There has been no escaping the exasperated comparison of These Times to Bill Murray’s 1993 classic Groundhog Day. Since the early days of the pandemic, people have made different versions of the same tiresome joke: We’re living in a Groundhog Day type scenario. It’s gotten to the point where the Groundhog Day quarantine joke is something of an infinite time loop of its own, a reference you heard either this morning, last week or last year. But, credit where it’s due, the 1993 film coined the titular phrase, which the dictionary now defines as, “a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.” That is a fairly accurate way to describe the nightmare of these last seven months.
Now, here we are, actual Groundhog Day upon us, in the midst of a pandemic that has turned our waking lives into a much more miserable version of the time loop than Murray’s Phil Connors could have ever imagined. And there has perhaps never been a better time to watch this comedy classic. When ever has Connors’ plight been more relatable? But, at the same time, when has Connors’ existential prison of the fourth dimension ever been more preferable to our current reality in which time is still moving ceaselessly forward from present to future? Because, you see, the stakes of Connors’ time loop are a hell of a lot lower than ours. Where he’s doomed to repeat the same February day for all eternity (or until he decides to be a better guy and find his true love?), we’re doomed to live out a cycle of isolation, sickness, and financial and political catastrophe for the foreseeable future.
What wouldn’t we give to simply wake up day-after-day in Punxsutawney’s Cherry Tree Inn where the only problems are the nasty weather, a Sonny and Cher song, and an annoying acquaintance? What a delight would it be to live in a reality of zero consequences, where death does not exist? “There’d be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted,” two dudes excitedly tell Phil in a bar when faced with the concept of living the same day over and over again.
It’s a reaction that speaks to our love of time loop movies in general. This summer, the well-timed comedy Palm Springs became a massive movie hit for Hulu—one of its most-streamed releases of all time. Before that, Russian Doll was a surprise Netflix hit. We love a time loop movie because it offers an escape from the monotony of the flow of all known physical limitations of our universe. As we’ve seen in entertainment, a real time loop can be kind of fun for a few cycles at least. Sure, eternity will be kind of a bummer, but when has the idea of a time loop not be somewhat appealing, if only for a little while?
But, as I realized with a recent rewatch of Groundhog Day, the movie is a lot darker than I remember, or than we give it credit for. Phil tries to escape the time loop in a number of increasingly disturbing ways, as the careless joys of life without consequences becomes an existential prison in which he may be locked for eternity. That’s perhaps why Groundhog Day has become a term of its own—a meme that can be applied to any monotonous nightmare, specifically to a time in which those who are lucky enough to work from home can feel like every day is the exact same. We all collectively understand the fear, the boredom, and the anxiety of a moment in which time has lost all meaning and there seems to be no end in sight.
Thankfully, Phil does eventually escape his own February 2. And though the film never exactly explains what he did to get out of the time loop, we do see him use the free time given to him to focus on himself and become a better person. That’s the message at the heart of Groundhog Day that makes it such a beloved, lasting story. We always have the option for redemption, we have the capacity for change, the ability to take unknown circumstances and come out the other side a little bit better.
And, that’s what Groundhog Day can offer this year: 101 minutes of escape into a slightly more pleasant time loop than our own. But also, maybe there’s something to take away from an experience like Phil’s. When time ceases to function in a familiar, linear way, we can use this blip in the timeline to re-establish who and what we can be going forward. It’s at least something to think about when you watch it this February 2. Then, maybe watch it again on February 3, if you’re still feeling bored.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.
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