Groundhog Day — An Inescapable Premise

Groundhog Day — An Inescapable Premise


Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. Everyone is familiar with the premise of “Groundhog
Day”. Phil Connors finds himself reliving the same
day over, and over, and over. This simple premise is a great engine for
comedy, and the film is full of hilarious moments… “Ned?!” But the premise is also expertly constructed
to drive natural, organic character change. So today, I want to examine how Phil is designed
to be a character that seems like he could never change… To dissect how the premise of the story traps
Phil in a world that will constantly attack his
character flaw… And explore how the relentless nature of the
premise ensures that the protagonist will have no
choice but to transform. “Ah, nuts.” Let’s take a look at “Groundhog Day”. In his book, “How to Write Groundhog Day,” one of the screenwriters, Danny Rubin, discusses
how he’d been pondering immortality while conceptualizing
the story. “The conversation I was having with myself
about immortality was naturally rephrased in my mind as a movie
idea: ‘Okay, there’s this guy who lives forever.’ Movie stories are by nature about change, and if I were going to test the change of
this character against an infinity of time, I’d want him to begin as somebody who seemed
unable to change…” To create someone who seems unable to change, the character of Phil Connors was given a
deeply-rooted flaw. Phil is a weatherman at a small TV station
in Pennsylvania who believes that he’s more famous and important
than he is. “For your information, hairdo, there is a major network interested in me.” He’s sarcastic, rude, and as his producer,
Rita, deftly summarizes later in the film: “I know you’re egocentric, it’s your
defining characteristic.” Phil is completely self-centered, and will need to undergo a fundamental change
to become selfless if he is to achieve his desire: to be with
Rita. “He comes out, he looks around, he wrinkles
his nose, he sees his shadow, he doesn’t see his shadow. It’s nice, people like it.” Rita is warm, kind, and optimistic… “You know, people like blood sausage too. People are morons.” The opposite of Phil. So the Phil that we meet at the beginning
of the movie could never be with Rita because he is far
too selfish, In order to drive the protagonist to change, the script imprisons him in a place that will
constantly be attacking his flaw. Phil gets assigned to cover the Groundhog
Day festival, where every person and every event brings
out his egocentric nature. “These people are great! Some of them have been partying all night long. They sing till they get too cold, then they go
sit by the fire, and then they get warm, and then they come back, and then they sing some more! “Yeah, they’re hicks, Rita.” It’s the perfect setting for Phil to have
to confront his flaw, and the premise traps him here in two ways. At the end of the day, a blizzard prevents Phil and his team from
leaving— he is physically trapped in Punxsutawney. “Now, you can go back to Punxsutawney, or you can go ahead and freeze to death. It’s your choice.” “I’m thinking.” The idea of trapping Phil in time came from Rubin’s attempts to design a story where the protagonist became immortal. “‘If a person could live long enough,
would he ever change?’ Maybe if guys like that had more time they
would eventually mature. Maybe one lifetime is not enough.” So now that Phil is trapped in Punxsutawney
on Groundhog Day for eternity, what propels him to change? The brilliance of “Groundhog Day” is that
once all these elements are set up, the protagonist’s change is the inevitable
consequence of the premise. Once Phil is stuck repeating Groundhog Day, he is propelled through his character arc
in two ways: He either pursues a specific goal until he
has to admit failure and move on, or he indulges himself until he gets bored. At first, Phil wants to understand what’s
happening to him… “When are the long-distance lines gonna
be repaired?” …and tries everything he can think of to
fix it. “Well what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” He tries calling for help… “Hello?” …asking Rita for suggestions… “It’s like yesterday never happened!” “I am racking my brain, but I can’t even begin to imagine why you’d
make up something like this.” …and visiting both a doctor and a psychologist. “I think we should meet again. How’s tomorrow for you?” But once it becomes clear that Phil can’t
escape this new reality, he tries to exploit it… not by changing for the better, but by indulging
even further in his flaw. ‘What if there were no tomorrow?” “That would mean there would be no consequences. There would be no hangovers. We could do whatever we wanted!” “That’s true.” Phil begins harming people with impunity, using his situation to take advantage of others, and living out his fantasies. Once he becomes bored of this, he turns his attention to his desire—Rita —and begins manipulating her into falling
for him. “Would you like to try some white chocolate?” “Yuck. Don’t make me sick.” “No white chocolate.” He tries all the tricks he can think of, but
fails every time. “Stop it!” Rita sees through to the real person inside, and knows he is still consumed by his flaw. “I could never love someone like you, Phil, because you’ll never love anyone but yourself.” Phil now realizes he will never obtain his
desire of being with Rita until he learns to be selfless. But he still doesn’t change. Instead, Phil continues to consider only himself, as the script reaches its midpoint and he is pushed to his darkest place yet. “I’ve come to the end of me, Rita. There’s no way out now. I just want you to remember that we had a
beautiful day together, once.” Phil would rather die than change, but the design of the story’s premise is
such that even death is not an escape. So once again, it’s not until Phil has exhausted
even this path… …that he has no choice but to admit that
maybe his life isn’t the only thing that matters. “I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer
to people than you are.” There is literally nothing left for Phil to
do…but change. In the second half of act two, Phil begins trying to make other people’s
lives better. And by the third act of the film, Phil has become truly selfless, demonstrated by his willingness to sacrifice
his desire… “Well, where are you going? Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” “I’d love to—can I have a rain check? I’ve got some errands I gotta run.” …for his need. Being forced to relive the same day over and
over has led Phil to the realization that a life
of generosity is what makes him truly happy… “This is the best day of my life!” – “Mine too.”
– “Mine too.” It took him a lifetime of struggle to figure
it out, but Phil has arrived at the inevitable endpoint
of the premise… and is finally released. “They’re gone! They’re all gone! Today is tomorrow. It happened.” “Groundhog Day” is a great example of what
it looks like to fully commit to a premise. It leads the protagonist along their arc not
just through a clever set-up… “Well, it’s Groundhog Day…again.” …but also through its relentless nature. “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen,
hung, electricuited, and burned.” “Oh really?” The film never abandons its premise or modifies
the rules, and at no point does Phil get any kind of
reprieve. Instead, the film fully explores every avenue
within its simple premise, mining the idea for every funny, moving, and heartwarming scenario Phil could find
himself in… on Groundhog Day. Presumably, most of us are not living the
same day over and over again for what is essentially an eternity, so we can’t rely on having infinite time
to learn the skills we’re interested in. But luckily, we do have the next best thing—Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community
for creators, with over 25,000 classes in design, writing,
filmmaking, and more. Premium Membership gives you unlimited access, so you can join the classes and community’s
that are just right for you and your new year goals. If you’re interested in learning about essay
writing—whether for text or video form— I recommend checking out Roxane Gay’s class “Creative Writing: Crafting Personal Essays
with Impact.” She goes over important principles that are
critical to be aware of during the writing process. Skillshare is the perfect place to keep you
learning and thriving in 2019, and the first 500 people to sign up using
the link in the description will get a 2 month free trial. So head to Skillshare and start learning today. Thanks to Skillshare for Sponsoring this video. Hey guys, hope you enjoyed the video! We’re getting very, very close to a million
subscribers which is really, really exciting! So make sure you’re subscribed to the channel and hit the bell icon so you don’t miss
the notifications for any of the fun things we have planned
in the upcoming weeks. Thank you as always to my patrons on Patreon and supporters here on YouTube for making
this channel possible. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next
time!

100 Comments on "Groundhog Day — An Inescapable Premise"


  1. The news is in! Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring for 2019! Did you see your shadow this morning?

    Reply

  2. So they got married and ten years later she leaves phil because she’s “fallen out of love” because phil was too beta

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  3. "Iv come to the end of me, rita…" if this were true no one would commit suicide. It's a looooooong way to the end of yourself

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  4. from twinty years one of perfect actors (like our star ) : i dont know why my career dependce on sci-viction movies i remember that with this actor he has great film called حد الموسي the edge of tin great like other but all of us can remember him it self

    Reply

  5. I've always wondered. What if Phil stays awake all night? Does he still wake up in bed? That side never shows

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  6. Ive written two screenplays and two short films. I lacked the patience the writer of Groundxxxxxx had. Need to rewrite all. Still, difficult to sell.

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  7. I notice he does not mention the conclusion that Phil comes to during his good stage that his power to do good requires he surrender. 1) to grace (Christian or Jewish) or 2) to all desire (Buddhist).

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  8. A bit late to the party here, and I haven't read all of the comments, but neither the video nor the comments I've read mention an alternative take. Phil could have just become a better person, but he doesn't, he becomes pretty much the perfect person and, arguably, that is why he gets the girl. It has been established of late that a very large percentage of girls think they deserve the best small percentage of men, and Groundhog Day follows the trend of – oh, almost every film of the last couple of decades, in having a man who has to overcome flaws, and women who are perfect from the outset. The last couple of Star Wars films show just how dull a script can result from that premise, and it's a tribute to Ramis and Murray that Groundhog day is so great.

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  9. I think that as folks get older, they can appreciate the greatness of this film much better. I was a kid when I saw this film and back then, I thought it was good. Today, I can see how deep it is and how it was so much more than a comedy.

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  10. I don't like this movie because of Angie Everhart, I think she's a terrible actress, but I've always been interested in it because I think it's a situation I'd love. I'm always so worried about time. "I'm too old" yadda yadda yadda. If I could have infinite time…well, it would be like heaven. I'd learn to do everything I ever wanted, try everything I was ever afraid of trying, and learn everything I ever wanted to learn.

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  11. I feel like you kind of glossed over the change that the old man's death brought on him. He was moving towards it, but for a period, he's living just to be kind to this one man, first to try to save him, doubtless recognizing that the situation he lives in is not fair, and if only for this one day, he can improve it, but later, to change life for him, even if it's just for his last day. You can see the change in Phil when he realizes there's nothing he can do to save this man.

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  12. I have always liked the concept and wanted to watch this movie for ages. Unfortunately it turns out, I don't like the film. I prefer the Supernatural Episode, Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow…
    But after watching your analysis I might give the film another chance sometime.

    Reply

  13. I think this movie changed Bill Murray himself, and he now embodies the epiphany that life is not fulfilling without being generous and bringing joy to others.

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  14. This premise could fit a dramatic/thriller genre so well. Especially if you stretched it out over a longer time. I'm thinking of a character ark ala "Flowey" from Undertale. Imagine living the same day for 10,000 years. I feel like almost any person would become a monster, and a saint.
    Their actions, no matter how serious, have no permanent consequences. You couldn't build a family, or raise children. Or make any new relationships. Maybe they would live the first 100 years testing limits, learning everything they can about science and running experiments, trying to discover limits or stipulations. A way out. Once they gave up on that idea, they would likely accept life, and try to be happy. Maybe they would spend the next 200 years helping people, sacrificing themselves, fixing every obscure problem they could.
    Yet, it's pointless, any good is undone when you either die or sleep. Eventually you would spend a few hundred years as a monster. Killing people, abusing men and women just to see how they react. They'd be alive by tomorrow anyway, and would forget any trauma. You'd have the time to learn everything, build a bomb, and just murder the world. If you took this premise to the extreme, it could be terrifying.

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  15. The sad thing is, nobody can change from being selfish to selfless. Only an act of God can do that to a person. The Reformers called it the "rebirth".

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  16. If every day was the same as the preceding day, how would there be a progression of events? For instance, wouldn't Phil arrive for his first piano lesson on every succeeding day? How would he get past the activities of that day?

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  17. Ok, not mentioning the "12:01" short movie from 1990 that basically has the same premise of Groundhog day and many similarities in the execution is a woeful lack of basic research. Its based on a 1973 short story. How come the author of "writing Groundhog Day" either fails to mention his "inspiration" or if he did, you dont pay credit where its due?

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  18. It’s a great movie that’s for sure. They don’t make comedies with a silly but heartwarming presence anymore.

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  19. It was interesting how there was some form of crossover between his former and new self as he decided he owned the day when he refused to accept that no one dies on that day and tried all he could to save the old homeless guy.

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  20. Based on this analysis (which I don't disagree with), Groundhog Day is one of the most depressing films out there. If it takes a scenario as fantastical as this one for a person to change, then change is all but impossible in real life.

    I know real people like Phil Conners who would rather die than change their habits/behaviour … and none of them will ever get endless second chances/continues until they sort themselves out.
    Plus I think we all have some of Phil's negative traits within us, and those too will probably stay with us for the rest of our lives even if we try to change them. All you have to do is look at how few alcoholics actually manage to give up drinking for good.

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  21. I feel like his real change came when he tries over and over and over to save that homeless man's life. Only he can't and watches this other person die over and over again while he gets to live, trapped but live. If I remember correctly this is around the point he really starts to change. Which is nice since it has nothing to do with Rita. He learned empathy not just to be with her.

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  22. That was the smoothest segue to the sponsor. Never saw it coming. Blindsided. Sucker punched. Caught with my pants down.

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  23. I was curious how many days Phil actually relived, so I found this: " "A hundred years. A lifetime." In 2014, the website WhatCulture combined various time duration assumptions and estimated that Phil spent a total of 12,395 days—just under 34 years—reliving Groundhog Day."

    Reply

  24. If you like the concept of time loop you might enjoy the Stargate SG-1 episode with that as its premise. If the thought of Immortality interests you you might watch Highlander the TV series.

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  25. Someone in a Groundhog Day loop today would never get past the hedonism stage until they'd exhausted every last interesting thing on the internet.

    I'd probably lead right into the personal growth stage as they endlessly use sites like skillshare.

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  26. This is the Law of Attraction – if you don't do something differently or use your life to help others and develop yourself, you'll never lead the life you want to lead.

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  27. I think the movie twelve O one is a change to this story. Where a good man has to become a bad man in order to escape the loop.

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  28. There's a good book with a similar premise, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. I highly recommend it.

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  29. If I was in a Groundhog Day i'd want to know if there something I could to end it.
    Cause if there wasn't then just have fun. But if there was a possibility to end it, then its like hell.
    Except for around 7:30 when I could go to the seniors home and kill on jeopardy and impress the old folks.
    P.S. I have the biggest crush on Andie Mcdowell.

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  30. Truly one of the great movies of all time. I especially like that you never really know how long he is in the loop. It makes you ask the question, "how long would it take me to go on this journey?"
    I also wonder, how long would it take to be so bored that you master the fairly pointless "card throwing" skill.

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  31. I love Groundhog day. It is one of my favourite movies. It is funny, moving, and coveys an important idea. It makes me think about how I am using my time. Am I impacting the world for the better?

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  32. After 10 000 billions years or neverending days living in generosity or selfless or to care for others in a potentialy heaven, i’ll for sure loose my mind having probably the multiple personality disorder. The premise of this film is stupid, the main character becomes from an ordinary man to a super man who can be able to do almost everything and who is loved by all, this an ultimate goal of selfiness to achieve. This movie is made for weak minds or people who don't care what immortality is or how important is the memory or lack of memories.

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  33. He gives in to his selfishness. He wanted to be loved and adored. He found out how to do that. Not by inferior virtue but superior virtue. He who pursues his own folly will eventually become wise. Life is one long day. Bet the writers know about Zen Buddhism

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  34. Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged doesn't change but just goes around the universe insulting people to pass the time and amuse himself.

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  35. I can't help but wish we could send trump to some time in Punxsutawney, so he could turn into a decent human being.

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  36. Great video! I love all of your vids! I remember watching Happy Death Day with my wife mentioned that Happy Death Day resembles Groundhog Day. Do you agree? I've never seen Groundhog Day! Ugh!… I know! We would love to know your thoughts and see a comparison!

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  37. No one seems to understand this movie completely. Phil wasn’t the only person in town who was stuck in a time loop. Everyone was!!!! The only difference is that Phil’s knows it. Everyone else was just as stuck but they didn’t have the good fortune of knowing it and never really had the opportunity to take advantage of all those days being repeated over and over. Contemplating all this movie has to offer will give you a headache after a while.

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  38. I do really like this film. But – you never get to hear Phil open up to explain why is the way he is. In the end it feels like he learns to mask his behaviour rather than confront it. I bet a week after time ticks on he'll be suicidal. He actually loves the day repeating itself because he's in complete control of everything and everyone. Maybe that's his idea of heaven?

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  39. Ground Hog Day is one of my favorite movies–i sometimes think that is shallow of me but you explicated so well my unarticulated feelings of why it touches me so. you brought tears to my eyes.

    I also was thinking this is basically Hinduism–you live over and over until you realize the things of the world–money, sex, power, are not going to bring deep satisfaction or happiness. Only goodness and kindness are going to create a life worth living. Your life is on hold, going nowhere until you get that.

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  40. It be cool to relive the same day but of course with you knowing you are. What really sucks is that I've watched this video about a million times already I just don't have any recollection of it. Please make it stop!!!

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  41. Day 374596, I’ve now watched every single video on YouTube, commented on every single comment and made every single decision I could make, except, that one, well if it does work, see you all tomorrow, hopefully

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  42. I would never date Rita. Imagine dating a woman who literally needs you to change the very core of yourself in order to date them. It's time to go back to squirrel sound chick.

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  43. I ran into Harold Ramis in the La Guardia Airport American Airlines Club elevator in 1998. There was a weather hold, and I introduced myself, mentioning that we had a mutual friend, Joe Medjuck, who had produced "Stripes". He was in NYC scouting locations for an upcoming film with "Bobby DeNiro", which was "Analyze This". We sat together in the Club, enjoying drinks and snacks. During our 4-hour chat, I finally asked the question- "How long was Phil Connor trapped on Groundhog Day"? Ramis answered "56 years". That explained everything.

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  44. I'm not sure that Phil changes. I think change occurs when you have other options and you go for this specific. When you got no options, you adapt. So, since he has no escape, does he really change? Still, an excellent film and a good video.

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  45. I am going to be a fun killing imagination interrupting killjoy, but it can't be avoided and I apologize in advance for it. You have never been taught to approach things logically and fairly, by getting both sides of the story. Instead you have only been taught to reread what you already learned and form an echo chamber mentality. This is not education but brainwashing. If you see brilliance in the message contained a movie or a story it is evidence you are brainwashed. I see an artistic form that is entertaining and have to shut out the message and the so called "philosophy" because it is garbage. The conclusion is prewritten and is not subject to question. This is circular reasoning and you are led to the conclusion by the story from the beginning and arguing about how you got there is merely arguing about the details of your perspectives. It's a cage for your mind and heart to train you to see and believe only a very narrowly constricted view. What they are doing is tricking you into looking through two long pipes duct taped together and convincing you they are binoculars, which they point only at the details they want you to see. Here is the catch, the "binoculars they get you to look through don't magnify anything, so you don't really see in detail, they control what you look at so you don't see the big picture, and they insert a message, by telling you what you are looking at, so you don't see it for yourself. Spend enough time hearing the same things repeatedly, while being convinced you are getting the whole truth and you fall into believing you decided what you believe, all by yourself. When the truth is they controlled your choices and whomever controls the choices controls the outcome. It is the outcome they wrote in the beginning and they control it for you. I am not telling you about the story, since I liked the story too, but I am telling you why there are the same set of messages in every form of entertainment that is being produced today. Once you start seeing it, then it ruins all the music, books, stories, movies, television and much of the internet too. Sorry, but it is time for you to wake up and decide for yourselves who will control your decisions in your own lives.

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  46. Well done!…again! Your presentations are very easy to listen to. Well written, great audio clarity, good diction, and concise.

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  47. I looked up if Groundhog Day was on Netflix a few days ago (which it is) and now YouTube says "Hey, you've been watching a lot of video essays lately…how about a Groundhog Day video essay?"

    I swear, I can't do anything without our Google overlords knowing about it

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  48. Imagine being in this time loop. And you end up going on a killing spree. But then the time loop ends the next day

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  49. There's also the marketing genius of making a movie about a holiday that everybody knows about but also doesn't care about. No competition.

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  50. Imagine being stuck in an endless loop but you are in a cabin in the middle of no where and it takes a full day to get to any sort of civilization. Guess he was lucky he was somewhere with people and things to do.

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  51. Ya know, I think I would've liked to see a few different versions of the day where he tries leaving as soon as he wakes up. Doesn't bother with the groundhog. Just takes a car and drives it away from the storm-front, hops on a plane and (after a few tries) makes it to a tropical paradise by the very end of the day and then wakes up back in the usual place. I mean, the notion that there's just one road and there's absolutely no other options to leave the town is kind of ridiculous.

    In the TV show Daybreak (that everybody hated because it was dropped into Lost's time-slot as a filler in the middle of the season), if you watch all 13 episodes it does go interesting places with the concept (and actually ends up having a pretty satisfactory conclusion). Half way through the season, the main character finds the guy who attempted to frame him, manages to keep his girlfriend safe and clear his name by the end of the day. He doesn't know who was pulling the strings or why, but it doesn't really matter. All seems right in his little corner of the world… but then it doesn't make a bit of difference. So he effectively just gives up out of frustration, and starts taking his girlfriend on the first day of an impromptu vacation, every single day. But after a montage of a couple of weeks of this new routine, everything repeating itself just starts to get on his nerves again… which ultimately leads to things actually getting even worse for him, but I digress.

    The point is that it was just nice that they addressed the possibility of doing something like that and showed us in no uncertain terms that it was just another dead end. That living the same day over and over in a tropical paradise isn't really any better than living it anywhere else, after the novelty wears off.

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  52. I would exploit the shit out of that loop, Just not stupidly, I would learn, and master how to do everything. Good and bad. Phill is a small minded idiot who’s imagination is small and dim in my opinion. Once you leave the loop then you could then focus on being with your love interest, and if she didn’t like you move on and find someone else to be with, and I would continue living my life as normal, just not doing the bad stuff I learned, and did.

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  53. This was a great movie with amazing actors, a funny script and a great concept but I Think what really put it ahead of a lot of others in this situation is it didn't feel the need to explain anything. Phil just starts to repeat a day until he is eventually released. We have no real idea WHY he was allowed to repeat that day or why he was deemed to have learned his lessen and was let out. No God or Devil popped up and said "good job" or "It was me" to explain things.

    Leaving the supernatural focus point of the movie ambiguous was a great touch, it let you believe that the world was more like the real world than just another fantasy movie.

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  54. "Natural organic character change." I think you should contact the writers of the series Vikings. They never heard of such a thing.

    Reply

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