We just finished watching our favorite movie. Again. Every year on February 2nd we try to set aside some time to watch Groundhog Day. Again and again. When I say favorite, I mean our number one pick of all movies. The only other movie we watch multiple times would be some version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. The two do have some similarities, mostly revolving around the theme of redemption. If you have not seen GD, please find a copy somewhere and watch it before the next Groundhog Day.
We have probably seen it 20 times. Every viewing is “spoiled.” So who cares if the plot is spoiled? Nevertheless, if you have not seen Groundhog Day and do not want to be spoiled, please stop reading now. This post includes SPOILERS.
A quick plot review: Phil Connors, played brilliantly by Bill Murray, is a bitter and sarcastic weatherman sent to cover the Groundhog Day festivities at Gobbler’s Knob near Pittsburgh. He gets stuck in time and wakes up on the same day over and over. Phil is the only one who realizes it. He can learn new things but everyone else is unaware. They are living the day for the first time every time.
At first Phil is bewildered. The next few loops of days later he gets angry. Several loops later he gets depressed. Then he repeats loops in which he tries to take advantage of his unique situation. He is learning while others stay frozen in their knowledge. This becomes boring to him eventually. He becomes depressed and resigns his fate. He comes to marvel at how his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) is genuinely kind to everyone she meets and he comes to realize that he too can be kind. He sets out in the final loops of days to be kind in each and every situation in which he places himself. He learns to play the piano, to speak French, and to ice sculpt. He knows everyone in town and much about them. He truly changes his character. The last loop ends after Phil completes his transformation from bitterness to kindness. He, like the groundhog Phil, sees his shadow. His winter ends.
Groundhog Day works on many levels. It is funny, tender, philosophical, sad, clever, and though-provoking. I imagine this must have been a joy for writers Harold Ramis (of Ghostbusters) and Danny Rubin because of its roller-coaster cleverness. And it must have been fun to shoot because many of the sets were used in a variety of multiple takes to demonstrate the various stages of Phil’s time loops.
But the main reason the film appeals to me so much is because the movie unwittingly portrays the life of a computer programmer, like me. We are a unique breed of people; we who interact constantly with others, in our case computers, that are stuck in time. We are always trying things, failing, and ultimately succeeding. We code up something that never works the first time. We start over, make a change, and try again. We get angry, sad, frustrated, resigned, and ultimately overjoyed at our software loops. The computer doesn’t know what we’ve been through. We are the ones learning while the computer simply responds to our interaction. We come to realize that we must be kind to our computer, we must be careful what input we provide to it. It only knows us by our inputs.
After 10,000 hours at the keyboard, we master our environment. We learn the new languages. We sculpt out of the hardness that which time melts away. We use our skill for genuine good, not expecting reward. We’ve been through the cold and the gray but tomorrow does come and it is a better day.