GITS Script Reading & Analysis: “Groundhog Day” — Themes

January 31st, 2013 by

This week we will be analyzing the screenplay for the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, story by Danny Rubin. The movie received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay.

You may download a copy of the script here.

Today we discuss the script’s themes. There are several of them. Which ones do you see at work in the story?

Our schedule for discussion:

Monday, January 28: General comments
Tuesday, January 29: Structure
Wednesday, January 30: Characters
Thursday, January 31: Themes
Friday, February 1: Dialogue

Here is an excerpt from a Big Think interview with Danny Rubin:

Question: How did the film change from the original script?

Danny Rubin: One thing that occurred to me is I wanted to do something fun with the movie and the first thing I thought was, “You know what?  I don’t want to have to deal with how he got into this situation.  I don’t want to deal with some kind of supernatural reason that he was stuck in the same day because then the movie becomes about the plot of his getting out from under it instead of about that existential quality of how does he just deal with it.”

And so, I thought, “Well, I know how I can avoid that.  I’ll start in the middle.  The first things that happens is you hear the clock radio come on with the “I Got You Babe” and then the DJs come on doing their little shtick and Phil is able to sort of mouth the words to what they’re saying when he wakes up before he even knows what they’re saying and the audience is thinking, “Huh, that’s strange.  How does he know what’s playing on the radio?”  And then he goes downstairs and he knows what Mr. Lancaster is going to say before she says it, so he’s anticipating and the audience is thinking, “Wow, this is weird.  How does this guy know what’s going to happen before it happens?”

Then he goes outside and this geeky goes, “Phil?” and Phil goes up to him and takes off his glove and he slugs him and we have no idea why that happened.  And so, I set it up by beginning in the middle with this mystery.  How does this guy have this supernatural ability and we go through meeting, you know, going through the Groundhog report and setting up the day and then he repeats the day and that’s when we know how the movie is set up and we understand how he knows what he knows.

That was the way I set it up and from the very beginning, they were – the studio was a little antsy about that.  Harold Ramis, the director, said that he liked that.  He tried to keep it, but eventually there was just this weight of convention where they really wanted to just establish who he is, set it up and then have this thing happen when he starts repeating the day.  And so, I’d say that was the biggest thing that changed, was when the movie opened, the beginning of it.

And also, as part of having the movie start in the middle, I had a voice-over.  Phil had a voice-over sort of leading the audience along so they wouldn’t feel too disrupted or too disoriented and kind of helping them bond with Phil and as soon as we straightened out the timeline to where it began a little sooner, that became unnecessary.  So, on the face of it, the very two biggest changes were that it began soon, before the repetition and that there’s no voice-over.

Remember: Reading scripts is one of the most important single things you can do to enhance your understanding of the craft of screenwriting. So download Groundhog Day, read it, and join in the conversation.

For Part 1, a general discussion of the script, go here.

For Part 2 on structure, go here.

For Part 3 on characters, go here.

For all of the other screenplays and commentary in the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series, go here.


3 thoughts on “GITS Script Reading & Analysis: “Groundhog Day” — Themes

  1. Groundhog Day

    Theme Analysis – screenplay and film

    What I love about the opening of Groundhog Day, and one of the reasons that it works so well for me, is that the team of Danny Rubin/Harold Ramis gets straight to the theme of the film. In Hitchcockian fashion, they come right out and tell the audience: “Here it is”.

    Slug Line (script – p.1): INT. TV STUDIO – SAME TIME

    Scene Description: Phil continues pointing out features on the blank wall, but from a new angle we can see that he’s looking at a monitor out of the corner of his eye which shows the chromakey insert he’s pointing to – a national weather map.

    Dialogue (film time: 0:56 – 1:17 = CAPS are mine):

    PHIL CONNERS: SOMEBODY ASKED ME TODAY, “PHIL, IF YOU COULD BE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?” And I said to him. “PROBABLY RIGHT HERE – Elko, Nevada, our nation’s high at 79 today.” Out in California, they’re gonna have some warm weather tomorrow, gang wars, and some “very” overpriced real estate. Up in the Pacific Northwest, as you can see, they’re gonna have some very, very tall trees.

    There it is – the very first line, spoken by the narcissistic, cranky Protagonist, who’s “stuck” in mid-market Pittsburgh, when he firmly believes that he’s “the next Willard Scott”, and should be in New York.

    Now jump to the end of the film. Phil’s in Punxsutawney, PA, population 6,782. He’s there willingly – he’s actually delighted to be there. He’s happy. He’s in love. He has come to the point where he can face his inner self and answer that initial thematic question.

    Phil has found compassion on his journey, and he has found gratitude.

    Script (p.120): Rita and Phil walk down Main Street hand in hand.

    Film time – Dialogue @ 1:33:34: Phil: It’s so beautiful. Let’s live here.

    Our screenwriting professor is always stressing this question:

    “Why does this story have to happen to this character (Protagonist) at this time?”

    The answer for Phil Conners is that this story changed his life.

    John Agerholm

  2. pgronk says:

    Re: introduction of theme with the 1st line of dialogue in the film.

    In the immortal words of Ned, the insurance salesman: “Bingo!”

    Another moment where a theme is introduced. It’s the 31st minute of the movie (it’s not in the screenplay) where Phil is drinking with the 2 blue collar workers at the boowling alley.

    One of them, Gus, points to the beer glass he’s drinking and says:”You know, some guys would look at this glass and they would say ‘That glass is half empty.’ Other guys owuld say, ‘That glass is half full.’ I peg you as a ‘glass is half empty’ kind of guy…”

    This plants an important life lessons Phil needs to learn in Act 2. Every crisis is a problem (half empty) and an opportunity (half full). At this point in the movie, Phil is only focousing at the problem in his situation; he needs to focus on the opportunity.

  3. Theme of this movie? Love will set you free.

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