Michaeline: Groundhog Day Always Loops Back to Love

Celtic Heart Knot, intricate with many crossings over and under.

If it were a straight line, it wouldn’t be beautiful, and it wouldn’t be a heart. There’s a certain satisfaction in working through the loops, and arriving back where we started. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies, and I’m trying to establish it as a personal February tradition. Obnoxiously cocky weatherman Phil Connors gets stuck in a time loop that repeats Feb. 2 over and over — perhaps for thousands of years, alternative time. He eventually becomes a good person, wins the love of his producer, Rita, and breaks out of the holding pattern.

This year, I wanted to think about the role love plays in this movie.

My first, standard thought was, “This movie is about Phil’s journey to learning to love, and be lovable.” Sounds good, right? But then, inspired by Elizabeth’s post, I decided to meditate in some hot water. The question came to me, “What did Phil do to make himself lovable?”

“Maybe it’s all about self-esteem?” The thought floated through my head like a bubble on the surface of the bath. “Bingo! Of course it is!” Just like Whitney Houston sings, learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all, right?

Note to self: deep thoughts that can be condensed into pop lyrics are a little suspicious.

Because, thinking back, Phil actually did love himself – almost to the exclusion of every other kind of love. He was a good weatherman and TV personality, and he knew it, and he was validated by others who didn’t love him, per se, but recognized that he was good at what he did.

Ah, there we go. He may have loved himself, but he didn’t love others. And others didn’t love him.

So what exactly did he need to do to be able to love? And what did he need to do to become lovable?

We don’t love him in the beginning. I think what carries us through is that he’s always in conflict with people. We want to see what happens next.

Then, on his first day of repeating the rest of his life, schadenfreude kicks in. We are a little happy to see him so bewildered. And then we start to feel sorry for him.

He goes through a period where he fakes love. He tricks people into loving him, and he goes to great length to fake being someone worthy of love. The triumphs are either fleeting and unworthy (after he seduces Nancy, we don’t see him seduce her again, for example), or the person (usually Rita) realizes that he’s a fake.

He falls in love with Rita for real, but he can’t get her to have sex with him – that’s his scorecard, the way he knows he’s won. When he finally realizes this, he goes into a deep depression, that leads to multiple suicide attempts. Before, he built facades. Now he destroys himself to the ground.

And finally, he hits rock bottom and decides to be completely honest with Rita about what’s going on with him. She falls asleep in his arms, and he begins to realize that he’s got to be a real good person, not a fake good person.

Along the way, as he tricks people, he talks to them and connects with them in a way he’s never done before. He begins to realize that they are worthy of love, too. So, in his search to be a worthy man, he also begins to do good for the little town he’s stuck in. He makes the good choices, and connects with people out of concern for them, instead of concern for himself.

He eventually builds himself into a multi-talented artist, and creates a daily schedule where he is going from one good deed to another. he cares about these people, and they care about him. And at the end of one perfect day, he wakes up and it is tomorrow. He is a new man, a different man from the man he was on February 1, thousands of years ago.

The takeaway for me? You can have an unlovable character at the beginning. Don’t make it last too long, make sure the character is funny and not too evil, and make sure s/he is doing stuff, having conflicts until you can get to the point where the audience can either laugh at or empathize with the character. And make sure you don’t spend too much time wallowing in the non-growth part.

Oh, and make sure the character does grow into someone lovable and loving.

Because everything worthy in the world comes back to love in the end. Romance writers know this.

12 thoughts on “Michaeline: Groundhog Day Always Loops Back to Love

  1. I love this movie. Every morning the clock goes off at the same time playing the same thing, and Phil knows he screwed up again and he has another day to fix it. And if I remember correctly, as the days go by and as he comes to the actualization of his better self, each day that he goes out there and tries again gets longer. So you can measure the arc not just by his deeds but by actual time on the clock. If I remember correctly.

    And I think you’re right—what makes Phil redeemable is that he isn’t evil at all. He’s just a selfish jerk who thinks the world revolves around him. And don’t we all know somebody like that?

    • The music in the movie is a lot of fun. You’d think you’d get sick of hearing “I’ve got you, babe,” by Sonny and Cher, but every time six o’clock rolls around, it’s often got a new and different meaning. Banal morning jockey talk also takes on a deeper significance. (-: And the Pennsylvania Polka . . . I am such a nerd. I just love that.

      (-: It’s a very hopeful movie. A lot of love stories revolve around the opposite thesis: a leopard isn’t going to change his spots. But a lot of them do revolve around change. Know someone like Phil? Heck, a lot of times, I AM someone like Phil. I’ve gotten a little better as I get older, but sometimes I get caught in that false Michaeline-centric universe.

  2. Confession time – I still haven’t seen this movie. We must have talked about it before, because I just found the DVD on my bookshelf. I’m going to watch it tonight (after lunch with some UK writer friends, then writing my post for tomorrow). I’ll stop by here again with my first impressions. See you later, ladies 😉 .

    • LOL, there is something a little ironic about me watching over and over again a movie that portrays a guy who is reliving the same day over and over again. I’ll be looking forward to hearing your perspective on the show!

  3. I also have never seen this movie. Years ago when the trailers ran, I think Murray’s performance in this reminded me too much of his performance in Caddyshack (a movie I abhor), and I never got past that. I will have to reconsider this. Hubby and I love watching a RomCom on Valentine’s Day, so maybe this one will go in the queue!

      • I was just thinking that this is really a step on the Murray rainbow from Caddyshack to Lost in Translation. He *is* obnoxious, but he does redeem himself — and in a totally different way than he does in Caddyshack. I think he’s a step nicer than his performance in Ghostbusters. But he may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

        (-: Andie McDowell is very pretty, but there’s something off in her timing sometimes. Can’t tell if she always plays such nice, dishwater characters, or if she’s typecast. Something very natural about her acting, and I’m not sure if I like it.

  4. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Partly because I’m endlesly fascinated with the unlikeable protagonst and they do such a great job with that.

    Did you see Billy Merit’s blog post this week on Groundhog Day? http://livingromcom.typepad.com/my_weblog/2015/02/the-hidden-heroine.html

    It talks about Bill Murray and Danny Rubin’s sudden trip to Punxatawney for the festivities and how doing real, in-person research really changed the movie in lots of lovely ways.

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