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Time, from "Groundhog Day," a movie starring Bill Murray

Subthemes: Alarm Clocks, Boredom and Loops, Turn Back the Clock, One Direction

“Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray

Time, and especially the repetition of time, figures prominently in “Groundhog Day”, an ingenious romantic comedy starring Bill Murray. Just as humans can’t travel back in time, they can’t repeat an event in the past, try a different tactic, make a different decision – except in this classic. Other characteristics of time can be observed from “Groundhog Day.”


Alarm Clocks: Over and over we suffer as poor Bill Murray is jolted awake by the unfeeling alarm clock. As a metaphor, that repetition reminds us of the intruding commitments of time. We must be at our desks at 8:30, Mass begins sharply at 5 PM and don’t be late, or you can’t enter the store until 10 AM. Time on a clock dictates when we can, cannot, or must do things. When traffic court starts at 9:30 or the colonoscopy summons us for 2:30PM on April 4th, those time-governed commitments are not the gentle chimes of a clock on a mantel, they are the non-negotiable obligations of the clock or calendar.

Boredom and Loops: At times, all of us feel bored. Time weighs on us, grinds us down with monotony and repetition. Nothing excites us because we find ourselves doing the same uninteresting things, and the hours drag. We’re bored. This movie addresses that sense of “oh, no, here I go again.” Or “there’s nothing new, and I am going out of my gourd.” In truth, Bill Murray’s character is not exactly bored, but he faces the same start of his day and a frustrating sameness of experiences, albeit with variations he tries out.

Boredom is an extension of time’s looping nature, such as when we experience feelings of déjà vu, or bump into that irritating doorframe once again, or Lucy jerks away the football one more time. It feels every now and then as if what goes around, keeps going around. Philosophical views lurk in the movie’s treatment of endless repetition.

Turn Back the Clock: As people age, they often pine for the healthier, more attractive, more idealistic days of their youth. They would turn back the pages of time, especially if they could re-read the chapters with their experience and lessons of having grown older. In Bruce Springsteen’s song “Glory Days,” both characters regretfully recollect their lost youth where they were sports stars or beauty queens. As we experience the irreversible erosions of time, it is to no avail ruing the failed wooing. Unlike Murray in “Groundhog Day,” second chances (let alone thirds and fourths…) don’t happen and we cannot travel back in time to bound and leap again or make a better decision.

One Direction: Time only passes in one direction – the past stretches back as a land that can never be revisited, the present’s moment instant by instant converts what was the future into the past, and unlike with the seasons we have little ability to peer ahead in time. That one-way road is what has been referred to as “the arrow of time.” The captivating conceit of “Groundhog Day” redirects the arrow and explores what happens next. The movie stands in the category time-travel fiction, which notably includes Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” the 1985 classic, “Back to the Future,” and the TV series “Outlander.” Our understanding of the iron laws of physics, however, denies that we can reverse the arrow or shoot it repeatedly; but science doesn’t bar artists and writers from transgressing all the time.

If you have a few moments to explore subthemes of time that are not closely associated with this movie or the other three creative works, please visit Additional Subthemes.

The opportunity to revisit an awkward or failed moment and redo it for the better, to alter the loop, is not available to humans. We can all wish for second chances, but everything has its season and we don’t have the opportunity to wake up to the same alarm on the same day and try again.

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