My Groundhog Day – remembering Harold Ramis

Posted: February 26, 2014 in watching
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The death of film maker Harold Ramis is a moment of deep sadness. For people of my generation, now living on the generous side of thirty, the Ghostbusters films were huge cultural touchstones, up there with Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the pantheon of fun, exciting stories that grew in meaning as we grew in age.

But for my money the most notable of Ramis’s works, the one that touches my heartstrings and tickles my funny bone, will always be Groundhog Day.

The day that just keeps giving

I first saw Groundhog Day in the cinema on my fifteenth birthday. The story of a grumpy TV weatherman stuck living the same day again and again, it didn’t make my teenage friends laugh as much as they’d wanted. But for me it was a perfect combination of sweet and funny. Watching Bill Murray’s character grow, remake himself, face despair, hope and ultimately transformation, there was something very relatable about it.

What I realise now is that Ramis did a fabulous job of reinventing the oldest writer’s maxim – write what you know. He might not have known what it was like to be stuck in a time loop (if he did then good for him), but he knew about human desire. He knew what it was to fall in love, to dream of being a better person, to long for the chance to re-do a significant day and make sure that you get it right.

Ramis turned ‘write what you know’ into ‘write what we all wish for’.

If I had a Groundhog Day

I suspect that we all have a Groundhog Day, a day we would like to live again, whether to put right our mistakes or to relish a treasured moment.

A year after seeing Groundhog Day I fell out with a group of close friends. It was largely my fault. Few teenagers know how to deal with their feelings, and I was worse than most. My cataclysmic blow-out – the first time I ever yelled at anyone in public – ended my first set of really close friendships. I didn’t know how to fix the damage any more than I could go back and avoid it. But I dwelt on that day for years, running over in my mind how I could have got it right.

If I could have a Groundhog Day, one day that went round over and over until I fixed it, it would be that day. I would save those friendships and in the process learn to deal with emotions that even now, as an adult, I get horribly tangled on.

All our Groundhog Days

Ramis achieved something amazing with Groundhog Day, making a common human feeling magical, showing something we all feel. It’s why I’ll always love his work, and is one of the many, many reasons why his loss is such a tragedy.

How about the rest of you? What were your favourite Harold Ramis moments? And what would your Groundhog Days be?

  1. John Moley says:

    I’ve had this tab open for about 24 hours, while I considered whether to respond. I’m not surprised that the comments haven’t flooded in. Don’t get me wrong, I love that final question, but I think it will divide most people into two camps: Those who don’t give it much thought and have little to say on the matter. And those, like me, for whom it’s an intensely emotionally charged question that’s hard to talk (or type) about.
    Groundhog Day was one of the few videos that I owned at age 18. In the TV room at Hatfield College, we watched and discussed the film in the indulgent manner that typifies stereotypical students and geek communities around the world. One way in which I understand the narrative is that the protagonist has lessons to learn regarding life and himself, particularly about self-acceptance, before he is able to re-engage with the world. Unlike the rest of us, he is fortunate enough that he can take as long as he needs while the world merely awaits his return.
    I’m sure it places me in the vast majority to say that I wish I knew and accepted my flaws before I tumbled head-first into the crazed hedonism of my late-teens. In particular, I wish I hadn’t been so ashamed of my early dating experiences. As it was, I chose to keep everything secret from friends & family and got into covering my tracks with habitual dishonesty. Consequently, the romantic relationships became far more intense than I could handle and every other relationship in my life struggled under the burden of growing mistrust. Inevitably, deceit turned into a habit and the rest is less history and more a heady mixture of revisionism and mythology.
    In the past decade, I think I have learned (as well as I ever will) to discern when my blurred sense of “factual truth” is best applied, such as when dealing with salespeople, and when I ought to force myself to grasp the cold steel blade of brutal honesty… uhmm… I should be able to think of an example here, right? 😉
    My point is that, in spite of learning when to say “I’m sorry, I forgot to post your letter,” rather than “I was walking to the postbox when a large gull fell from the sky onto the head of a passing vicar…”, I have never learned to accept the part of me that does that. I am not at peace with myself and probably won’t be until I’m so old that it makes no odds. If I could have a Groundhog Day, it would come when I was 16. I’d learn to be honest about who I was and what I was doing, but more importantly I’d learn to love the guy who’s first instinct is to please the people he cares about, to protect their feelings and to grease the wheels of life so we can all have an easier time, even if ultimately I think he’s a bit misguided.

    • Thanks for sharing John – it was touching to read such a personal reflection. As you say, it’s not an easy thing to discuss, but that’s part of the value of culture isn’t it, that it asks us the difficult questions as well as the easy ones?

      • John Moley says:

        I agree. And, I think it’s too easy to undervalue films like Groundhog Day that address and dissect huge philosophical concepts without ever taking themselves too seriously. I probably could have found a more appropriate outlet for all this, but it’s been a tough week! 🙂

        • Nothing inappropriate about answering the questions you’re asked!
          And I totally agree about the undervaluing thing – sometimes the best way to get people thinking about an issue is to slip it under the radar in a light hearted film.

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