GITS Script Reading & Analysis: “Groundhog Day”

January 28th, 2013 by

Welcome to the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series, Volume 26. 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.

Some reviews of the movie:

Roger Ebert [February 12, 2003]

New York Times [February 12, 1993]

Variety [December 31, 1992]

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

Question: How did you come up with the idea for “Groundhog Day?”

Danny Rubin: There’s so many parts to answering that question. I think the big idea, if there is a – the big think or the accidental happenstance was when I was trying to solve a story problem. If a person could live forever, if a person was immortal, how would they change over time? I was curious about whether one lifetime was enough for somebody. There are some people, those arrested development type men who can’t really outlive their – out grow their adolescence and I thought, well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough. Maybe you need more.

So, I was just thinking through if a person could live long enough, how would they change and that seemed like a cumbersome experiment because of having to deal with changing history. So, I was trying to solve the problem how you can have a person be immortal without having history change from underneath him so that the movie would not – the story of the movie would not have to deal with the French Revolution and with the future and things like that.

And then, to solve that, I remembered an idea I had had about a year or two before that about a guy repeating the same day and I realized that having a person repeat the same day turns an eternity into a circle and that’s when all the dramatic possibilities came and the comedic possibilities and all the resonances with repetition. So, that was the idea like that.

I was actually getting ready to read one of Anne Rice’s novels about vampires and I was sort of thinking about why I thought that was interesting and the most interesting thing to me was that it was a different class of people. They were just like people except some of the rules were different and the most interesting one being that they were immoral and that’s what got me thinking about immortality. There, that’s all of it.

Let’s use this post today for your general reactions to the script.

Did you enjoy it? What aspects about it made the most impact on you? Would you consider it a ‘good read’? What struck you most about the writing? Any key differences between the script and the movie?

Here are some scenes from the movie:

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

If you source any video or written interviews or behind-the-scenes features about Groundhog Day, especially anything focusing on the script, please post in comments.

“How to Write ‘Groundhog Day’” by screenwriter Danny Rubin is an excellent book, both for fans of the movie and for anyone interested in the craft of screenwriting. You may learn more about the Kindle edition here.

Join me this month as we read and analyze the script for Groundhog Day.

4 thoughts on “GITS Script Reading & Analysis: “Groundhog Day”

  1. pgronk says:

    BTW: The analysis on the use and meaning of the shadow in the movie as interpreted by the Italian psychiatrist you cited in 2009 is interesting. But, imho, it could use a polish.

  2. Scott says:

    Going through the script again, I was reminded of two lenses through which I have always interpreted Groundhog Day: Reincarnation and Individuation.

    The Reincarnation dynamic is pretty obvious if you partner it with the Buddhist idea of evolving consciousness, how when one dies, our spirit settles into a new body with the purpose of us learning new lessons and moving forward in terms of our spiritual growth. You can easily lay that atop “Groundhog Day” and it works quite nicely with Phil’s ‘perfect’ day achieving a sort of nirvana.

    Re individuation, this is an idea from Carl Jung, how the Self develops from undifferentiated unconsciousness. This is a process that involves becoming aware of all key aspects of the psyche, understanding and embracing them, leading toward a sense of Wholeness. Again the parallels to “Groundhog Day” are pretty apparent.

    Now I’m prepared to add a third lens through which to look at the story: Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s idea of the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

    This doesn’t hold exactly in terms of Phil’s psychological metamorphosis, but it’s in the ballpark.

    What’s really nice about this from a writing standpoint is these provide a template of sorts with which one can approach a story’s structure, particularly helpful in terms of a character’s transformation arc.

  3. That is some great analysis there, Scott.

    I read this script a few weeks back, and although I haven’t watched the film for an age, I felt the script ran quite close to what eventually ended up on the silver screen.

    The only part of the script I didn’t like, and thankfully was left out the film, was the reason it gave for the curse occurring in the first place.

    I know there is tendency to explain everything in stories but this is defiantly one instance in which this was not necessary – we all know that Phil is funny guy but a bit of a dick, so we get why this event would happen to him. Trying to explain how it happened would only weaken the story.

    On a different note, I was thinking about the tweet cast thingy you generally do for these scripts, Scott, and was wondering if perhaps (and I know how busy your are so no probs if this is a no-no) you could record an audio narrative track to go along with the film when you watch it.

    The only reason I ask is because of the international time difference – these tweet events generally occur in the middle of the night for me.

    This way I could pop the film on, bang on the audio file/podcast thing and watch along with Scott (kinda).

    Not interactive at all, but education none the less.

  4. pgronk says:

    Different “lens”, templates, whatever can be useful learning tools. I certaintly use them. But, to plagiarize from Zen, I have to remind myself occasionally that they are only fingers pointing at the moon.

    I say this because in talking shop with other writers, I too often come across a mindset fixated on this or that template or paradigm or formula as the one true way, the only way to frame the structure for every script. No exceptions, no variation from the one true way.

    I’m all for fingerpointing. I do it all the time. But I have to remind myself that the finger I point is not to be confused with the moon; it’s not the reality, the be all and end all, of the script I’m reading (or writing).

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