October 01, 2005

Groundhog Day

About a half hour into Groundhog Day, Bill Murray's weatherman has finally come to terms with a world in which time doesn't keep on ticking. "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered?," he asks. Sure, it serves as a plot summary, but it also penetrates the heart of the movie's power. I certainly had a point in my life where that seemed to be the case, and I bet almost everyone else has too.
The remainder of the movie is spent with Murray exploring all of the avenues walked by men who face a hopeless future. He throws caution to the wind and fulfils all of the fantasies of men who have nothing to lose and therefore nothing to fear. He attacks the world and exploits it. He desperately works to defy the preordained script any way he can. As his affection for his producer cohort grows, he tries manipulating her into loving him. No matter how well he perfects the ruse, his efforts bear no fruit.
Reaching finally an ultimate point of desperation, he tries suicide, but even that is denied to him. No matter the method of death, the same bed on the same morning of the same day is there to greet him. Trying a different tactic, he finds a way to explain his situation to said producer and convince her of its truth. This works better, but it still leaves him stuck among stagnant waters.
Slowly, as he becomes adept at utilizing the rules of eternity, he makes forward progress against all odds. Even in a world that never changes nor grows, he discovers his own potential for betterment. He learns the people and places of that world and works out a short hand such that by the end of each day they know him like he knows them. He becomes a man of many talents, a man of accustomed to many points of view.
Over a decade later, it's hard to appreciate the film outside of the legacy of its own success. The basic plotline has been recycled many times since, but none of the knockoffs come close to capturing the depths of the original's sorrow and joy, nor do they feature a protagonist with the wit and complexity showcased by Murray's performance. It is undoubtedly for me the most true performance of his career — the bridge between Peter Venkman and Bob Harris, Phil the weatherman highlights the truthful parts of each and places them within a greater canvas and a more believable whole. More than any other picture I can think of, this picture rests on the shoulders of its lead and he pulls surprises out of his hat that we hadn't seen before and likely won't see again.
Simply put, this is fantasy utilized to its fullest, most human potential. ()


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