Happy Groundhog Day!

So, yesterday was Groundhog Day and so we watched Groundhog Day. And since, the last time I searched, I did not come across an obsessive timeline of the sort that I have come to expect from the interwebs in re the likes of Back to the Future and Terminator, this time I took notes on how many days had actually passed.

These are the days actually seen in the movie:

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  1. February 1
  2. February 2, #1
  3. "You're playing yesterday's tape"
  4. "Meet me in the diner", "Don't drive on the railroad tracks"
  5. Punches Ned
  6. "Nancy Taylor, Lincoln High!"
  7. Bank robbery -- "I've seen this film over 100 times"
  8. Interrogating Rita
  9. "Sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist"
  10. "I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace"
  11. "I studied 19th century french poetry." (He has a good French accent on the quotation, and is a good dancer.)
  12. Insincere snowman. Slapped in the face.
  13. Slapped in the face.
  14. Slapped in the face.
  15. Slapped in the face.
  16. Slapped in the face.
  17. Slapped in the face.
  18. Slapped in the face.
  19. Slapped in the face. Notices ice sculptures.
  20. "Rough night."
  21. "It's cold out there every day."
  22. "What is... Mexico."
  23. "A thousand people waiting to worship a rat."
  24. Smashes clock.
  25. Smashes clock.
  26. Smashes clock on floor, kidnaps groundhog, blows up.
  27. "Aw nuts." Drops toaster in bathtub.
  28. Steps in front of truck.
  29. Jump from bell tower.
  30. "I'm a god." "I've been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned." Throwing cards: "Six months, four to five hours a day."
  31. Gives money to bum. First piano lesson.
  32. Second piano lesson.
  33. Has learned ice sculpture.
  34. Not bad at piano.
  35. Hits on Ned, takes bum to hospital.
  36. Feeds bum, gives CPR.
  37. Final Groundhog day! Very good at piano.
  38. February 3.

Now, beyond the days we actually see, much time is implied:

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  • Between days #6 and #7, at least 100 days passed: the time to see the movie 100 times, and also to fully memorize the plan for the bank robbery.
  • Between days #11 and #12, he may have just memorized a single quotation (but his accent is good) and he may have already known how to dance (but that seems unlikely). So I think we can assume at least a few months passed.

  • Between days #21 and #22, he memorized the entire Jeopardy show, which would take at least a few viewings. It's possible he did that while learning piano, or French.

  • Some time before day #30, six months of card throwing. But that could have all been after midnight, and overlapped with any other activities.

  • We saw "burned" and "electrocuted". That leaves at least five days (and presumably more) for "stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, and hung."

  • How long does it take to learn ice sculpture, if that's all you do? Six months? A year?

  • How long does it take to become a good piano player, if you begin in your early 40s when you have your first lesson? Concensus among those present at casa del jwz was "at least two years."


Based on evidence presented in the movie, he re-lived February 2 for at least four years.

The Wikipedia entry says [citation needed] that "director Ramis has stated Phil repeats the day for about 10 years, noting that it would take that long to become as proficient on the piano as Connors does from daily lessons, though the original script had February 2 repeating for ten thousand years."

Which answer, you know, I found insufficient.

Update: We now have as authoritative an answer as we're likely to get: Danny Rubin, the guy who wrote Groundhog Day, wrote on his blog that he had no intended time-frame in mind in his script, but that he meant for it to be "more than one lifetime". The studio hated that, and said, "that's too long, make it two weeks". Harold Ramis, the director, tried to make the time-frame ambiguous, but had in his mind "ten years".

Incidentally, this year the rat saw its shadow.

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45 Responses:

  1. It depends on how much musical experience he had before he started playing the piano. I'm more inclined towards the 10 years than the 4, what with the "no one dies on my day!" timesuck and the fact that he was a boor in the beginning of the movie.

    I was going to argue with Between days #6 and #7, at least 100 days passed: the time to see the movie 100 times and say "couldn't he have watched it more than once per day?" and then I was like ... no. Dumb ass.

  2. _alexiscone says:

    I didn't see it when it first came out, but I do believe the first time I saw this movie was when I was still a single-digit age. I watched it a lot as a kid.

    The feel of the movie (to my elementary school self) always led me to think the day repeated for about two "normal-time" weeks and I took the amazing learning curve to be proof he was an exemplary person and viewed the comments about time as unrelated or an exaggeration for some reason.

    I haven't watched it in years, so I'm going to now (it's on cable!) with this revelation that the lesson was much harder-learned... heh.

  3. nidea says:

    One of my favorite films.

  4. gargargar says:

    My mother once told me that the choice of song for Phil to wake up to
    was likely a reference to the Vietnam war. It turns out that the only
    piece of popular culture that stayed more or less the same from the
    start of the draft to the bug-out was the Sonny and Cher show.

    The opening theme was a comforting song for folks who desperately wanted
    things to be the same as they once were.

    It could all be shit, but it seemed to give the film that extra bit of
    meaning for her.

  5. cthulhia says:

    one of my favorite films, I watch it annually. Hence, everyone has linked/will be linking me to this.

    This year I did an entire marathon of time loop films and TV episodes. (We finished with "Primer")

    Next *weekend* for Feb 2nd is 2013.

  6. jope says:

    Clearly you have too much time on your hands! *snicker*

  7. pixel_juice says:

    But didn't he also become a doctor and a marriage councilor (the young couple). Surely that takes a few more years than 4.

    I also think that the "trying to make it stop" factor has to be taken in to account. I would imagine he would probably try to find a way out for at least a year or two before he settles down to using it to his advantage.

    There is also the memorization of the background of every person in the cafe. He only has 24 (or is is 18?) hours to go from stranger to confidant. That would require a process similar to the courtship of Rita.

    Oh great, now /I'm/ obsessing. And I thought I was done with this.

  8. gfish says:

    Punxsutawney Phil did, but not the Canadian groundhogs. I didn't realize it was a franchise before reading that article.

  9. ydna says:

    I just noticed that the piano teacher was very impressed (at the big party) with Phil's progress on the piano. How could she have been aware of his progress? Heh heh.

    • This is exactly what I have thought, there are other things in the 'final' day where it is not 100% clear that he would be a beloved fixture of the town by doing what he would have done on that day, but the piano teacher is the most obvious.

      • callmeindy says:

        I think that he went up to the Piano teacher sometime during that day and said something like, "I'm a former student of yours for way back. Why don't you come watch me perform tonight?"

  10. smackfu says:

    There's a new 15th Anniversary DVD that came out last week. It has a commentary from Ramis where he says that thing about the 10 years. Cite that, Wikipedia!

  11. chuk_g says:

    The sequel "Groundhog Day II: Groundhog Day".

  12. headkandy says:

    I know that he tried once in the movie to stay up until 6 am, and just couldn't make it. Is there no way he could have just taken a nap and stayed up until 6am. Not once in 4 to 10 years? I mean come on.

    For the record, I've watched this movie with my buddy (his favorite film) for the past 6 years on Groundhog Day, and we always discuss how much we love it, how Chris Elliot only has one good joke (about beastiality, no less, and it usually goes unnoticed "why would anyone steal a groundhog?" chris: "i can think of a few reasons." halarious.) And most of all how it shows man's ability to overcome obstacles in pursuit of poon.

    Great flick everytime I watch it. But yeah, just stay awake, Phil.

    • jwz says:

      More to the point, if he stays up until (almost) 6AM every night, does he wake up tired? Similarly, if he doesn't eat the day before, does he wake up hungry? I'm guessing no, and no, by the same mechanism by which he doesn't wake up burned up or otherwise dead: the magic resets everything, including his stomach contents and brain chemistry (excepting memories).

      So in that case, he was actually able to utilize a full 24 hours of each day, making his N years be effectively 30% longer than N years would be in the real world.

    • tfofurn says:

      If falling asleep is sufficient to trigger the reset mechanism, then naps are out as a way to wrap around.

  13. Of course that's assuming that the events in the film are sequential. I've wondered lately if you could take a '21 Grams' approach to the temporal order and perhaps see some of the scenes and sections as overlapping one another, that at time we're seeing parts of the same day spread out across the film.

    Except of course that is clearly not what was intended by Ramis & co so ...

  14. cryocone says:

    My nephew kindly reenacted the donut-eating scene. You know, stuffing his face. Video here:


  15. smallerdemon says:

    I love the idea that it was 10,000 years myself. That Phil is such a lecherous and sort of loathsome fellow that that's how long it takes. He's not crazy, or even stupid, simply so incredibly self-involved that it would take him 10,000 years to really figure out how to be a good person.

  16. joel says:

    Here is some commentary relevant commentary on this exact topic from Danny Rubin, the guy who wrote Groundhog Day: http://www.dannyrubin.com/blogusgroundhogus/2008/01/29/the-magic-of-friendship/

    (via http://waxy.org/links/)

    • jwz says:

      Awesome, thanks!

      • santafedan says:

        I've really enjoyed the various groundhog entries - you guys are a hoot. If you have any more related questions, I'm your guy. I'll check back here when I can, or you can always find me on the blogus groundhogus. Thanks jwz, and your loyal friends.

        -- danny rubin