Size Matters April 4th, 2008

Q: Danny,
Okay, I’ve always been a fan of “Groundhog Day” and I’m sure you’ve answered this before, but could you give me your take on this issue?  Seeing that the concept is similar to “12:01” and that they came out the same year and both Bill and Jonathan are great, etc……… Why is it that – from the perspective of structure – “12:01” has higher stakes, but “GHD” is a more enjoyable movie?  I would have expected just the opposite.  Bill Murray’s issue is nothing compared to Silverman’s, but I doubt I could ever watch “12:01” twice.  It was okay, but it’s not a classic like “GHD” is.  I’m guessing that the reason is (a.) GHD is funnier, and (b.) has a moral, whereas “12:01” is merely amusing and is simply a life or death situation.  Or maybe “12:01” doesn’t really matter, because everyone will be alive in the morning.

 Could you cut and paste your standard answer for this one for me?


A: Actually, nobody’s asked me this before.  There was a time way back when that people were asking me whether I had “stolen” Groundhog Day from 12:01.  I had to explain that I had already written and sold my script before 12:01 even aired, so I couldn’t have seen it or known about it.

But here’s my answer to your question:

The critical difference between 12:01 and Groundhog Day is the time-span of the repetition. The span of time repeated in 12:01 is so short (I can’t remember…was it 1 hour? Twenty minutes?  Something like that) that I think any person in that situation would easily have been driven insane. Even watching it happen can make the viewer go insane.

It seems to me that the shorter the time span a person is forced to repeat, the more pressure there is on the person. (There isn’t enough time to get your bearings, figure out what’s happening, and actually do something about it). Because of this pressure, there is nowhere for the story to go except for the character to be figuring out an escape. Otherwise the story is simply about the character’s descent into madness – which quickly becomes internal to the character and not particularly fun to watch for the audience.

As with the character in 12:01, Phil Connors’ first dramatic inclination is also to escape (once he’s already been through denial and disorientation). But in his repeating day situation, Phil has time to satisfy himself that escape is impossible, and after having done so there is still three quarters of a movie left.

The short time span of 12:01 necessarily makes the story about escape: how do I get out of this mess?  The day-long time span of Groundhog Day lets most of the story be, “What is life about when you can’t escape from it?”  … Which is another way of saying, “What is life about?”

Also, we humans are used to a day-long unit in the actual living of our lives, and there is resonance in the idea that a day could “repeat” – many of us can relate to days “feeling” as if they are repeating.  The shorter time loop experienced in 12:01 would not suggest the same kind of resonance. Twenty minutes and one hour are both abstractions, related to clocks and watches, and don’t necessarily relate to anything concretely human.

As a final note, I refer to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Timequake. In this story Vonnegut employs a single repetition of time, set not to minutes or hours, but to a span of several years. He calls it a “Time bounce”, the date of the bounce, by the way, being a certain February 13th – my birthday. That was very thoughtful of him.

After the people in Timequake have bounced back to an earlier time in their lives, they remain conscious of their past and current situations, but are unable to change anything – they can only observe. Because of this they get used to not controlling or changing anything, so when the time bounce is concluded and time progresses normally, people have forgotten how to make decisions and many prefer not making them at all.

By making the span of time for his repetition so large, the story created and the theme explored were nothing like those suggested by the shorter time-spans of GHD and 12:01. Vonnegut’s story became about consciousness and responsibility. I think it was brilliant social commentary – and completely organic to the long time-bounce idea, just as 12:01 really had to become about the plot, and Groundhog Day really had to become existential.

Size does matter.

Q: Thanks for your response – just one note.  “12:01” was a originally a short, but  I am talking about the full length version, later released (a couple months after GHD) as a TV movie and used a full day for it’s time repetition – Jonathan Silverman woke up every day at 7:35, went to work for the day, saw his girlfriend get shot, and then stumbled in at midnight, only to wake up again.

A: Oh. I forgot about that movie – I was indeed remembering the short. So, everything I wrote – never mind. I’d have to see the film again, but yeah, I’m guessing that Groundhog Day is more enjoyable than 12:01 because it’s funnier and it’s about something. Like you said.

1 Comment »

Comment by A Long
2008-05-22 10:05:05

On any other blog a reader might assume from the time lapsed since the last entry that the blogger is busy writing or moving or preparing for a new job. On this blog a reader additionally wonders, “You don’t suppose Mr. Rubin is trapped in a repeating day?” I hope all is well.

 
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