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I had breakfast with my movie buddy Scott this morning. We were talking about odd films that we saw years ago and can’t seem to find on TV, DVD, streaming or some bargain bin. One that I thought of was Get to Know Your Rabbit.
I had read something about it around 1970 and wanted to see it, but it never appeared in theaters. It’s about a corporate executive, Donald, who decides to get off the rat race wheel. He wants to become a traveling tap dancing magician. His mentor is Mr. Delasandro. (And early lesson is to “get to know your rabbit.”
His old boss, Mr. Turnbull, wants him back and so follows him on the road. Turnbull becomes intrigued by the adventure and the two of them end up forming “Tap Dancing Magicians.” It’s a course/workshop for business people who are feeling the pressure and need some escape.
As you might have guessed, their course becomes very popular and Donald ironically finds himself feeling the same way he did when he originally quit his job.
It is an odd one. It is cultish. I know of a few other people who have seen it and like it. Great film? No. Interesting film? Yes, especially if you consider the people involved in making the film.
Director: Brian De Palma, coming off his 1968 underground comedies, Greetings and Hi, Mom!.
Starring: Tom Smothers as Donald Beeman. Yes, the Smothers Brother Tom.
John Astin (best known then as Gomez Addams in TV’s The Addams Family, as his boss, Paul Turnbull
Katharine Ross coming off my all-time favorite, The Graduate, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (two films in which she broke my teenaged heart) is wonderfully and accurately billed in the credits as the Terrific-Looking Girl.
And Orson Welles plays the magical Mr. Delasandro.
It took two years for it to be released (1972) and without any marketing it disappeared from theaters without a whimper.
I caught it at college in 72 or 73 in the student center film series paired with Welles’ Touch of Evil. (You figure out the programmer’s thinking on that double bill.)
Brian De Palma soured on the studio system after this experience, but went on to make lots of films. He is probably best known for a string of 1980s films: Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, Wise Guys, The Untouchables and Casualties of War.
Welles continued to be Welles.
Ross made more films, but none as good as The Graduate or Butch. Tommy Smothers did not become a film star.
For years I looked for the film on TV or VHS or cable to no avail. After today’s conversation, I did another search and was surprised to find that Get to Know Your Rabbit is on Amazon.com in all its glory AND that someone posted it in its entirety on YouTube. Better catch it before the copyright cops take it down. That’s my Friday Night at the Movies tonight. I hope it is close to what I remember from 1972.
The book is a revisionist account of a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in retirement. I have always enjoyed Sherlock. I read all the books in my youth and have enjoyed most of the films. I saw the film adaptation of Cullin’s novel Tideland. It was directed by the extraordinary Terry Gilliam and stars Jeff Bridges, Janet McTeer, and Jennifer Tilly, but it didn’t do well at the box office. That might be because the story is so odd. That book is about a girl who is taken away by her father to an isolated farmhouse where she finds herself in a bizarre fantasy world where only her dolls’ heads keep her company. Add into the mix a mentally damaged man and a ghost-like woman and the separation between imagination and reality disappears.
In A Slight Trick of the Mind, it is 1947 and the long-retired Holmes lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse. He is not the man we knew in the stories in which Dr. Watson embellished the man and the cases. He never wears a deerstalker cap (prefers a top hat) and doesn’t smoke a pipe (cigars). He has a housekeeper. She has a young son who idolizes Holmes. He likes to tend to his bees. He writes in his journal.
I can identify with this old Holmes, especially when he confronts his diminishing mental abilities.
People still come to him looking for answers. He decides to revisit a case and it helps him answer his own personal big remaining questions.
Maybe some hardcore Arthur Conan Doyle fans reject any updating of alternate versions of Sherlock. I am okay with them. Doyle allowed the detective to retire to Sussex but others have put him back to work.
I liked Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution: A Story of Detection, which is somewhat similar to the Cullin Holmes framework. It has the old detective (at 89) living in Sussex with his bees too. The locals generally know he was once a famous detective, but he has little interest in solving mysteries. The game is afoot once more though when a young mute boy who has escaped from Nazi Germany comes to him. The boy’s companion is an African gray parrot that keeps repeating strings of German numbers. Are they a Nazi code or some Swiss bank account or something far worse?
Laurie R. King has many mysteries on her book list including several in the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. In this version of Holmes, he is married. In her book, Dreaming Spies (the only one of hers I have read), they travel to India and Japan by boat and solve a mystery along the way. Personally, I found that this was too far away from the Holmes who lives in my mind to be a comfortable read. (A friend who is a fan of the series has told me to try the first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice: or, On the Segregation of the Queen.)
In Nicholas Meyer’s novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the conceit is that Meyer has “rediscovered” a Sherlock Holmes adventure recorded by Watson. It tells about a collaboration of Holmes and Sigmund Freud in the solution of a conspiracy which will affect the lives of millions of people. The story involves Professor Moriarty and his brother Mycroft Holmes. It reveals (no spoiler) where Sherlock was during that period when we all believed him to be dead.
The title is a reference to Holmes’s addiction to cocaine which was in the original stories (see Conan Doyle’s “The Sign of Four”) because he describes the cocaine he uses as “a seven-per-cent solution.”
You can tell that Meyer loves the characters. In fact, I think he is more fond and respectful of Watson than Conan Doyle is in the last Holmes tales. He has also published a followup, The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir of John H. Watson, M.D. and then a third, The Canary Trainer.
Although some of these non-Doyle authors’ tales seem far away from the originals, most of them do use bits and loose ends from the originals. In Canary, we see Sherlock after he has left his therapy with Sigmund Freud and has taken up residence in Paris where he is a pit musician (violin, of course) at the Paris Opera. I rank the three books in quality in the order that they were published.
Back to Cullin. There are three paths the story travels in A Slight Trick of the Mind. The first takes place after Holmes’ return from a trip to Japan. He was searching there for a prickly ash bush that he believed gives longevity to add to his beloved royal jelly (the beekeeper in him) that he used in earlier stories.
There is also Holmes in 1947 Japan. He visits Hiroshima, post-atomic bomb which he compares to a hive that has lost its queen. That’s what he tells Roger, the 14 year-old son of his housekeeper who he is teaching beekeeping. This paternal Holmes is not one you expect based on the earlier stories.
The third story path comes from his writing about his infatuation with a married woman many years ago. It is an irrational infatuation that he knows is unlike him.
And it all comes together.
I found this the most interesting of the “new” Holmes books. This Sherlock is minus his Mycroft and John. (“You know, I never did call him Watson—he was John, simply John.”) Both dead. He has his beekeeping, his writing (journal, articles, letters).
He is trying to finish his version of the case concerning that mysterious young woman. She played a glass armonica (AKA glass harmonica, bowl organ, or hydrocrystalophone). It’s an unusual musical instrument made of spinning glass disks on a common shaft (lower notes from the larger disks to the left descending in size and rising in tone.
The name comes from harmonia, the Greek word for harmony and the sound comes by means of friction. Is there symbolism there?
Holmes has staying power. I was hardly alone in enjoying the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock that brought him into our time. I haven’t gotten into watching the U.S. television series of a modern-day Holmes, Elementary, but it has completed 3 seasons.
Have we figured out what it is about Mr. Holmes that appeals to us? Should we try to figure it out?
There are many reasons that I have read and reread Moby Dick, but Philbrick gave me a few more. There are also a number of reasons I would not recommend Melville’s masterpiece to all readers. I especially would not require a high school student to read it for class, for example.
But In the Heart of the Sea, which is subtitled “The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” is the true story which served as one of the events which inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. The whaleship Essex sank after being attacked by a sperm whale in 1820, which gave Melville the ending for his novel.
Philbrick’s book is about that event, and also what became of the survivors. Melville wrote a pretty dark tale in parts of his novel and the tale of the Essex has darker themes too. Think survival and cannibalism.
You’ll hear about the story at the end of this year as it is being made into a film directed by Ron Howard. Based on Philbrick’s award-winning 2000 book, it stars Chris Hemsworth stars as first-mate Owen Chase.
Chase was one of the survivors of the encounter with the “demon” sea monster, an 80 foot sperm whale, which if leaves the survivors for 90 days at sea.
I like Ron Howard as a director. Lots of variety and genres, from Night Shift back in 1982 through Rush, Angels & Demons, Frost/Nixon,The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Apollo 13, Backdraft, Parenthood, Gung Ho, Cocoon and Splash. I grew up with him acting on The Andy Griffith Show and saw him take his role in George Lucas’ great American Graffiti and very successfully move back to television in Happy Days.
I think he will do the story justice and I am looking forward to the film. Maybe some people will read the Philbrick book and work their way back to Moby Dick too.
I’m giving you 7 months to prepare for October 21, 2015. No, it is not another Maya prediction. On that day, we will finally be at the point in time to which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels in Back to the Future Part II. The future of that Robert Zemeckis‘ 1989 sequel is the now of 2015.
2015 also marks the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future. I don’t expect the time-space continuum to collapse in October and find Marty, Doc, and Jennifer visiting us, but I would not be surprised to see them together on TV in some reunion fashion.
Watch the trailer for that film and refresh your memory. I have already seen and heard a few news reports on what the film got right and wrong about this future that is our present, and I’m sure more will be written about it as the date approaches.
It doesn’t seem to be too important that Marty’s self-tying shoes have a Nike real-life experimental version. And the filmmakers did miss on the Internet and mobile phones, but so did most futurists. We have been anxiously waiting flying cars for about a hundred years and people keep trying to make Marty’s hoverboard.
But they did guess/predict things like computerized fueling stations (though not robotic yet) and non-military drones. One of those is used by USA Today in the film to take a photo.
It’s tough doing this future-predicting. In many cases things predicted in sci-fi came true, but it took a lot longer than expected.
In Marty’s Hill Valley hometown, the theaters are showing in October 2015 Jaws 19, in 3D, directed by Max Spielberg. Thankfully, the Jaws franchise was killed by the actual 3D third film. Max Spielberg (Steven’s real-life son, born in 1985) has worked on a few films, but no directing. That gag seems a lot more like an insider director joke than a prediction. (After all, Steven Spielberg produced the film.) They are right – Hollywood is in love with sequels and franchises in 2015.
It’s probably okay with most of us that we don’t have remote-control litter bins, dog walkers and waiters, but all of those are in development.
We are actually scanning eyes and fingerprints for identification as they do in the film. It’s on your iPhone but not ubiquitous in our homes. I still have a boring doorknob instead of the McFly family’s scanner.
We have advanced more away from paper than the film shows. The USA Today is quite a thick stack of paper and the film likes using fax machine devices which probably are only used by government agencies these days. McFly gets terminated from his job in a video call that is confirmed by a printout that looks like it was done on a dot-matrix printer using Print Shop.
Some observers have pointed to Google Glass and Microsoft Hololens as versions of the different high-tech eye-wear in the film with cameras, magnification, information and some bluetoothy way of connecting.
I don’t remember noticing in my initial viewing of the film that Marty’s father, George, was not reprised in the sequel by actor Crispin Glover (some kind of salary disagreement). Another actor with some very heavy-duty prosthetics made to look like Glover spends his short screen time in an inverter device because of a bad back.
The film’s 2015 is having a bit of a nostalgia love affair with the 1980s. That allows the set decorators to use their contemporary props, like a Macintosh computer and a dustbuster vacuum, as collectible items of the future. Marty visit a Cafe 80s where my circa 1970s jeans, NY Yankees t-shirt and Chuck Taylor sneakers would not have been an oddity in 1989 or 2015. Future fashions in films always seem to be metallic, unisex and either very odd or more like uniforms – but those fashions never seem to emerge.
I think you’re safer predicting that the future will look more like today than going over to the other extreme. The filmmakers were wise to have Marty able to still use cash to buy things in 2015. Even with all our credits cards and merchants experimenting with alternate ways of paying, a $20 bill still works just fine.
Doc Brown says that he had some life-extension procedures – a full blood transfusion, hair repair and a new spleen and colon – and I have always suspected that rich people were doing those things already. Those procedures help Doc (Christopher Lloyd) look a bit younger in the 1990 Back to the Future Part III, which was already in the works when they shot Part II. For III, they took an easier path and went back in time again where we know what to expect. (Not that filmmakers don’t often get the past wrong too.)
The movie missed our 2015 penchant for watching video on small screens. It does provide plenty of big flat-screens on walls with multiple channels displayed, and as advertising and even on window blinds.
No Internet in the film but the McFly family does use a big screen AT&T-connected device for video calls that looks like our Facetime/Skype/Hangouts kind of video conversation. The screen also carries data about the caller (names of children, hobbies, food preferences) which have been part of the database facial recognition being built into devices these days.
In the original 1985 film, Back to the Future, they only had to portray 1985 and the past. That’s easy stuff for filmmakers.
When George Orwell wrote 1984, he flipped his own 1948 and probably wasn’t too worried about when his predictions would come true because he was hoping his cautionary tale might help prevent it from ever coming to be.
When Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and the sequels 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey 3 and 3001: Odyssey Four, I think he was trying to be scientifically accurate in his predictions. Later, director Stanley Kubrick would have to update 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s technology and interpret the visuals.
Since none of us will be around to post online about how well Clarke was at predicting 3001, he was free from criticism. 1000 years after Frank Poole was sent out into frozen space by the supercomputer HAL in 2001, he is brought back to life. That future is full of human minds that are connected to computers, space elevators and genetically-engineered dinosaur-like servants. Good old David Bowman and HAL are now one consciousness and those damn monoliths are still causing problems.
When the first film version of Orwell’s novel was released in 1956, that horrible future probably still seemed quite possible. Thankfully, when the 1984 film version of 1984 was made, the Cold War had passed, but many of Orwell’s predictions seem to have come true (NSA, privacy etc.).
I think Clarke sets a good model for writers of the future: set the plot in a time after your own death, so no one can call you out for your predictions to your face.
Filmmaker Jason Aron made the trailer above for “Back in Time: A Back to the Future Documentary.” He has interviews with Michael J. Fox, Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, and many other actors, crew members, and fans of the trilogy. He is seeking funding via a second Kickstarter to complete the film which has expanded far beyond the original vision. Kick in a few bucks and be part of the project.
I recently watched this very good documentary on Orson Welles and Citizen Kane (see below) that includes interviews with Welles from BBC interviews in 1960 and 1982 and an interview with Pauline Kael discussing her controversial “Raising Kane” article.
Whenever I showed Kane in my film class, I was careful to introduce it with minimal information and careful to never say that it is considered by many to be the best film ever made. Francois Truffaut said that it is “probably the one that has started the largest number of filmmakers on their careers” although that probably isn’t true for the current graduating class of filmmakers.
More recently, there have been reports that Welle’s unfinished final film, The Other Side of the Wind, may finally be completed and shown by 2015. The New York Times reported that the production company Royal Road Entertainment made a deal for the rights to the movie and set as screening date of May 6, 2015, which would have been Welles’ 100th birthday.
Welles spent parts of the last 15 years of his life working on the movie. It stars John Huston and features Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer and Dennis Hopper. Huston plays a veteran director who is trying to make a comeback.
The story has been floating around for many years that the genesis of the leading character was an encounter in 1937 between Ernest Hemingway and a young Welles. Hemingway, a bit drunk, mocked Welles as being an “effeminate boy of the theater.” Welles shot back something, Hemingway threw a chair, they scuffled and in true Hemingway-encounter form they settled things with a boozy toast and then had on-again, off-again friendship.
Plot summaries have been online for years and so are clips from the film. It was shot on and off as Welles had money and he used certain props and motifs to tie together the disparate parts. The film’s structure centers on the 70th birthday party of the movie director Jake Hannaford (Huston), but opens with his death just after the party.
Welles included film-within-a-film portions of Hannaford’s film, The Other Side of the Wind.
It is set in the 1970s and mocks the Hollywood that is post-studio system, and the experimental New Hollywood and some European directors.
Partially as a style and partially due to varying budgets, Welles shot in color, black-and-white, used still photography, 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film. He was getting money by doing television roles and by getting individual investors.
Welles left a rough 45-minute edited work print that he had to smuggle out of Paris in 1975 after an irate investor had taken control of the negatives.
Actor/critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich is one of those who have tried to finish the movie. Now, Frank Marshall, a line producer on The Other Side of the Wind, and Bogdanovich plan to put the film together using Welles’ notes.
From the reports out there and the clips that have leaked out over the years, the film sounds like a fragmented series of sections that would be difficult to patch together. But Welles fans, and I count myself in the group, are hopeful that it can be edited it into a coherent last effort from Orson Welles.
Oja Kodar presents Orson Welles’ unseen footage for unreleased projects including The Other Side of the Wind
The Complete Citizen Kane – a documentary
“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” – James Hilton
Getting Lost has continued to be a popular post on this site for a few years. That tells me that I am not alone in my interest in the idea that getting lost is sometimes the path to getting found.
I have posted a field guide to getting lost. I surprised myself when I noted in the site statistics how many times “lost” has turned up in my posts. My interest in getting lost has always been balanced with a desire to be found or finding myself. I have played with that idea both literally getting found in the woods and more figuratively in those times when I feel lost in the psychological lost days sense.
This past week I came upon some old hardcover copies I had of two James Hilton novels. One was Goodbye, Mr. Chips. That nostalgic book that became several films was one I read the summer before I became a teacher. It was a good injection of hope with a touch of sadness for the profession that I have been doing for 40 years. Hilton based it his father, who worked as a school headmaster. Now that I am at least semi-retired from teaching and only doing it part-time, I can identify more with the “goodbye” part of the Mr. Chips’ story.
The other book is Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It was published is a 1933 and my copy is one that was on my parents’ bookshelf that they bought after seeing the 1937 film adaptation by one of my favorite directors, Frank Capra. His films are sometimes labeled “Capracorn” because they often slide into sentimentality. I never agreed with that completely. I actually think his holiday class, It’s A Wonderful Life, is quite dark. I would teach in a film noir class without hesitation.
Lost Horizon brought us the term Shangri-La. It is Hilton’s fictional utopian place (like Paradelle) that he located high in the mountains of Tibet. The protagonist, Hugh Conway, escapes his life in the British diplomatic service and finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in that mountain place. It seems sadly always-timely that Conway fears that another cataclysmic world war is imminent. Hilton turned out to be correct. I wonder if the book came to mind for my father a few years later when he went off to WWII as a sailor.
Hugh Conway had to be lost before he found himself, and that idea came up again this week when I read an interview with Reese Witherspoon about her latest film, Wild, which comes out in early December.
Now, I have had a sitting-in-the-audience crush on Reese since I spotted her on the TV film Return to Lonesome Dove (1993). She was great in Election and Pleasantville and lovable, popular and smart in the Legally Blonde films. She probably still has to deal with an image of being a romantic comedy actress. But she got serious praise for Walk the Line. And I really enjoyed her work in Water for Elephants and Mud, although those two probably didn’t get as much praise or box office – not that those things should mean anything to viewers.
In that interview, she says “Honestly, I’ve done some movies that were really challenging, and I’ve done some movies that aren’t challenging at all.” I found another article that talked about a Reese “renaissance” – a term that would piss me off if I was her as much as the term comeback – but she has been following some new paths recently.
She had a starring role in the drama The Good Lie (about in the Lost Boys of Sudan). She produced David Fincher’s Gone Girl that comes out in October. She has a smaller role (like in Mud) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. and I like it when “stars” do small parts too. But the film that most interests me is Wild .
The film is based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. A friend gave the book to me the year after my mother died, but I wasn’t ready then to read it.
Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is about her solo hike on the PCT after her mother’s death and the dissolution of her marriage. It was a best-seller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection, but a tale of grief wasn’t what I wanted then.
Still, I did page through it because a solo hike of the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list since I graduated college. I did the prep, read the books, got the maps, joined a hiking club, did some sections of the AT. But then we had kids. And my knees started to give out on me, so I stopped hiking and started walking.
The book should have grabbed me. It could sit comfortably on a shelf with the story of Chris McCandless, Into the Wild and my well-worn copies of Walden and A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and everything I’ve read that touched on wilderness salvation.
I think what held me away from the book was that I didn’t have the kind of crisis that Strayed had. I didn’t have spontaneous sexual encounters outside my marriage. I didn’t fall into shooting up heroin.
When I considered my long hike I was prepared. Strayed, like McCandless, was unprepared for the journey. If you are an experienced hiker, you will cringe at their lack of preparation. A friend who sails felt the same way about the Robert Redford character in All Is Lost. He told me, “He did everything wrong!” She takes along books (again like McCandless, overly inspired by literature) – Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Adrienne Rich poetry, but not the right hiking boots.
But the upcoming film will motivate me to read the book. The film seems very promising. Reese looks scrubbed and natural. It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). It was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). Laura Dern plays Strayed’s mother.
I suggested just last week to my friend Scott (who is newly retired and moving to Virginia) that we do a Shenandoah hike and get a little lost. Scott and I can talk for hours and solve all the world’s problems. He works as a substance abuse counselor and knows all about finding yourself. I don’t know if the soul-searching I am feeling as autumn arrives this month requires a thousand-mile hike in order to center myself, but you have to be open to getting lost if you want to be found.
I watch this film at least once a year. I’m sure there are people who think of this film – seen or unseen – as “just another Bill Murray/Harold Ramis comedy.” I really believe it is far more profound than you would think at a glance. I don’t know that the filmmakers’ intended all of that, but it’s there.
I am not crazy in my belief that’s there’s more here than meets the viewing eye. Do a search on “Groundhog Day” and add something like philosophy, Buddhism, Zen, etc. and you’ll get plenty of hits of others who feel the same way.
Harold Ramis (director and co-writer) has said that he gets mail from Jesuit priests, rabbis and Buddhists, and they all find meaning in the film , and use it in sermons, talks and classes. In Buddhism classes, it is often used to illustrate the cycle of continual rebirth.
If you haven’t seen the film, here’s some background: Bill Murray plays a self-centered, cranky TV meteorologist named Phil who gets sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. He is joined by his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell), and a cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). He does a going-through-the-motions report. When they try to drive back to Pittsburgh, they are stopped by a blizzard (which he had predicted would miss the area) that shuts down the highways and they are forced to stay in town an extra day.
Phil wakes up at 6 AM and discovers that it is February 2 all over again. The day runs the same as it did before, but no one else seems to be aware of the time loop. And it happens again the next time he wakes up – and the next time and so on (38 times by my count).
He realizes that he can use this to his advantage and begins to learn more about the townsfolk. He ‘s hardly noble. He seduces women, steals money, drives drunk and tries to put the moves on Rita (that last one fails).
But this power he has eventually bores and depresses him. He tries to break the cycle and files mean TV reports, abuses residents, kidnaps Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog. Finally, he attempts suicide, but still ends up waking up to the clock radio playing Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” (Give a listen.)
Each time I re-watch the film, I think about another aspect of it. I keep thinking that some day I am going to teach this film in a course.
One scene has Phil dead in the morgue. Rita and Larry are there to identify his body. Is any of these retakes on the day affecting the others? They don’t seem to remember the alternates takes, but…
A few years ago, I watched it and it led me to explore other movies and writings that play with time loops. There are a lot of them.
One day Phil is in the bowling alley. He asks two guys drinking with him, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?” One guy replies, “That about sums it up for me.”
Are some of us leading a kind of Groundhog Day existence for real?
Other writers online have gotten far more serious in their explorations of the film than me.
This is from thesacredpage.com
Once Phil realizes that in his Nietzschean quagmire there are no consequences to his actions, he also experiences modern philosophy’s liberation from any sense of eternal justice. “I am not going to play by their rules any longer,” he gleefully announces. His reaction epitomizes Glaucon’s argument in Plato’s Republic. Remove the fear of punishment, Glaucon argued, and the righteous will behave no differently than the wicked
and from groundhogdaythemovie.com comes some discussions about the film like this:
I asked what the Reb thought was the turning point in the film. After watching it for the ninth or tenth time specifically to find where the third act begins, I concluded that it begins 4/5 of the way into the 103 minute film, at about the 80 minute mark. Phil is throwing cards into the hat, and Rita points out that the eternally repeating day doesn’t have to be a curse.
Reb Anderson disagreed. He thought the turning point came later, when Phil found he was unable to save the old man’s life. Only here, he said, did Phil realize “It’s not me, it is the universe, I am just the vessel.”
Why did the writers use February 2, Groundhog Day, as the setting? I think because it’s such a nothing “holiday.” It has no religious connections, no cards, no gifts and very little tradition. And yet, it’s not just an ordinary day. The first time I saw the film (wow, almost 17 years ago), I thought that he would relive the day for 6 more weeks of winter. Later, I thought about the day and decided there was something about the end of winter, spring and rebirth going on in the story.
In this piece from 2003, the author suggests that we consider the film as a tale of self-improvement which:
“…emphasizes the need to look inside oneself and realize that the only satisfaction in life comes from turning outward and concerning oneself with others rather than concentrating solely on one’s own wants and desires. The phrase also has become a shorthand illustration for the concept of spiritual transcendence. As such, the film has become a favorite of Buddhists because they see its themes of selflessness and rebirth as a reflection of their own spiritual messages. It has also, in the Catholic tradition, been seen as a representation of Purgatory. It has even been dubbed by some religious leaders as the “most spiritual film of our time.”
Want to have a viewing group (which I would prefer to a reading group these days) and show the film? Check out the discussion questions on this philosophy site. http://www.philfilms.utm.edu/1/groundhog.htm
The original idea for the story was supposed to have come from the book The Gay Science (The Joyful Wisdom) by Friedrich Nietzsche. In that book, Nietzsche gives a description of a man who is living the same day over and over again.
The writer of the original script, Danny Rubin, said that one of the inspirational moments in the creation of the story came after reading Interview With the Vampire which got him thinking about what it would be like to live forever. Rubin and Ramis have both said that they avoided exploring the really dark side of Phil’s time looping in which he could done some horrible things without consequence, like murder.
And, as a capper to this love letter to the film, I have to add that the film is also funny and sweet. Funny is no surprise. Murray and Ramis teamed up for the film Stripes which is a great, silly comedy that I also love, and that has no philosophy or religious themes at all.
The sweetness is all Hollywood. Phil does learn lessons. He befriends many of the townsfolk that he had mocked. He uses his knowledge to try to save lives and help people. And he finally knows how to treat Rita. His final TV report is a beauty that puts everyone in tears. The next morning he wakes and finds the circle broken.
When the clock clicks over to 6 AM for you in the morning, what kind of day are you planning to make it?