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The enduring appeal of Groundhog Day

BY Jamie Flook

7th Feb 2023 Film & TV

The enduring appeal of Groundhog Day

Jamie Flook looks back at the 1993 comedy film starring Bill Murray, time-loops and a furry critter

People say, “live every day like it’s your last,” but if you did that, you’d never go to work, would you? On Earth’s final day, I wonder if people will act like the villains from Mad Max or begin acting rationally. What if you knew there was no tomorrow, but you could redo today over and over again?

This was the premise of the 1993 comedy film Groundhog Day, released 30 years ago this month. This was a film so significant that it positively impacted pop culture and the real-life Groundhog Day tradition across North America. It’s also been claimed that the film ended one of the most productive friendships in film, as its lead actor Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis reportedly stopped speaking for more than 20 years. How did all this happen and what even is a groundhog? Read on and all shall be revealed.

Film story

The enduring appeal of Groundhog Day - Groundhog Day Bill Murray Poster
Image via Columbia Pictures 

February 2 is Groundhog Day across the United States and Canada, and is what the film is centred around. In the movie, Bill Murray plays grumpy weatherman Phil Connors, who is sent to the town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony, along with his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott). To the weatherman’s horror, he wakes up the next day to find the day repeating itself, and this continues to happen for many moons.

"Bill Murray plays grumpy weatherman Phil Connors, who is sent to the town of Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day ceremony"

Film idea

The original idea for the film came from screenwriter Danny Rubin, who wrote the screenplay with the project’s director Harold Ramis. Rubin’s original draft was apparently written just so his agent had something to show producers as an example of his ability. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of Ramis and the rest is history.

The test of time

There are many reasons why a film like Groundhog Day stands the test of time—it is original, funny, inspiring and well-made. Perhaps one of the reasons Groundhog Day has aged so well is because the gravity of the protagonist’s situation still resonates with people today.

"Groundhog Day has aged so well because the gravity of the protagonist’s situation still resonates with people today"

The film also offers hope through the idea that if you keep trying, you might just turn things around. Groundhog Day has something to say about people’s power to shift perspective and do their best in difficult situations.

Origins of the day

The enduring appeal of Groundhog Day - Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog Day 2022 Pennsylvania
Credit: Anthony Quintano, Wikimedia Commons

The origins of the real-life Groundhog Day evolved from ancient Christianity, but the modern festival practised in North America is credited to German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. During the Christian tradition of Candlemas, the clergy would give out candles to people for winter.

In Germany, for reasons that must have been truly extraordinary, people started involving hedgehogs when trying to work out how much more cold weather they’d have to put up with. Tragically, there are no hedgehogs in the US, so the German immigrants began using groundhogs instead. The idea is that on February 2, the groundhog comes out of its burrow and if it can see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.

Punxsutawney

It is known that people in Punxsutawney held a Groundhog Day in 1886, but it was in 1887 that the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club organised Groundhog Day at a woodland park called Gobbler’s Knob, where it is still celebrated today.

"After the film came out, attendance at the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day rocketed to tens of thousands annually"

The groundhog itself is a type of giant squirrel, but gardeners need not panic because they don’t make them like that here in England. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Day used to attract around 2,000 people but immediately after the film came out, attendance rocketed to tens of thousands annually.

Impact on pop culture

The enduring appeal of Groundhog Day -  Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell's characters sitting in a cafe
Image via Columbia Pictures 

The film has had a lasting impact on pop culture, spawning a musical, a video game, a Super Bowl ad and even entering the public lexicon by becoming the go-to phrase many people use when describing an undesirable re-occurring daily situation. Sky Cinema often broadcasts all-day, back-to-back repeat showings of the film on February 2.

Bill Murray and Harold Ramis

Groundhog Day deserves its status as a classic, but for all the positives from the film, numerous articles have suggested that it ended the long friendship between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. In various capacities, Ramis had worked with Murray on Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II and various other projects.

Numerous reports have suggested that tensions developed between Murray and Ramis, and they barely spoke for over 20 years after the film was completed, only reconciling shortly before Ramis’ death. It’s difficult to know how true that is, but they never worked on another film together.

Nevertheless, the film was truly a collaborative success between the two. Plus, not only was Bill Murray at his brilliant best, Andie MacDowell was too.

People say, “live every day like it’s your last,” but if you did that, you’d never go to work, would you?

Banner credit: Columbia Pictures

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