Reel To Real: Buddhism and Film
Welcome to one of the most wide-ranging Groundhog Day fan sites, containing a number of explorations of the Buddhist nature of the film and the mechanics of the film itself, as well as links to articles praising it.
See content changes listed at the bottom of this page.
Why The Loop?
There is one question that has come up several times that I feel I must answer at the top of this tribute site. One of the early drafts of the script explained that Phil was trapped in the loop because of a curse, placed by a jilted girlfriend. Fortunately for the world, director Harold Ramis and writer Danny Rubin decided to drop the explanation, which is one of the major contributing factors to this being a perfect film.
Finding This Site
Please note that the simplified URL for this site is:
A Buddhist Introduction To The Film
I went to a showing of Groundhog Day sponsored by the San Francisco Zen Center on Friday, Aug. 10, 2001, held in the Trustees' Auditorium of the Asian Art Museum in Golden Gate Park (relocating in October 2002 to the old SF Main library in the civic center).
Judging from a quick Google search of the Internet, the connection between this movie and Buddhism is not particularly profound, but it was news to me, and the nuances were explored in a particularly exciting fashion during this presentation.
I saved the results of my search and annotated them. You'll find links and meta links at the bottom of this essay which, if I do say so myself, are so brilliant in their scope that they will soon sweep all the other GHD links pages off the map.
I regret that these notes are partial and unprofessional. That wouldn't be so bad, except that I am a professional journalist (check out my home page or my weekly personal column). Alas, on this occasion, I considered myself off duty. But halfway through the audience discussion which followed the film, I realized I was going to want some of this preserved for posterity. I can tell you who was there, but I can't reliably tell who said what, and I certainly can't call this a complete record of the fascinating evening. If you have a better or different recollection, by all means, write me and I will post it.
The showing of Groundhog Day, to a full house audience of 300, was introduced by Dairyu Michael Wenger, dean of Buddhist studies at the San Francisco Zen Center.
You can read his unfiltered opinion here; he has posted his own Groundhog Day Lecture.
The main speaker was Reb Anderson, Tenshin Roshi, a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition.
Reb Anderson made brief but amusing remarks prior to the film; several people left when the showing was over. That was too bad, because a lively and informative conversation ensued.
One of the first questions was "who wrote this." As it happened, I knew, from writing about Danny Rubin and from owning a copy of the original script, so I raised my hand and informed the audience. Michael Wenger said he had heard that Danny Rubin was influenced by George Gurdjief, a Western mystic with some Buddhist ideas in common particularly around practice which they call the work.
I asked what the Reb thought was the turning point in the film. After watching it for the ninth or tenth time specifically to find where the third act begins, I concluded that it begins 4/5 of the way into the 103 minute film, at about the 80 minute mark. Phil is throwing cards into the hat, and Rita points out that the eternally repeating day doesn't have to be a curse.
Reb Anderson disagreed. He thought the turning point came later, when Phil found he was unable to save the old man's life. Only here, he said, did Phil realize "It's not me, it is the universe, I am just the vessel."
One member of the audience was troubled because Phil was too successful at the end, and was given too much credit. This was chalked up, by the audience, to the requirements of Hollywood film-making.
As I have noted before in my column, there has been much speculation as to how many times Phil repeated the loop. There are a few websites that speculate it was fewer than 30. I say to learn how to ice sculpt and play piano like that he repeated the day hundreds if not thousands of times. There was a desultory question about this subject. Reb Anderson agrees with me: thousands of repeats.
"Get away from seeing time. Give up the future and the past. That brings you to the moment," was a comment.
"When you have been slapped enough times, you find a relaxed approach," was another.
There was an exchange about doing the right thing for the wrong reason and the wrong thing for the right reason. Reb Anderson commented, "but you still think it is you that is doing it."
"The right thing happens for the right reasons," he concluded.
The movie illustrates the power of practice. When you practice, change happens. Phil unleashed his creativity by selflessness.
There was much more. I wish I had taken more and better notes, but I was swept up in the discussion. Someday, I'd like to hold a Groundhog Day, The Movie Festival. Invite Rubin, Ramis and Murray. Discuss the editing, the script, the screenplay, the Buddhism, the music. Dream on, Paul.
To get Wenger's unfiltered view, look at his Groundhog Day Lecture.
Groundhog Day The Musical
In January 2020, Groundhog Day The Musical came to San Francisco, where I saw it with my family. It is funny and clever and overall a worthwhile adaptation of the material, created with the help of the original screenwriter, Danny Rubin. Bill Murray is a tough act to follow, but in San Francisco anyway, the cast acquitted themselves well.
Groundhog Day the TV Show
The ever-informative Daniel Dern passes this on from Gizmodo in 2020 (as of 2023 nothing has come of it):
“Appearing as a guest on The Production Meeting podcast, Stephen Tobolowsky revealed he’s agreed to reprise his role as Ned Ryerson in a television series based on the 1993 time loop movie, Groundhog Day, set thirty years in the future.
There’s talk about a Groundhog Day series in the works. One of the producers – I was working on The Goldbergs or Schooled, one of those shows over on the Sony lot, and one of them saw me and goes, ‘Oh, Stephen! Stephen! We’re working on a Groundhog Day TV show. Could you be Ned for the TV show?’ I go, ‘Sure. Yeah. No problem’… But it’s Ned thirty years later. What has his life become?”
Real Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day The Commercial
Best Groundhog Day Ever--Feb. 2, 2006
David Miller, senior producer of Open Source, a PRI (Public Radio International) radio program which originates at WGBH, Boston, was thinking of doing a Groundhog Day show. Host Christopher Lydon loved the film, but wondered if there was an hour's worth of material.
When you enter "Groundhog Day" and "Movie" and "Buddhism" into Google, my site is on the first page of results. So he called and e-mailed, and I helped convince him and others on the staff it was worth doing the show. I also guided them towards other guests and Internet resources. Thursday at noon the e-mail came: would I be a guest? Could I get over to UC Berkeley's Dwinelle Hall, where there is a remote studio? Would I? Could I? You bet I could. As a former producer, I pointed out that I might sound better from a remote studio than on a telephone line. Miller agreed.
Mr. S., the principal at my middle school, agreed to take the last 20 minutes of my last class so I could get to Berkeley on time. I am unfamiliar with the Cal campus, but managed to find both a parking place and the unmarked studio quickly. It is really a TV studio, but it is also usable for remote radio broadcasting. It was a very plain studio with a great Electrovoice microphone and a wonderful pair of Sony headsets. I settled in, nuzzled the wind guard on the microphone and tried to relax my voice to its lowest range.
At 3:45 pacific, the host still hadn't pre-recorded the one-minute opening description of the broadcast--the windup. What I could hear of master control at WGBH sounded like barely controlled chaos, and my voice was still being echoed back to me on a three-quarter second delay. If you've ever had that happen to you, you know it makes it almost impossible to talk.
Four O'Clock, the show starts. A minute later, a five minute wait for news at the top of the hour. Then host Christopher Lydon sets up the show, again, and introduces me. We talk for six or seven minutes, then he brings on the other guests one by one, including, most notably, the screenwriter of the movie, Danny Rubin. I am in awe. That's expectable, I suppose, since I think Rubin wrote the best motion picture ever.
My wife and several friends who have heard the program believe I acquitted myself well. I am inclined to agree with them. It was a thrilling hour, and should widen both my fame and the film's stature.
Here is the rundown of Open Source's Groundhog Day broadcast. It includes a description, some related links, and the downloadable MP3 of the program itself.
Live-Action Short Subject Homage
Time Freak, nominated for a 2011 Academy Award for best live-action short subject (it lost) is an homage to Groundhog Day; it uses the exact same trope, of a character who repeats the day, with variations, in an effort to get things right with his girlfriend. There are variations; time goes on for everyone else, and he is causing the loop on purpose but many commentators saw the connection, as I did. At this point, you can Google "Time Freak" "Groundhog Day" and get as many links as I can, or more.
The Groundhog Day Trope
A website called Television Tropes and Idioms has a list of the substantial number of shows which contain Groundhog Day Loops.
The Romantic Aspect
A New York Times online opinion piece explores the romantic aspects of Groundhog Day in illuminating detail:
OPINION | February 26, 2012
The Stone: Love and Death
By TODD MAY
Romantic love needs the promise of a future to survive. But that future must have an end.
An AFI GHD Quiz
Kent Peterman found a Groundhog Day quiz at the AFI web site.
My nephew Paul found a collection of interesting facts.
Article in The Atlantic
An interesting meditation on Groundhog Day appeared in the March 2013 issue of The Atlantic and was brought to my attention by a friend.
Danny Rubin Book
Groundhog Day 2012: Danny Rubin, the writer of Groundhog Day, has a new book out! Check out my review How To Write Groundhog Day. Short answer: I loved it!
Cut Pool Hustler Scene
Groundhog Day 2021: Thank you Dave Sims, for pointing me at Groundhog Day deleted scene: Phil the Pool Hustler.
Groundhog Day Redux
In the better late than never department, my long-time musical associate George March added some new instances of GHD-type plots:
"Defending your Life" (1991), and "Heaven Can Wait" (1978).
James P Hogan's book "Thrice Upon a Time"
The made for 2006 TV movie "12:01"
and a more recent film: "Source Code"
as well as the various TV shows that have done episodes with that theme.
Still Time, an Italian film, is sort of a time loop movie, in the sense that the protagonist begins by waking up at a long-ago birthday party, then hops to another birthday, five years later. Lovely, touching film. No one says "This is just like Groundhog Day."
Various New Time Loops
Groundhog Day 2021: Thank you Daniel Dern, for a helpful list of new Time Loop resources.
Reasonably Good Time Loop Movie
See my review of a reasonably inventive Time Loop movie which I gave 3.5 stars out of five: Boss Level.
Fine Two-Person Loop
4.5-star two-person loop with explanation: Palm Springs.
Other material. This is a chronological "blog" of new Groundhog Day material as it accumulates; much of it once resided on the home page, but that page had become too large.
Groundhog Day essay in Stephen Simon's book, The Force Is With You: Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives
Groundhog Day essay by Mario Sesti in the Museum of Modern Art catalog for, The Hidden God: Film and Faith
Groundhog Day by Ryan Gilbey, published by the British Film Institute and the University of California Press.
2023.03.30 Moved all pages into Typepad
2021.03.09 Added Daniel Dern, Boss Level, Palm Springs
2021.02.26 Added George March
2021.02.18 Added cut pool hustler scene
2019.01.15 Added reference to musical and my actual trip
2014.01.31 Added a clearer introductory paragraph
2013.03.04 Added Atlantic article
2013.02.05 Added AFI quiz and interesting facts
2012.02.28 Moved Picked As One Of Ten Best Films Ever, British Groundhog Day Trivia, The Number of Days Phil Was Stuck to "other material," added Live-Action Short Subject Homage, The Groundhog Day Trope, The Romantic Aspect
2011.05.15 Added Mike Burtner link to Stephen Tobolowsky article
2011.02.05 Added Tom Lasusa link to calculation of number of days Phil Connor repeats
2010.09.11 Added Guardian's 60 facts for Bill Murray's 60th birthday
2009.01.04 Added Stanley Fish designation of film as one of the 10 best
2008.06.20 Created "other" page, moved most miscellaneous observations from this page to that one
2008.02.03 Added LA Times commentary
2007.10.11 Added Prof. Franz Metcalf commentary
2006.03.07 Added 2007 Groundhog Day article in Philadelphia Inquirer, removed dead link to Bing! contest
2006.02.06 Added 2006 Groundhog Day material
2006.01.07 Added Sir Walter Scott poem
2005.08.19 *Added discussion of the naming of Ned Ryerson
2004.6.30 Stephen Simon essay added
2004.6.28 Harold Ramis New Yorker Profile added
2004.6.01 An Italian adaptation!
2004.04.11 Danny Rubin corrects the French quotation
2004.03.18 Thurman quote from SF Chronicle
2004.02.27 Updated Danny Rubin page with information about (almost certainly false) claims of idea swiping.
2004.01.22 Added IMDB links page
2003.11.07 Added Charles Murray comment
2003.08.12 Added another review, Bayda commentary, Boston Globe appreciation, split page up
2003.07.12 Adding comments on French poetry scene
2001.08.26 Correcting spelling of Wenger throughout, adding links from Gary Gach.
2001.08.18 Correcting Gurdjief reference by Wenger