Groundhog Day (Supplemental Viewing)

Billy Pilgrim was unique, because he became unstuck in time.  Does this imply that the rest of us are, in fact, stuck in time?  Taking this idea to an extreme, Groundhog Day tells the story of Phil Connors, a deeply sour and egotistical weatherman, as he repeatedly lives through the same day (groundhog day) over and over again.

The story begins with Phil and his news crew (Rita the producer, and Larry the camera man) head to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the groundhog day festivities.  The groundhog (whose name, consequentially, is also Phil) ominously “predicts” a long winter.  Contrary to the prediction of Phil the weatherman, a massive blizzard hits, forcing the crew to stay the night in Punxsutawney.  This is when the cycle begins.  In this video, Phil Connors begins to realize what is happening to him.

 

Obviously distressing for the first few days, Phil ultimately learns to cope with the fact of his strange new existence.  In the process of analyzing and accepting his situation, Phil reveals more and more levels of his psyche.

His initial reaction upon recognizing what is happening is to find ways to take advantage of the cycle for his own benefit: seducing women, stealing money, and living, literally, without a care for tomorrow.  Phil has found power, and is using it to his own selfish ends.

 

This honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever.  It’s impossible to know how many groundhog days Phil experienced; some have estimated in the ten thousand day range, others far more.  As the day keeps grinding on, Phil grows tired of the usual debauchery.  Exhausted by the cycle, and worried that it might never end, Phil becomes increasingly existential.  He acts recklessly, interrogates his clueless peers about what he should do, and is driven to the point of insanity.

His woe reaches a climax, and he commits suicide.  Well, almost.  Upon death, he instantly wakes up at 6:00 a.m., with the same song playing, the same sun shining, and the same depression dominating his existence.  Still in total rejection of the cycle that won’t let him go, Phil attempts suicide again.  And again.  And again and again and so forth.  After countless deaths, the hopelessness of Phil’s situation is evident.

Repeatedly throughout the film, Phil is begged for change by an old homeless man.  Every single time, a countless number of times, Phil turns the man down.  But when Phil discovers that the day he has been reliving is in fact the day of the old man’s death, he is thrown into despair.  Over and over he tries to save the old man’s life, but to no avail.  Absolutely nothing can be done.  Much like Billy Pilgrim, Phil is forced to accept the impotence of his position, and simply face the fate that time has handed him.

 

This marks the turning point in Phil’s journey.  His focus turns away from mere self-pleasure, and instead turns outward to the people around him.  He begins taking steps to fundamentally improve his character, while simultaneously humbling himself.  With an infinite amount of time at hand, he ultimately accomplishes his goal.

On the last day of the cycle, Phil reaches perfection.  His good hearted producer, Rita, falls in love with him at last, despite hating him only a “day” before.  Phil wakes up beside Rita, and discovers that groundhog day has finally ended. Phil mentions that he would like to stay in Punxsutawney – the place that he so desperately wanted to leave earlier – indicating that he truly has eliminated his nagging desire to escape his fate.

I chose this film because I just like it so darn much.  Its intriguing premise and deep philosophical musings elevate it above the point of being a mere comedy.  Every time I watch this film, I find a new meaning within it that I had ever even considered before.  And that is what good entertainment, and good art, is all about.

A Fury No Logic Could Curb

A few nights ago, dangerously bored, I browsed through some of the oldest documents on my computer.  Among the ancient relics, I found an AIM chat log from 2006.  You remember AIM; it was that dusty old instant messaging program we used before every kid on the planet had their own high-tech cell phone.

In one particular conversation, I predicted that touch-screen technology would always be a novelty, because buttons were too useful to give up.  As I read the words that the smug fourteen-year-old version of me typed, I vowed that if ever a time traveling device were invented, I would use it to visit the year 2006 and punch myself in the face.

Figure A: Punching myself in the face.

After making this vow, I scanned the memories of my sophomore year.  I was crestfallen to discover that at no point in 2006 was I attacked by a mysterious, yet eerily familiar, stranger.  The implications were clear; time travel would never be possible.  At least, not in my lifetime.

In my depressed state, I began to type up a blog post for my World Lit class.

We’re all dreaming of time travel.  We all want to break free of our present condition, change the state of our existence, or even escape it entirely into a new and incredible world.  There’s a roach in the pudding, though; what are we to make of all these seemingly impossible paradoxes?

In class, we’ve studied works along the theme of time travel.  Each of these works has made an artful – if not cowardly – attempt to evade any mind-bending temporal situations.  In both Rip Van Winkle and The Time Traveller, the protagonist only moved forward in time.  In the movie Primer, the main characters were meticulous and scientific in their visits to the past, being careful not to induce any universe-ending conundrums.

I, however, propose a model of time travel that negates any paradoxical side-effects.  The solution is elegant, and lies not in the fourth dimension, but in the fifth.  The dimension of alternative time-lines.  In the fifth dimension, an infinite number of possibilities spring out of every infinitesimal moment of time.

Suppose I’m on a normal time line, as shown below, and I want to go back and kill my grandfather (don’t ask why).  The ensuing paradox is obvious; I stop my own birth, causing my grandfather to live, which allows for my birth, which allows me to kill my grandfather, which stops my birth, and so forth.

Figure B: A senseless loop.

In the theory of alternate timelines, however, the issue resolves itself.  By editing the past, I don’t change the present from which I originally travelled; I merely shift my fifth dimensional course into a new reality.  Once you break outside the limits of a single timeline, it makes less sense to think of it as ‘changing’ something in the past, and more sense to simply think of yourself as moving into a new fifth dimensional area.

Figure C: Improved model of time-travel.

But, in the long run, I guess it doesn’t really matter whether or not time travel makes logical sense.  The technology will never be available to us; we are all stuck here in a mundane world, with only a dream of the supernatural to pull us through.

I closed the computer with a sigh, rubbing my eyes in the darkness of my room.  As I reopened them, I could tell something was slightly off.  Was that a faint glow?  A tingle in my skin?  Suddenly the air before me split open, forming an open ring of blinding radiance that hung in front of my face.  In the middle of the ring was…what?  A portal?  I peered into this mysterious opening; it mesmerized me, drew me in.

I was only millimeters away, when a fist burst through the ring and slammed into my face.  As I hit the ground, I heard an eerily familiar voice crying out, “Wrong again, dumbass!”

The laughter died away as the portal closed.