouldn't argue that is wrong) so, if the film is all Phil's (and there fewer than a handful of scenes without him) experience, shouldn't we get to know these characters better as the story goes? And, don't we? I mean, aside from Ralph and Gus, about which we know just about as much as we're likely to know outside of male melodrama, in a sampling of lines in that one night they spend with Phil Connors.

    Groundhog Day is male melodrama as comedy. Phil isn't Rambo or John Matrix or John McClane or James Bond or Rocky Balboa. He doesn't win through feats of strength or daring. He succeeds because he turns down that traditionally feminine path into himself. He is not rugged individualism glorified but something much more interesting. Phil Connors journey came a few years before Hillary Clinton popularized the liberal notion that It Takes a Village to raise a child. Groundhog Day shows us not only that a village can raise a child (metaphorically) to be a good man, but that a good man can repay that village without great acts of glory, without explosions--well, okay, there's one, but it's hardly the visceral kind of explosion you'd get in an action film from the 80s--or acts of violence--discounting his punching of Ned and all those slaps from Rita--and rejecting, while at the same time embracing, a manipulative control of the world to make it better. The key there is that Phil Connors going into the time loop would control things for himself while Phil Connors coming to the end of the time loop would control things for everyone around him. There's still a hint of exploitative patriarchy and control, but it's got a nicer tinge.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to imagine Bill Murray as Rambo, or Sylvester Stallone as Phil Connors, to mash together 80s brawn with Groundhog Day heart and see what results.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    most of my work is with couples, families

    (Enough about religion... for now.)

    Let's talk instead about something light: psychoanalysis.

    In the International Journal of Psychoanalysis (87 (2006), 1387-98), Richard Almond tells us that "[i]n the paradigm of the therapeutic narrative, a troubled person plays out his/her typical pattern in relation to an other who is more anonymous, a foil who is depicted in idealized and/or mysterious terms." This "other" is Rita, and Phil is the one undergoing the therapeutic process in Groundhog Day. As I've mentioned before, Claire S. Bacha, in Psychodynamic Counselling (4.3 (Aug 1998), 383-406), claims Rita as "the object of Phil's desire exactly because she seems so much his opposite." Both Bacha and Almond are putting the onus for Phil's transformation, at least in part, on his attachment to Rita, whether it's idealization, attraction, or both. I think I'd side with Almond on this one.

    Almond tells us that Groundhog Day is of "particular interest" because "it shows us psychological subjectivity--the process of change from a point of view that is particularly valuable--the 'patient's' side." Phil is the patient, starting the film as "the prototypical narcissist, defending against the depressive emptiness of his life with a bitterness that keeps him in a self-reinforcing, isolated spiral, separating him from others." Rick Wade, at Probe Ministries, would further add, Phil is "self-centered, materialistic, egotistical, and career-driven. He exemplifies what sociologist Craig Gray calls modern man's desire for autonomy and... what might be called the will-to-self-definition." Suzanne M. Daughton, in Critical Studies in Mass Communication (13 (1996), 138-154), would probably add Phil's inability to relate to the Other to the list. As Larry would suggest, "there's a lot of things really wrong with Phil."

    So, Phil, with all his problems, begins, as I mentioned way back in my exploration of the color blue in the film, in front of a blank space, the bluescreen. Almond suggests this is Phil "in his own world, and empty one, out of which he creates an endless winter." Phil's therapy, chosen not by chance or by God or by his ex-girlfriend Stephanie, or even that shovel hitting him in the head, is the long winter of February 2nd. And, so it goes. Day 1 happens, then Day 2 comes and things are off kilter. Phil knows something's wrong, knows everything's wrong, but there's not really a way to make sense of that. He hasn't seen Groundhog Day so he's not going to jump to "time loop" as the explanation of choice. Almond misquotes Phil's line to Rita at Gobbler's Knob that morning as "There's something wrong with me." What Phil actually says is, "I'm having a problem. I may be having a problem." But, accurate with the quotations or not, Almond gets on with the therapy explanation for things; "[t]he first step in change," he explains, "is noticing things don't feel right." The first thing you need to do is admit you have a problem. Then you can fix it. Phil knows he's got a problem, though on a literal level, he probably thinks his problem is just that the day repeated itself. But, figuratively, his day has to repeat so he can recognize who he is, even if it takes him innumerable days.

    Jump ahead a couple days, getting into the start of Phil's "adolescent" period, what Almond calls his "omnipotent position." Almond points out, Phil "turns to self-indulgent activities--the drinking and defiance of rules we see her, and further oral and sexual gratifications in other scenes." As Wade describes it, Phil "simply takes his hedonistic self-preoccupation to new levels." And, we laugh. We get the urge to seize control of circumstance like that. But, Almond says, "[w]hile amusing in the film, these scenes are also uncomfortable to watch because we are aware that Phil is angry and depressed at his underlying stasis." On some level, we probably are a little resistant to that truth just like Phil is, but yeah, Phil's damage is there from the beginning, hidden beneath his sarcasm and his bitterness. "Aggressively tinged impulsiveness," Almond says, "substitutes for facing himself, his isolation and underlying self-hatred." The possible irony here is that Phil was isolated before he came to Punxsutawney, now thinks he is more isolated than ever, but is actually in the place where he can finally figure out how to belong and relate to other people.

    Almond suggests that Phil's Freudian slip of calling Nancy "Rita" is his "longing for Rita, for what she represents, break[ing] through." Note the second clause there. Bacha would stop at Phil's longing for Rita. Almond positions Rita wholly in the role of idealized other, that anonymous other set as Phil's foil. And, prior to date night, Rita is certainly anonymous from Phil's perspective. She doesn't know how date night has been going with all of Phil's attempts, so she assumes--somewhat correctly--that Phil doesn't know her. But, he knows something of who she is in contrast to himself. While he has simply been trying to "shortcut around his needs for connection" (Almond's words) in all those date nights with Rita, he does know something about her. He knows what she represents. And, he spells it out in bed after "god" day when he describes her as the "kindest, sweetest, prettiest person" he's ever met. He also thinks he's never seen "anyone that's nicer to people" than Rita is. It doesn't matter if that is literally true--it probably isn't, since Rita really isn't that nice--but it matters that Phil believes it, even if it is because he's never paid enough attention to nice people before to have any basis for accurate comparison. Rita is not someone he deserves. She is someone he idealizes, and the film certainly paints her as a good, mostly genuine person.

    Phil's suicides, Almond argues, represent "progress: chronic defensive nastiness and callousness--aggression turned outward has become suicidal depression--aggression turned on the self, or the beginning of masochism. The object [i.e. Rita] is being protected now, because there is a glimmer of hope of obtaining the goodness it possesses." Essentially, Phil turning his anger on himself marks his attempt to protect in particular Rita, and I would suggest that it also fits with his eventual embrace of the Other in that he is effectively protecting everyone else in Punxsutawney from his sarcastic wrath as well. But, Almond says, "[t]here is a limit to the effectiveness of omnipotence and destructive rage." A certain grief is inevitable, Almond says, as Phil desperately needs to cling to the object but literally cannot possess it. Almond calls Phil's recall of the details about all the people at the Tip Top as "a representation of his attachment to his internal, depressive world." Phil's desire for Rita (as love object or as this idealized other) is now a "troubling attachment" according to Almond. And, that makes sense, here. Phil has given up on his adolescent pursuit of her, but he also hasn't quite accepted the possibility of, well, good. It is not until Rita takes the time to be with him not in a constructed date night but an honest situation that her presence as Almond's "object" provides Phil a way out. Almond calls Phil's speech to her the "turning point" of the film, and I've suggested as much, obviously. Phil's good deed days, Almond calls "the active deployment of Phil's new state of mind, self-concept, and capacity for relatedness."

    Phil wakes up "transformed: he's happy and feels generous." Good deeds follow and finally Phil is free from the time loop, free from his therapy. But, also, we are free from ours--well, I suppose I'm not, since I'm still watching the film again and again. My therapy goes on. But, the audience in general--it's therapeutic for all of us. Almond suggests:

    While we are laughing we are less defended from painful truths. In the strongly drawn character of Phil, we see an aspect of ourselves that we would reject if it were told us straight out--that we use people, feel superior, fear closeness, and that we often may get caught in our own groundhog days of repetitive sameness. But, we can also correct these tendencies. Crucial in such mutative processes is the sense of connection to a benign object who is available and believes in the best part of us.

    [I think Groundhog Day might just be my benign object.]

    Such an object becomes a foil for working out the bitterness and defensiveness that discourage self-love. Just as Rita's uncritical attitude allows Phil to gradually love himself--because he loves her--so we feel loved by the film's effort to amuse us, and we become willing to hear its message for us.

    We let our defenses down and don't even realize we're vulnerable to the message the film has for us (whatever that may be, but that's a separate issue) until it's too late.

    Almond says he was "mildly amused" the first time he saw Groundhog Day. He didn't see it in theaters but on TV. Years later, he explains:

    I happened to see it again and notice[d] the parallel to the therapeutic process. The film then became a richer experience. As I studied it more carefully, I discovered its music, its poetic references, its insights into the human condition. As a work of art, it began to touch me.

    He could have just read my blog.

    Anyway, my therapy continues... and I suppose if you're reading along, yours does as well.

    Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to meditate not on the repetitiveness but on the singularity of each day, unique and individual.