“OK, campers: Rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.” Heard over a bed of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” those words are a daily wake-up call for Phil Connors in the movie “Groundhog Day.” I’ve made a point of rewatching the film on or about Groundhog Day nearly every year since the movie came out in 1993.
“OK, campers: Rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.”
Heard over a bed of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” those words are a daily wake-up call for Phil Connors in the movie “Groundhog Day.”
I’ve made a point of rewatching the film on or about Groundhog Day nearly every year since the movie came out in 1993.
“Groundhog Day” stars Bill Murray as a snobby urban weatherman dispatched to cover the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pa. A blizzard forces him to spend the night in the town, and when he wakes up the next morning, it’s Groundhog Day again. As is the next day, and the next, and so on.
In my nerdier and more obsessive youth, I once counted that there were 34 days depicted in the film. (For what it’s worth, the Internet Movie Database puts the number at 38.)
Years later, I heard an interview with one of the writers of the movie and learned my tally was way off the mark. More importantly, I had completely missed the point.
As an adult, I now see “Groundhog Day” has deeper philosophical roots than I’d given it credit for. More on that in a moment.
Like my experience with “Groundhog Day,” all manner of popular culture is increasingly subject to philosophical and academic examination.
Harvard and other schools are studying the HBO series “The Wire” in classes. Last week, a Canadian woman became what seems to be the first person on Earth to earn a master’s degree in the Beatles, from a program at Liverpool Hope University in the Fab Four’s hometown. A podcast of a lecture on the Beatles from University of Illinois Springfield professor Michael Cheney has been one of the most popular downloads from Apple’s iTunes U.
“Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons,” “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” have all been given the pointy-headed treatment, each appearing in books whose titles include the phrase “... and Philosophy.”
When done well, these books deepen the experience of a movie or TV show. That’s the case with “You Do Not Talk About Fight Club,” a 2008 collection of essays on the 1999 film “Fight Club.”
With vibrant writing, the book explores the violence, anti-consumerist idealism and mental emancipation that define the original work.
Other books, however, are far less useful to mainstream audiences. Enter “The Philosophy of Steven Soderbergh,” a recently released book on one of my favorite film directors (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s 11,” “The Informant!”) that claims to be “accessible to the general reader.”
In reality, its prose is as impenetrable as an unplowed street. Some sentences run on for 10 or 11 clauses, and it’s not uncommon to see phrases like “the productive animation of interpretable sound,” defined as “breathing, glottal articulation, shared language, expressive intonation, linguistically meaningful interruptions and pauses, and so on.” I can only guess that an advanced degree in cultural studies would improve one’s chances for enjoyment.
Better are the simple ideas that prompt a wholesale rethinking of an artistic work. That’s what I got on one of the DVD extras included with my edition of “Groundhog Day.”
In an interview on the DVD, screenwriter Danny Rubin said he was trying to get Bill Murray’s character — and by extension we viewers — to feel “the weight of time.”
So how long did Phil Connors spend reliving Groundhog Day? Rubin said that in his original script, he imagined the character lived the same day over and over for thousands of years.
And, suddenly, “Groundhog Day” makes more sense. How else could the character master the French language, classical and jazz piano, and ice sculpture? Not to mention his transformation from a wretch into the most beloved man in town.
“He goes from being a prisoner of that time and place to being master of that time and place,” director Harold Ramis said.
Actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who plays insurance salesman Ned in the film, said it was not about Phil’s becoming a hero of the town.
“It’s about doing what you can do, in the moment, to make things better instead of making things worse,” he said.
And that is the philosophy of “Groundhog Day.”
After the film came out, Ramis first heard that Buddhists had embraced his movie. Then yogis. Then Jesuits and fundamentalist Christians, all presuming the director was “one of us” because “Groundhog Day” seemed to capture their philosophy so well.
“The greatest gift for him is becoming finite again,” Tobolowsky said. “He’s gonna die, he’s gonna age, time is gonna go on. But now he has the keys to use his time well.”
It might have taken Phil Connors thousands of years to learn that lesson. I’m happy to be reminded of it once a year.
Brian Mackey can be reached at 217-747-9587.