Watching "Groundhog Day," Over and Over

After the first time I watched Groundhog Day, I didn't see the big deal. Yeah, it was a fun movie, the editing was superb, and it had a solid structure, but I didn't think too much about it. I was young. Every time I have watched it since, I am even more moved by its profundity.

This time, I watched it with my two sons, almost 8 and 10. I was worried it wouldn't hold their attention. It did. The last time I watched it was when I last taught it for "Writing for the Movies" at CUNY Queens College, 6 years ago. My oldest, then almost 4 years old, watched it with me and seemed taken with it. But he has no memory of it.

You can tell it's a fantasy because it begins with a deeply egomaniacal narcissist out of touch with reality ("It's not a blizzard, it's a couple of flakes. I make the weather!") who learns from the people around him that "it's not all about him" and ends with him becoming a deeply loving and retrospective person. And yet... this was always the first movie I would assign to my class. Because, somehow, it realistically portrays character development that propels the story forward, unlike most comedies of its kind.

Maybe because, as Simon Gallagher at Obsessed With Film has observed, it would have taken Phil Connors, portrayed perfectly by Bill Murray, over 33 years to arrive at the final day in the movie. Change in human beings is incremental. There are key moments of decision in every person's life that direct the entire course of the rest of our lives. But we fundamentally change on a minuscule level, incrementally transforming. Some people believe it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, to become an expert. Others believe you can hack skills in a much shorter time--maybe not to a level of expertise, but at least a level of proficiency.

But what about time's effect on character and values? Can repeated exposure to the warm sunshine of a kind and generous co-adventurer turn a heart of stone into a heart of gold? My guess is that it could, but only in a vacuum: in reality, such a toxic person would have to want to go through such a long-term cleansing, and the kindhearted soul such as Rita (a luminescent Andie MacDowell) would have to be a strong person, too. A weak kindhearted person would be figuratively devoured by a Phil Connors, and a strong kindhearted person, who understands that empathy and humility are signs of grit and stamina and courage, would likely see no good reason to continue to expose herself to malignant narcissism.

But I have gone down a dark path. This is a light, uplifting movie, and its jokes still crack me up. And when it ended, my oldest son asked if we could watch it every Groundhog Day.