[personal profile] wingedbeast
I couldn't come up with a Case for Groundhog Day because, while no movie is perfect, I don't see a lot wrong with it. Technically, if I wanted to, I could see a treatment of the love of a woman as the prize for winning and doing the right thing, which is problematic. There are going to be other opportunities for addressing that particular issue.

Instead, I'm going to argue for a different way of viewing Groundhog Day. The title of this post gives it away. Oh, and Spoilers ahead for Groundhog Day and other fictions.

The plot goes as follows. Phil is not a great guy. He's described, by his coworker, as a primadonna. He puts on a good show, as a TV Weatherman, is charming enough. But, he's full of himself, puts down his colleagues, and is dismissive of the value of other people. He's not so bad that you can't empathize with him, but he's certainly a jerk.

One thing we're shown, nigh-immediately, is that Phil doesn't like going to Punxsutawney every year for this Groundhog festival. He thinks it's beneath him. He dislikes the people. And, he is so desperate to make this a short trip that he modifies his projections on a blizzard in order to justify allowing an early exit. When given the choice between returning to Punxsutawney and freezing to death, he, in agreement with the classic joke, has to think it over.

It is possible to view this movie as Phil having died at this moment. That's not necessary for my point (which, yes, I will, eventually, get to), but it is one way of looking at the movie. At this point, the important part is how well made a hell this is, either for a dead Phil or one who completely unknowingly wandered through a Lament Configuration. (Maybe a Case for a crossover...?)

The premise is that, from here on through to the end of the movie, Phil repeats the same day only. Every morning, at 6:00, the alarm goes off, he wakes up, radio DJs talk about how it's not Miami Beach and nothing that happened the previous day ever mattered.

I want to repeat that, because it's going to be an important part. Nothing that happened the previous day mattered. Tomorrow, nothing that happened today will have mattered. The same exact weather patterns will happen. The same exact people will greet in the same exact way and the same exact waiter will slip up in the same exact way.

The only person to whom yesterday matters is Phil, because his own memory is the only place yesterday existed.

There's a few stages in an expected cycle.

1. Phil is confused. There is no reason for anybody, ever, to expect this to happen. This is a quick stage, as Phil has a conversation with somebody when he asks the question of what to do when nothing you do matters. No consequences.

2. Phil gets used to the notion and plays around with it. This is an extended stage. Some of the things he does are... ugh. Okay, the point where he lies to a woman in order to get her to have sex with him, because, apparently, who cares about a promise to marry a woman if there's not going to be a tomorrow in which that promise will have happened.

Compared to that, the nonviolent robbing of an armored car is actually kind of cute. Again, reason being that there's no tomorrow in which a lack of funds will harm the bank, its employees, or those guards.

This play slowly grinds down, particularly as he repeatedly fails to seduce one of his coworkers in a rather satisfying montage of him getting slapped for a succession of days. Eventually, that gives way.

3. Phil suffers.

We see this suffering in a number of ways. There are a number of successful suicides. Some, initially, are playful. Others are just quick ways of making it all stop... only to start up again in the next day.

One part I find particularly memorable is the sullen boredom with which Phil displays his knowledge of all the proper responses in the day's episode of Jeopardy. Everybody's duly impressed with this esoteric body of knowledge. But, there's no joy to be had in it. Just a thing that's happened so often that any possible emotion has been drained from it.

Now, I'm going to bring other movies into the mix. Spoilers here, too. Hellraiser: Inferno is one of the sequels to the Hellraiser franchise. It's not really a sequel, in that it is a movie of its own, into which some Hellraiser characters have been injected in order to call it a sequel. In that movie, we see a corrupt cop go through his day only to have everybody who's life he touched die in increasingly disturbing and supernatural ways.

In the end, our main character finds out that he's been subjected to Hell for the sins of how he's treated his partner, his wife, his child, his parents, and a prostitute. The serial killer, that leaves the fingers of a child at each crime scene, are actually himself metaphorically killing and torturing his inner child.

Just as a serial killer with is face kills him, he wakes up. The same day has started anew. He almost thinks he has a second chance to put things right, only to get a phone-call indicating the first death, which starts us on the realization that he's going to be going through this cycle again.

Another movie, this one made by Brad Jones (AKA, the reviewer: The Cinema Snob), goes by the same idea. In the movie Paranoia, Brad Jones plays the main character, a failed writer, supported by his girlfriend, who he then murders. The story goes on, with him escaping consequences and never really having an emotional reaction, until he's told, once again, that he's in Hell, doomed to repeat the same sequences over and over again.

Exiting the realm of repetition, there's one of the slightly-less-famous episodes of The Twilight Zone. In "A Nice Place to Visit", Rocky dies while attempting the robbery of a pawn shop. The place he goes is, at first, a gambler's heaven. After a month of only winning, never having a chance at failure at anything, even a bank-robbery something planned out in advance with no chance of failure, Rocky requests to be taken to "The Other Place" (at the time, "Hell" was a very bad word to say on television). Of course, he's informed that "The Other Place" is exactly where he is.

Here comes my point. Each of these fictions stops a step short. Eternity is a very long time in which to figure things out. Given infinite time, all riddles get solved and everybody figures everything out. Stage four might be long in coming, but it's inevitable.

4. Phil Figures It Out.

There are a couple points that move this along. One of them is Phil taking to the idea of learning to play the piano. After all, he has an eternity in which to accomplish this. So, he, every day, offers a piano teacher one thousand dollars for one lesson. Okay, it's the same thousand dollars, each time, but he's learning.

The major change comes when Phil meets a homeless man and tries to save his life. He fails. Another day, he tries to spend the day with the man, paying for his meals and, that night, the homeless man dies. I say "another day" and not "the next day", because Phil asks to see the chart. This could be a sign of years worth of days in between, in which Phil learns medicine (at least enough to understand the chart).

He can't. Every day, he can't. But, every day he can...

Catch a child who falls from a tree.
Change the tire of three ladies who would be stuck otherwise.
Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on the Mayor.
Get a little better at some skill. (Note: New wisdom says that it takes 10,000 hours to make someone an expert at any one skill or study.)

It's not just that Phil came to care about other people. It's that Phil came to realize that, while each today will no longer matter in the next day, it still matters today. Tomorrow, they may forget. But, today, they are beings who can feel suffering and joy and that is enough reason to expend effort that they feel less of the former and more of the latter.

This stage 4 is important. It's inevitable.

In Hellraiser: Inferno, the cop can either learn to care about the people around him or learn that they're constructs, rather than people. Either way, the way out of suffering becomes available. In Paranoia, the memory issues cause an additional difficulty, but if he doesn't remember on some level, then there is no eternity, just the same finite stretch of time that might as well just happen once. And, in that episode of The Twilight Zone, Rocky may find some form of art to bring challenge to his life in a way that no writer could readily think up.

Now, you might wonder why I care so much, being that I don't even believe in Hell.

One important point is that I do believe in existence of people who believe in Hell. Whether they fear it or threaten others with it, there it is and the concept should be deconstructed.

Another point is that problems aren't insurmountable. Listen, this needs eternity to become inevitable. Given whatever finite time we have, it's nothing like that. But, if, given eternity, it's inevitable that we'll eventually understand all the complexities necessary to defeat the worst of all suffering, then we have a chance at the merely giant problems we have in the real world.

Here's hoping for us all. It might not matter in the fullness of eternity. But, for however long we have, it's worth trying.
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