Punxsutawney Phil is the famous groundhog from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania who likes to predict the coming (or not coming) of spring every February 2nd. In Groundhog Day, cute little Phil predicts that there will be six more weeks of winter—in other words, things will stay exactly the same. They just stay a little more exactly the same for Phil Connors.
But at the beginning of our movie, Phil Connors doesn't think very highly of Phil. He describes the Groundhog Day tradition by saying,
PHIL: Then it's the same old shtick. The guy with the big stick raps on the door. They pull the little rat out. They talk to him. The rat talks back and then they tell us what's gonna happen.
Phil's producer Rita, however, thinks that Punxsutawney Phil is cute. She says to Phil Connors,
RITA: I think it's a nice story. He [the groundhog] comes out, and he looks around. He wrinkles up his little nose. He sees his shadow or he doesn't see it.
Punxsutawney Phil becomes a sort of test that shows just how differently Phil Connors and Rita view the world at the beginning of this movie.
Later in the film, Phil Connors becomes insanely convinced that Punxsutawney Phil is somehow responsible for his being trapped in Groundhog Day. He ultimately decides that the only way to end the cycle of Groundhog Days is to get rid of Phil, saying,
PHIL: I don't see any other way out. He [Phil] has got to be stopped. And I have to stop him.
He kidnaps the groundhog and drives away, and the head of the Groundhog Day festivities (Buster Green) is so invested in P. Phil that he tells the cops,
BUSTER: If you gotta shoot, aim high. I don't wanna hit the groundhog.
It's safe to say that there's an awful lot of meaning that people can see in one little groundhog. But that's the power of the human imagination, ain't it?
Every day, Phil Connors wakes up in his bed only to realize that it's Groundhog Day all over again. And how does he know so quickly? Because he's always awakened by the clock radio sitting next to his bed. The radio is always playing "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher, followed by a pair of annoying radio announcers who say,
RADIO HOSTS: Okay, campers, rise and shine!
Over time, the clock radio becomes a sort of Doomsday bell, endlessly signaling to Phil that he has failed to escape the endless cycle of Groundhog Days. We can see this especially in the way Harold Ramis at one point makes the number of the clock look huge and the sound of its numbers flipping over (this was before digital clocks) echo.
Then there's the nice montage where Phil finds increasingly brutal ways of destroying the clock radio. It's not until he hears the radio announcers saying something different that he finally realizes that he has escape Groundhog Day and can move on with his (new and improved) life.
Phil Connors is a professional weatherman, meaning that he knows a thing or two about how the weather works. When Mrs. Lancaster mentions the possibility of a blizzard to him, Phil responds,
PHIL: We may catch a break and have that blizzard blow by us.
He then goes on to talk about all the specific forces that create snow before adding,
PHIL: Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?
This question pretty much tells us how much of a jerk Phil can be to people who are just trying to be nice—he uses his superior weatherman weather knowledge to undermine people.
Later in the movie, the unchanging weather of Groundhog Day becomes a symbol of the total defeat that Phil is experiencing. He eventually gets to the point where he snaps and says,
PHIL: I'll give you a winter prediction. It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be gray, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.
Pretty harsh, eh? Well you try living the same day for ten years and see how you feel.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
The ordinary world of Phil Connors is one where he acts like a total jerk to just about everyone he meets. He's a selfish dude who wants to climb the showbiz ladder until he's a weather channel star. In the meantime, he doesn't have much time for all the people around him—he sees them as mediocre.
Phil's adventure begins when he and his news team head to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. Phil figures that this will be the most boring day of his life, but little does he know that the day may never end.
He wakes up the following morning in Punxsutawney only to realize that he is reliving Groundhog Day all over again. The same thing happens again the next morning, and Phil realizes he has no clue on how to get himself unstuck from this time loop.
Phil's first response to his situation (as you can imagine) is total annoyance. Even three days into his adventure, he's ready to get up and quit. He doesn't want to keep doing his Groundhog Day TV spot anymore and he just sits around and pouts.
It's only when he realizes what he can do with this new-found power that he begins to enjoy himself. He eats whatever he wants and steals money from a bank, to name a few things. If the point of Groundhog Day was to make Phil a better person, it looks like it's achieved just the opposite.
Early in the movie, Phil meets his new TV producer Rita. Rita is basically the opposite of Phil. She's kind, caring, and generous to others even when those people are kind of annoying. She has way more patience than Phil, and Phil's first response to her is to think she's naïve and ordinary. It's only when he fails to seduce her that Phil realizes there's something essentially different about Rita… and it might be her goodness.
It's only after realizing that Rita is incorruptible that Phil takes a step back and reevaluates his approach to life. But rather than simply become a better person, Phil decides to end his misery by killing himself. He even kills himself a half dozen times before realizing that he'll just wake up on 6 a.m. on Groundhog Day no matter what he does. It's only after Phil has undergone this symbolic "killing of the ego" that he makes a genuine effort to be better.
Once he has made the decision to be better, Phil starts acting nicely to Rita and his cameraman Larry. He also tries to help out an old homeless man he meets in the street. But Phil quickly realizes that no matter how many times he tries to save the man, there are some things in Groundhog Day that are beyond his power to change.
Eventually, Phil devotes himself to his newfound love for Rita. In realizing that he loves her, Phil also realizes that the thing that attracts her to him is her moral goodness. Phil decides that even if he's stuck in Groundhog Day for eternity, he wants to spend his time being as much like Rita as he possibly can.
Phil does such a good job of acting like Rita that she sees the goodness in him and agrees to spend the night in his B&B room. It looks like Phil has finally succeeded in making Rita love him and we hope that they'll wake up in bed together the next day. But alas, Phil wakes up the next morning and Rita is gone. Time has reset and he has to start Groundhog Day all over again. At this point, Phil has to be wondering, "What's a guy gotta do?"
Instead of falling into despair again, Phil devotes himself to personal development. He learns to play the piano really well and to ice sculpt. But instead of just using these skills for personal gain, he uses them to make the people around him happy.
He also uses his new-found knowledge of literature to make a beautiful speech about Groundhog Day and the people of Punxsutawney. By the end of the night, he has saved several people's lives and helped many others out in a bunch of different ways.
In the movie's climactic scene, Rita sees the goodness in Phil and spends every cent she has to win him in a bachelor auction. She basically owns him for the rest of the night and Phil is happy to be owned. The two of them leave the Groundhog Day party and spend the rest of the evening together. As they fall asleep in each other's arms, Rita says that she has had a perfect day. Phil answers that he feels the same way.
Phil wakes up and realizes that Rita is still sleeping next to him. It's 6 a.m. on the morning of February 3rd! Phil has finally broken whatever spell had trapped him in Groundhog Day. We can only assume that he broke the time loop by becoming a genuinely good person and by using his powers to make the people around him happy. Phil jumps out of bed with a new outlook on life.
Now that he has escaped Groundhog Day, Phil wants to focus on his new relationship with Rita. Even though they've technically only been together for one evening, Phil wants to talk about them living together and getting a place in Punxsutawney. He has escaped Groundhog Day as a much better person than when he starts, and now he has the love of Rita.
The setting of this movie is 95% limited to the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for one good reason: Phil Connors can't leave… even though he wants to. After he has finished his TV spot for Groundhog Day, the first thing he wants to do is get back to his home in Pittsburgh. When asked if he'd like to stick around for more festivities, he snidely answers,
PHIL: I want to stay an extra second in Punxsutawney? Please!
Even when he's trapped in a blizzard:
OFFICER: You can go back to Punxsutawney or you can freeze to death.
PHIL: I'm thinking.
It's pretty clear that Phil likes the hustle and bustle of big cities and is supremely annoyed by all the simple kindness he finds in a town like Punxsutawney. He also realizes though that his producer Rita loves this simple kindness, so he tries his best to pretend that he likes it too. At one point, he tells Rita that, "Small town people are more real." Rita agrees, but the truth is that Phil still doesn't believe what he's saying.
It's only later in the movie that Phil truly comes to love the town he's been trapped in for nearly ten years. He finishes his TV spot for the thousandth or so time by saying,
PHIL: But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their [the people's] hearths and hearts, I can't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.
The nice thing is that he means what he says, and he now knows pretty much everything a person could possibly know about Punxsutawney on February 2nd.
We tend to get an omniscient or all-seeing view of the stuff that's going on in this movie, but this view is always attached to the perspective of Phil Connors. What makes the P.O.V. so interesting in this movie is that Phil himself has a sort of omniscience, as he says to Rita at one point,
PHIL: I'm a god.
When Rita says he's just using tricks, he adds:
PHIL: Maybe the real God uses tricks. Maybe He's not omnipotent. He's just been around so long He knows everything.
Because we only follow Phil through Groundhog Day, the other characters always seem a little less real because their personalities are reset at the end of each day while Phil's carries on. But that doesn't make Phil think of them as objects. Rather, he tends to love them more and more as he learns more about them.
Along the way, we also get a first-row seat to watch Phil's transformation as he becomes increasingly all-knowing (and all-compassionate) about the world around him.
Groundhog Day is the story of Phil Connors trying and succeeding in becoming a better person. It has a nice happy ending and we all have some good laughs along the way—especially whenever the creepy nerd Ned Ryerson shows up.
For centuries, comedies have had a way of ending with marriages. That's not necessarily the case in Groundhog Day, but we can get a good sense that Phil Connors and Rita are certainly on their way to marriage. Phil even says to Rita that they should move to Punxsutawney together, which is hilarious considering how much he hated the town at the beginning of the movie.
At its heart, Groundhog Day is just a nice wholesome comedy about a jerk who learns to be a better person… and who finds personal fulfillment along the way.
When it first came out, the title Groundhog Day simply referred to the fact that this film takes place on Groundhog Day. And sure, the name is appropriate because the whole tradition of Groundhog Day implies that the flow of time is so fragile that it can be determined by a cute rodent.
But the real meaning of this movie's title has really appeared since the movie came out.
Since the release of Groundhog Day, the term "Groundhog Day" has entered common language to signify an unpleasant situation that keeps repeating itself. The spread of this term just goes to show how unique the plot of this movie is. You'd think that someone would have come up with this idea before, but Groundhog Day looks like it's really staked a claim on this concept of reliving the same experience over and over.
PHIL: Today is tomorrow. It happened. You're here; I'm here.
RITA: Why weren't you like this last night?
PHIL: It was the end of a very long day."
The end of Groundhog Day shows us that Phil Connors has finally succeeded in escaping from the seemingly endless repetition of February 2nd. We realize that his escape has been triggered by his transformation into a good person and by the fact that he is finally worthy of Rita's love.
It took him nearly a decade ("a very long day"), but he has finally succeeded in being a good person. The movie wraps up with a nice moral for all of us, which goes something like this: all of your days will feel empty and meaningless until you learn to be kind to others. You might find it a bit preachy, but oh well. It preaches something pretty dang awesome and heart-warming... if you ain't a bit misty-eyed by the end of this movie, you're probably a robot.
95% of Groundhog Day is a nice wholesome family comedy: c'mon, one of the supporting actors is a dang rodent.
But the other 5% gets pretty dark. Phil Connors shows just what a terrible person he can be when he tricks a woman named Nancy into sleeping with him. But the darkest part of the movie is definitely the suicide montage in which Phil kills himself over and over only to wake up again in his B&B bed.
At one point, we even see his cold body on a slab in a morgue. We also see him jump face first from a tall building and drop a working toaster into the bathtub while he's submerged. Many viewers of Groundhog Day are often surprised by just how dark this part of the movie gets, so get ready for it. And keep the small kiddos away from the big screen.