I could write a detailed academic essay on the film Groundhog Day, but I will make every effort to avoid that level of analysis here.
I have a copy of Danny Rubin’s original shooting script (which I treasure, both as an example of how to write and format a film script, and how to write impassioned phrases in to ordinary scenes, and thus how to make a moment on celluloid in to a magical place).
The script tells a slightly different story to the tale the Groundhog Day film shows us.
The character Stephanie Decastro doesn’t exist in the film, yet in the script Stephanie is a pivotal character. She places a curse on Phil, which is the spell that makes him live his recurring day.
How long is Phil trapped in the Punxsatawney bubble before he breaks the spell?
There are several scripted clues to Phil’s passage of time, and there is a direct answer to the question on page 89.
Neither of the clues, nor the direct answer make it in to the film.
There’s a reference on page 56 of the script to Phil having already lived his Punxsatawney Groundhog Day 211 times.
On page 89 Phil says to Rita: ‘After I got over the shock, it was kind of fun for the first year or two. I had anything I wanted. Except you, of course’.
And the answer? Well, that’s considerably greater than a year or two. You’ll have to read it. It’s in a paragraph below.
It was the excess of every lifetime that Phil chose to live in his recurring day, the highly concentrated, back-to-back excesses, that eventually brought him to realise that before he arrived in Punxsatawney, Phil had been living a life of selfishness.
And yet, in amongst the acted scenes of selfish excess and levity, there are words of magical poetry:
Phil recounting what he’s learned from previous cycles, with Rita:
‘You like boats but not the ocean. There’s a lake you go to in the summer with your family, up in the mountains, with an old wooden dock and a boathouse with boards missing in the roof, and a place you used to crawl underneath to be alone, and at night you’d look up and see the stars. You’re a sucker for Rocky Road, Marlon Brando and French poetry. You’re wonderfully generous; you’re kind to strangers, and children; and when you stand in the snow, you look like an angel’.
And later, Phil to camera for what will be his final Groundhog Day report:
‘When Chekhov saw the long winter, it was a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope; and yet, we know winter is only one more step in the cycle. And standing among the people of Punxsutawney, basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter’.
At that point of the film, the viewers may begin to wonder how long Phil has been in Punxsatawney?
Long enough to live his selfish lives of excess?
Long enough to dive deep in to a dark place of madness?
Long enough to climb out again?
The answer to all of these is ‘yes’.
And on page 115 of the script, Phil gives us the final answer when he says to Rita:
‘I’ve been waiting for you every day for ten thousand years. I dream of you every night of my life. You’ve been my constant weapon against total despair, and just knowing that you exist has kept me alive’.
Now that, my friend, is classy writing.
The final departure between script and film is that the script has Phil making a final VO as he and Rita walk through Punxsatawney, and the camera pans to a high-level shot of them:
‘And so began my final lifetime, and ended the longest winter on record. I would find myself no longer able to affect the chain of events in this town, but I did learn something about time. You can waste time, you can kill time, you can do time, but if you use it wisely, there’s never enough of it. So you’d better make the most of the time you’ve got’.
Let’s make the most of the time we’ve got, eh?