In the Loop: Groundhog Day

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies. It’s maybe not exactly true, but I do say I will watch any movie with a time loop. It seemed as good of a time as any to combine the two.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Groundhog Day (1993, directed by Harold Ramis)

  • Time until the loop begins: 20 minutes, more or less.
  • The cause of the loop or inciting incident: Phil has to return to Puxatawny
  • Number of time loops: I am not going to count, but it’s likely in the hundreds
  • Lessons learned: Phil becomes a good person and falls in love, mostly.

In the Loop logoGroundhog Day isn’t necessarily the first time loop movie nor the originator of the concept, but it’s the one everyone knows. And for good or bad, it’s the one everyone uses as a point of reference when it comes to time loop movies (even when it really doesn’t make sense).

Look, Groundhog Day is great. Billy Murray’s Phil is the proto-typical white man who needs to learn how to be a better person (which, let’s face it, is mostly what most time loop movies are about).

I know this came out in 1993, but let’s be honest, a lot of this feels like a made-for-TV movie with “big” movie stars. I think it plays better on TV and I think that’s why it’s survived as long as it has (other than it’s fun).

Murray’s charms carry so much of this. Phil is actually a pretty terrible person in the beginning and that’s some of the point. That you are on his side makes this work. We like watching him grow and change for the better. We want him to win.

To be fair, regardless of Murray’s charms, I do find it a bit tiresome to watch a mediocre white man become less mediocre.  Phil only decided to be better, overall, because Rita made him want to be better. And the movie does make us think Rita is a sweetheart overall, but she’s much less of an actual character as so much as she is the motivation for Phil (I like Andie MacDowell  — she’s almost always so sweet and fun in any role she’s in). As much as I think Phil’s journey is genuine and he does change into a good person, I think much of this feels different nearly 30 years later than it did at the time.

Groundhog Day is great! But also … maybe … let’s stop having it be the go-to when it comes to time loop movies. It was not the first one. It’s an essential one and the most well-known one, but it’s not the only one. 

I, of course, picked this to be first to get it out of the way.

Next week, on March 23: The Obituary of Tunde Johnson

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.