"Everyone takes, everyone gives. Life is like that." - Siddhartha (p. 52)
Davies (1995) tells us, "Through its small-town setting and its manipulation of time, [Groundhog Day] keeps the most discussed ills of nineties America (gang war in California, sex and violence in the movies) at a distance" (p. 226). In fact, those more serious topics don't even make it out of the opening scene, and the first one is just part of Phil's humorous weather report:
Out in California, they’re gonna have some warm weather tomorrow… gang wars and some very overpriced real estate. Up in the Pacific Northwest, as you can see, they’re gonna have some very, very tall trees. It will be clear across the Rockies and the Great Plains, mostly.
Sex and violence in the movies--that's a topic that has been with us as long as movies have been, and will still be until we turn as hedonistic as the latter days of the Roman Empire. Actually, then we'll probably still talk about the amount of sex and violence in the movies, but it will be to wonder why our movies have anything but.
Groundhog Day provides us with a Capraesque world in which sex does exist but it's not really seen and is fairly wholesome and fully dressed when it is, and violence--well, there are a good ten slaps on screen, Phil punching Ned, and some might think that explosion is violent, but really, even the violence here is almost wholesome... In fact, I find it interesting that the first time Rita slaps Phil it is specifically because he asks her to do so.
Rita, do me a favor? I need someone to give me a good hard slap in the face.
And, she obliges before he has the chance to explain, "Something's going on and I don't know what to do... I'm having a problem. I may be having a problem." I would like to suggest that Phil is setting a precedent for the audience (and, if not for the time loop erasing her memory of it, for Rita as well) that slapping him is a good thing, a necessary measure to help him along the way. So, when Phil goes too far later, doing everything he can to bed Rita, the slap is welcomed. And the montage not long after of eight slaps in a row is not only welcome but funny. Sure, we feel for Phil a little bit because we're rooting for him despite ourselves, and some of those slaps look pretty painful. But, the slaps makes sense. This is a kind of violence we accept... Not to drift back into my recent epic on sexism, but we do accept the woman slapping the man because he has come on too strong, because he is using a little too much force, getting a little too physical when she doesn't want it.
Ramis and Rubin (though the latter would let Phil do some worse stuff in his original script than made it into the film) would never let Phil get so far as to force himself on Rita. But, he definitely goes a little too far, blocking her path when she walks into his bedroom, continuing to kiss her after she has said things are going too fast for her, and insisting on still holding onto her and nuzzling into her after she has rejected his proclamation of love.
And, though I have, with tongue somewhat in cheek, called Phil's seduction of Nancy Taylor time loop date rape, Phil's lies to Nancy are really no worse than he might tell outside the time loop to get a girl into bed. And, no worse than what men in the real world tell all the time to accomplish the same. Phil's trickery with Nancy, like those slaps, is almost wholesome as well. It's a bit sleazy, too. But, if Phil at his worst tells a couple lies to get a date with a girl, he can't even be that bad a guy. It's time loop opportunism we can understand and relate to. Who wouldn't try to use the time loop to your advantage to get with a guy or a girl you find attractive?
(I'd like to think I wouldn't go after a girl just because I saw her in a diner and she was pretty, but in real life I don't go for that kind of lust-at-first-sight thing either.)
As for Phil punching Ned, it is remarkable to me just how much of a cheer that got at both screenings I attended while in Woodstock for Groundhog Day. Then again, American audiences do love their violence, and we love it when an annoying character like Ned Ryerson gets taken down a notch. Hell, it's the same reason we appreciate Rita's slaps--Phil also needs taken down a notch, or two... or eight. A study at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota in 2008--"Does Sex Sell? A Look at the Effects of Sex and Violence on Motion Picture Revenues"--found that
more violent content tends to increase box office revenues, while more profanity has a detrimental impact on box office revenues both domestically and internationally. To answer the question in the title of this paper, sex does in fact sell more tickets to adults and students, but it drives senior citizens away.
We dislike profanity more than sex or violence. Hell, in a nation built around the idea of rugged individualism, we love violence because, metaphorically, it's the same idea we get from the Protestant Ethic. As outlined by Max Weber,
the tenets of Protestantism played an instrumental role in (1) legitimating individualistic profit seeking by making it a duty willed by God, (2) justifying capitalist exploitation and work discipline by making conscientious labor a sacred duty, and (3) creating a cultural climate in which poverty was seen as a result of individual failing. (Lim, 2006, p. 107)
When it comes to success in America, we like to think anyone can be successful if he just puts in enough effort. It's unrealistic, but we believe it anyway. And, violence is just an extension of that same idea. You can't convince someone to do what you want, then you just need to put more effort into it. And, if words aren't working, force just might be the effort needed.
We laugh when Phil hugs Ned a little too long and Ned gets uncomfortable and runs away. I imagine a more appropriate scene in which Phil simply hugs Ned, and maybe it goes a little long, but it doesn't get uncomfortable. I guess I imagine an enlightened Phil being a little more like a hippie, spreading the love, genuinely, not using physical contact to deliberately turn someone away.
(This summer when I finally get around to cutting apart the movie and making some more re-edits, maybe I'll make a version that cuts that scene entirely (or moves it earlier). Phil really should know better by that point.)
Today's reason to repeat a day forever: to turn no one away, by force or its opposite, to embrace anyone and everyone because life is too short to let our darker impulses get the best of us.