7 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Groundhog Day

Whether or not Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow this year is yet to be observed, but one thing’s for certain: we’ll be seeing the much-loved Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day at some point over the course of the week.

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

It’s an enduringly re-watchable movie with plenty of appeal, striking a fine balance between comedy and speculative philosophy set against a holiday that hadn’t previously been portrayed in cinema.

But as with any movie as quirky as this, the lore surrounding it is just as strange. Presenting:

7 Surprising Facts About 1993’s Groundhog Day

1. Time Doesn’t Just Repeat, it Stands Still

Punxsutawney sure has some weird time flow problems. Not only does it trap the poor Phil in a near-endless cycle of the same day, but it even acts screwy when he gets out of the loop.

On the day after Groundhog Day, Phil wakes up next to Rita as the clock flips to 6am. But then, strangely, it stays at this time for far too long—the next time the camera cuts to the clock two and a half minutes later, it’s 6:01.

It might just be an editing goof, but it does create the tantalizing (and somewhat terrifying) possibility that the end of the story doesn’t coincide with the end of the movie. What if the couple is now trapped in some kind of ultra-slow dilation of time, in which the universe moves at less than half the usual speed?

It’s not an altogether baseless theory, given that the original ending of the script saw Rita trapped in her own time loop on February 3rd.

2. Ned Reyerson is a Local Hero

Stephen Tobolowsky, the actor who played Ned Reyerson was invited as the honorary grand marshal to the Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney in 2010.

There is also a commemorative plaque, which reads “Ned’s Corner” now in place at the scene where the annoying insurance salesman accosted Phil every morning, though this is in Woodstock, Illinois (where most of the movie was filmed.)

3. Rah-Rah-Rasputin?

In trying to explain his predicament to Rita, Phil explains: “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung….”

All of these were the methods used by those trying to kill Grigory Rasputin, and in that order. Save for electrocution they’re also the only scenes during Phil’s “death binge” that aren’t portrayed.

Curiously, they’re also mentioned as the methods used to kill Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, an earlier Murray film.

4. The Groundhog Hated Murray

Bill Murray was bitten not just once, but twice by the groundhog used on set.

Groundhog Day

So severe were the bites that production was paused so that Murray could be treated with anti-rabies injections.

5. Tom Hanks and Tori Amos For the Leads?

Michael Keaton declined the leading role, and Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, and John Travolta were subsequently considered. Ultimately, they were deemed “too nice” to play Phil, and the role was given to Bill Murray instead.

“Audiences would have been sitting there waiting for me to become nice, because I always play nice. But Bill’s such a miserable S.O.B. on and off screen, you didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Tom Hanks of the decision.

As for the part of Rita, Tori Amos was nearly cast.

6. The Stage Version is Finally On Its Way

A musical adaptation of Groundhog Day has been toyed with since 2003, primarily driven by interest from composer Stephen Sondheim. Alas, he’d abandoned the idea in 2008, stating of the original movie “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.”

All went silent for the next five years before news broke that Tim Minchin and Matthew Warchus had joined with original Groundhog Day co-writer Danny Rubin to really get things moving.

The musical—which sees much of the production crew of Matilda reuniting—will premiere in London’s West End this year, and on Broadway in 2017.

7. 12,395

That’s the number of days Phil spends trapped in Punxsutawney…at least, as far as the best estimates go.

It’s a question that many had on reaching the end of the movie, and has been under hot debate ever since its release. Even Ramis seemed a little unsure, hazarding a guess at around 10 years in the director’s DVD commentary (contrary to his original idea of living the same day for 10,000 years, and something he’d told actor Stephen Tobolowsky early into the production.)

A detailed blog post by pop culture critic Wolfie G. Nards arrived at a specific answer of 8 years, 8 months and 16 days (using some conservative guesswork), which prompted Ramis to contradict both this and his earlier answer. In response to Nards’ calculation, he stated: “I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It had to be more like 30 or 40 years.”

Writer Simon Gallagher suspected this new estimate was closer to the mark.

And as it turns out, it is.

Combing through the movie scene by scene, Gallagher puts the figure at just under 34 years. Once again, conservative guesswork had to be employed to qualify the unknown elements of the movie, but it’s almost definitely the closest answer we’ll get to how long Phil spends trapped in the Groundhog Day loop…

…unless, of course, you have other ideas.

Feel free to post your guesses in the comments below, and Happy Groundhog day to one and all.

Learn more about the School of Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.
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