Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Subtext – Groundhog Day

All right, guys, we all know Will, (aka “dix” or “wcdixon”), author of uninflected images juxtaposed, funny man, devil’s advocate, rock 'n roller, and slow convert to the art of subtext. He's a father, a teacher, and a filmmaker. He's “starkly gleeful meets darkly sardonic meets sadly simplistic.” He's the little independent guy who's always aspiring to be the summer blockbuster.

He should also be congratulated, as he was just recently hired to write for an existing teen drama TV series. All I’ve got to say is - there better be a lot of subtext on that show. Hehehe

I will admit, he went through a few scenes before settling on
Groundhog Day by Danny Rubin (with revisions by Harold Ramis). There is some subtext here, I think, with Rita’s quotation of Sir Walter Scott. There's also the usual “seduction subtext” as Phil tries so hard to get Rita to sleep with him.

Here are Dix’s thoughts:

There's an old saying that goes "dying is easy, comedy is hard". I would imagine that "dramedy" or comedy with dramatic subtext is even harder. That's probably why I have so much respect for one of the true comedic geniuses of our time, Bill Murray and his best role was as Phil Connors, the weatherman stuck inside Groundhog Day.

The transformation that overcomes Bill Murray's character is mesmerizing. He starts out the film crabby: "You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life". As the effect of being stuck in the same day takes hold, he turns alarmed: "Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today!" Realizing that he can use this bizarre twist of fate to do some good, he actually turns into a sweet gentle soul: "When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."

Phil, though he probably never realized it, was trapped in a life that made him bitter and insensitive. It's only when he is forced to take each day as his last and learn to make full use of that day — to live in the moment — that he achieves a form of self-actualization.


Phil is sitting at his usual table, which is covered with an incredible variety of rich foods— eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, pies, cakes, eclairs, ice cream, puddings, etc. Rita sits across from him, watching in amazement as he stuffs himself with pastry.

Is this some new fad diet? Don't
you worry about cholesterol?

Phil scrapes a plate and takes a final bite of a chocolate eclair.

I don't worry about anything

What makes you so special?
Everybody worries about

That's exactly what makes me so

He takes a big bite of cake. Rita shakes her head.

(with his mouth full)

"The wretch, concentered all
in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair
And doubly dying, shall go
down to the vile dust from
whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored, and
unsung." Sir Walter Scott.

(stares at her for a
long moment)
"There was a young man from

That's really funny. When are
you going to grow up, Phil?

At this rate-- never.
(he pulls out a pack of
Okay if I smoke?

Rita shrugs. Phil lights up a cigarette.

You really do have a death wish,
don't you?

Just the opposite, Rita. I have
a life wish. I'm just trying to
enjoy it. Taking pleasure in the
little things. Don't you ever
just want to cut loose and go

I wouldn't even know what it
means to go wild.

Yeah, well, that's where I come
in. Going wild is one of my
specialties. Last night I got
completely loaded and drove headon
into a police car.

Oh, really? You look pretty good
this morning.

That's my point. I know you
won't believe me, but we could do
anything we want today and it
wouldn't matter one bit.
Absolutely no consequences.
Complete and total freedom.

And how..,do we manage that?

You leave that to me. Why don't
you send Larry back and hang out
with me for the rest of the day?
You never make it through that
blizzard anyway.

Larry enters the diner and spots them.

I'll take my chances with the
-weather. But you have a good

Don't worry. I plan to.

Or maybe this scene...


Rita hugs him again and starts to exit.

Thanks. See you tomorrow.

Tomorrow? Wait, aren't you going
to come up to my room for a

(very reluctant)
I don't know, Phil—

No reason to end a perfect day.

Well— we better not.

No, you should. The, uh, the
poetry! I've got some books,
Rimbaud, Beaudelaire, we could
light a fire—

Thanks, but —

(seeing it all slip
Please come, Rita. It'll be —

Phil, I'm tired. We can be
together tomorrow.

(getting desperate)
But there is no tomorrow for me!

Let's not ruin it, Phil. There's
no way I' m sleeping with you

Why not? Rita, I love you!

You don't even know me!

(grabs her hand)
Please! You have to!

Rita shakes loose from his grasp.

What's wrong with you!

There is a long moment of silent tension, then all her old doubts about Phil come rushing back.

(shaking her head)
Oh, no. I can't believe I fell
for it. This whole day was just
one long set-up. And I ate
fudge. Yucchh! I hate fudge.

No, it was real. I love you.

Stop saying that! Do you really
expect me to trust you? The
whole secretarial pool is a Phil
Connors recovery group.

But I can change! I really can—

Rita slaps him hard on the cheek.

That's for making me care about

She turns and stomps off, leaving Phil standing there hurting.


Mystery Man said...

Miriam had also submitted some thoughts on the wordless subtext in Groundhog Day:

"In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, forced to live the same day over and over, decides the best way to take advantage of his situation is to set a sexual trap for Rita, the beautiful producer. He spends days and days (of the same day) finding out her favorite drink, her background, her favorite author, her favorite ice-cream, all in an effort to get her to fall into his bed. It doesn't work. After a series of shots of her slapping him in the face, the movie enters a dark period. Now every day that Phil wakes up to find himself once again in Punxsutawney his goal is to commit suicide. He begins his quest for death by kidnapping the groundhog and driving both it and himself into a quarry pit. After that he throws himself off a building, in front of a truck, and drops a radio into his bathtub (full of cold water, no doubt, because the hot water goes out when it snows).

"Phil needs no words to tell us he is devastated by the loss of Rita before she was ever gained. If all he wanted was to have sex with her, his grief is out of proportion. He feels trapped and the one thing he feels would make this living hell even remotely worthwhile (sex with a beautiful woman) is beyond his reach. So he kills himself...again and again."

LoveStrong said...

And yet the entire film and the journey of Phil on that "same" day is about so much more than sex, which is what makes the multi-layered subtext of this flick so fantastic. Clearly using his desire to "bed" Rita makes for an entertaining movie, and one to which we can all relate at the most basic level. But the psychological stages of tragedy through which Phil traverses cannot be overlooked as brilliantly conceptualized subtext. Each action along the way leads him to the ultimate phase of acceptance of his fate and change in his character, all along weaving the viewer through humor and hope. And, of course, he has to get the girl.

wcdixon said...

Man, I should hire MM to run my publicity department...if I HAD a p.r. department.

Thanks dude...

Mystery Man said...

Dix - I was quite happy to finally put together your post. Great job, by the way. I ALMOST included your story about Frasier.

Miriam - Your thoughts on the wordless subtext was really great.

Lovestrong - Aww, how nice to hear from you. I completely agree with you about this being more than Phil's attempt to bed Rita. Can a variety of psychological stages be subtext? Hmmm...

rmahler said...

The thing that has always sruck me about Groundhog Day is how the situation turns from a blessing into a curse. Stuck in the same day can sound so mundane, but then he decides to explore every corner of his world and appreciate it.

His quest for Rita starts out purely as an experiment in lust, but he quickly finds out that there is no shortcut to a meaningful conquest -- he has to actually love her and respect her to gain her.

I also always loved that, no matter how hard he tried, he could not save the homeless man from dying. Even a well lived life cannot escape (and must face and accept) death as part of the cycle.

A brilliant script. Thanks for including it here.

rmahler said...

Ooops, I meant from a CURSE into a BLESSING...

Mystery Man said...

I agree! It takes a special actor like Bill Murray to pull off Phil Connors, too, because as he's written, he is not sympathetic or even empathetic. But because it's Bill Murray, you really don't mind spending time with that guy.

LoveStrong said...

A psychological medley can definitely be subtext, and in most cases the viewer will identify differently with the various underlying moods (this difference can be seen both inter- and intra-personally). But the beauty of the Groundhog Day script lies in the necessary inclusion and order of the phases: denial/disbelief, anger, bargaining through action, depression (or death wish) and acceptance/hope/change. How different this movie would have been had he not been through all of these...

miriamp said...

Groundhog Day has always been one of my favs, not just for all the reasons listed here, but also because that's the day my husband and I fell in love. As he likes to tell people, "She came over to spend the night 24 years ago and hasn't left yet."

Mystery Man said...

Lovestrong - sounds like a great big "Jigsaw." Ring any bells? "Jigsaw?" Hehehe...

Miriam - Awwww...

Guys, I've got a couple more subtext posts, then I'm going to publish a great be celebratory subtext post, and then we're start another study on character depth. However, I will never ever conclude the subtext study and will always be willing to post submissions and add scenes for our edification.