To create, change and shape a genre is to pioneer cinema, a feat that very few films have ever done. This accolade is reserved for only the medium’s finest films, from the likes of Jaws from Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Halloween from the great John Carpenter. Whilst each of these films changed the way their respective genre was perceived and appreciated; arguably, no single film had such a revolutionary attitude to genre than Harold Ramis’ 1993 classic Groundhog Day.
Holding a plot so iconic, the term ‘Groundhog day’ itself has become synonymous with mundane repetition; the film follows Bill Murray as Phil, a cranky Pittsburgh weatherman who inextricably finds himself living the same day over and over again. A tale of self-discovery and reconciliation, Phil spends his time living out his fantasies before realising that to escape, he must cut his cynicism and embrace the joys and relationships of life.
It’s an idea that has since been screwed and copied several times over in the likes of Source Code with Jake Gyllenhaal, Happy Death Day and, most recently, Palm Springs starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J K Simmons due to its simple ingenuity. Originating in a philosophical text, the original idea for Groundhog Day came to screenwriter Danny Rubin and director Harold Ramis from the book The Gay Science, an iconic work from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche where the writer describes a man living the same day over and over.
From this, Groundhog Day was born, a film that toys with, subverts and mocks the tropes of the comedy, science fiction and romance genres before making a whole new niche of its own. Dumping the whole garbled scientific explanation of such a time loop, we are instead left to question the mechanics of the central character’s existence, though this, of course, is irrelevant. By focusing not on the science but on the mechanics of the sheer concept, the viewer can deconstruct the central character piece by piece, minute by minute. After all, the film itself relies on repetition and the clear arc of the character’s trial and error.
It all leads to a film that continually builds up and beats down the identity of its protagonist, all in the name of his newly constructed persona. Groundhog Day may be a romantic comedy, but it’s not a generic tale of boy meets girl, nor is it a typical spiritual film where the character finds ultimate redemption for his wrongdoings. Likewise, the film is a comedy that revolves around the bleak reality of mortality and is also a science fiction that isn’t interested in its exact mechanics.
Much like the paradoxical mess that the central character of Phil finds himself in, Groundhog Day exists in a void of genre, inspired by clear guidelines of comedy and romance films before discarding their influence and crafting something entirely new. It is for this reason that Harold Ramis’ film works so well, with the perfectly cast Bill Murray perhaps the only actor in the world who could shrug off the physically impossible situation he finds himself in with apathetic disinterest.
In this, Groundhog Day somehow managed to become one of the finest pop-philosophy films ever to emerge out of Hollywood with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis suggesting you can change your life by slowing down, resetting and taking every day one step at a time.