Thursday, June 12, 2014

the end of a very long day

Yesterday’s entry brings me to two questions, actually. The first—where I ended yesterday—is this:

Does Phil tell Rita about the time loop after the movie ends?

The necessary follow-up:

When Phil does tell Rita about the time loop, how does that affect their lives?

As you can see from my phrasing in that second question, I’ve got a simple answer to the first question: yes, Phil will tell Rita about the time loop. I mean, how could he not? This is the single most important thing that has ever happened to him. It has fundamentally altered his behavior and his identity. It has turned Phil in a single day—check my edited down version of the movie that shows us what Rita experiences:

—from an egocentric jerk to a mindful altruist… well, sort of. It’s a drastic change, however we label it.

I think of the later bits in About Time, when Tim stops using his time travel ability but just treats each day as he would when he repeated every day a second time… in one sentence, that’s probably confusing; if you don’t mind SPOILERS, you can read the more detailed version in Day 106 – because i love you. The point is Tim doesn’t use his ability regularly because he has learned to simply appreciate the present the first time. I was reading more of Hannam’s (2008) The Magic of Groundhog Day today and there’s an interesting passage about Phil’s attitude toward time; Hannam writes:

During the time loop, Phil radically changes how he conceives of time. At first, time is an irritation to be endured, as he waits to return to his former life as a celebrity weatherman in the city. Then time is a resource, which he can use to exploit others. Next, it is a terrible burden to be suffered for eternity. Finally, time is a great gift, which he can use to help others and find happiness. Time remains the same; it is Phil’s attitude to it that changes. (pp. 39-40)

That change in attitude seems like the kind of thing that would have lasting power; that is, Phil’s thinking of time as a gift, the present as something worth savoring—that won’t just go away, at least not immediately. And, I’ve written before about how difficult it will be for Phil to readjust to the normal flow of days. He will need help, and not just from Rita. Maybe he will see that psychiatrist in Punxsutawney and talk about the time loop in greater detail. In Lupoff’s (2012) “12:03 P.M.” Myron Castleman tells his psychiatrist about his… detachment from the normal flow of time (it’s hardly a time loop by the third story) and his visit with the psychiatrist is probably the only part of the third of Lupoff’s time loop stories that I like.

(For those who haven’t kept up, Lupoff’s (1973) original “12:01 P.M.” may have been the inspiration for Groundhog Day.)

My point is Phil will talk to someone. He’s previously told Gus and Ralph, he’s previously told Rita, he’s previously told the local psychiatrist, but in the last resumption of the time loop, as far as we know, he hasn’t told anybody. He doesn’t need to anymore. The time loop has become his normal; it doesn’t need explained.

But, break from that, exit the time loop—and I don’t want to call it escape anymore—and life is going to be hard. And, he will have to explain that. And, if he and Rita are going to have a shot going into the future, I expect some seemingly crazed honesty is going to be happening sooner rather than later. Not because Phil needs it to happen sooner but simply because Phil probably isn’t that prone to lying anymore. Hell, if Buster hadn’t hit that gavel to get the auction started when he did, Phil would have told Rita what was going on. Recall these lines:

Rita: What is going on?
Phil: I really don’t know.
Rita: No, there is something going on with you.
Phil: Would you like the long version or the short one?
Rita: Let’s start with the short and go from there.

And, then Buster bangs his gavel and Phil loses that opportunity.

To cut a long answer short, Phil will tell Rita about the time loop because he has no reason not to. He’s proved his time loop knowledge before and he can do it again. But, then the new question becomes, what happens next? How does telling Rita about the time loop—and I think we can assume Phil can make her believe him—alter 1) Rita’s sense of the universe and 2) their relationship?

In answer to #1, we must first explore Phil’s sense of the universe. While Foley (2004) might disagree, I don’t think Phil assumes a god behind the time loop. He may suggest that he, himself is a god, but he never really references God throughout the film. I’ve gotten into this in a lot of detail before. Phil doesn’t see God in the time loop. If anything, the time loop is fundamentally about Phil (or metaphorically, about every one of us watching the story unfold) changing for the sake of himself, not for the sake of Rita, not for the sake of anyone else around him, and not because it is a) the right thing to do or b) God demands it. Groundhog Day is not about looking to some outside force to find purpose in life; it is about looking inward, and that is what Phil does.

Still, that being said, the idea of the time loop happening for, effectively, no reason at all, would mean Phil has a very different view of the universe, of space and time, than anyone else would. As much of a different view as if he believed God was behind it, in fact. Time is not so linear anymore for Phil. If he can maintain it, he has an appreciation for now that would change the very way he works and eats and sleeps going into the actual future. It would change his hobbies, his career goals, everything about his life. And, the indirect understanding of the same would also alter Rita’s frame of the world. Phil and Rita would have a new, shared standpoint from which they can look at the world anew, appreciating every new thing.

Rita might seek out religion to explain it. She might even push Phil to do the same. But, I don’t think religion is going to have a good answer for the time loop. She might resort to her Catholicism but the best Christianity has is Joshua 10:13, but that’s just one little verse. Buddhism, which you might expect given it’s numerous mentions in this blog, might offer at least a way to understand the meaning of the time loop if not the explanation for it. But, if Rita (and, by extension, Phil) wants an explanation it will come down to some strange particle physics like that in Lupoff’s stories. But, really, it is the result that matters anyway, and the result of the time loop is that Phil figured out how to be a better person and how to appreciate the world day-to-day. Rita will come to that understanding by proxy, or they will fail as a couple.

I choose proxy. In answer to #2, it is worth mentioning that I once argued, “Aside from ‘god’ day, Phil has no genuine interactions with Rita that could constitute the beginnings of love.” Telling Rita about the time loop now, outside its bounds, would constitute a genuine interaction that could easily fuel a very deep connection between the two of them. So, while in that same entry I argued that Rita couldn’t love Phil and Phil didn’t love Rita, this revelation would draw them together and maybe create something sustainable because of, well, their shared understanding of the universe explained above.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to be mindful of the whole universe, my personal universe, and everyone in it.

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