Today, the United States celebrates the fake holiday known as Groundhog Day. The tradition, which dates back to the 18th or 19th century, is pseudoscience, but probably the harmless variety. People gather around in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, waiting for a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil to emerge. (And yes, there are other Groundhog Day groundhogs, too, but Phil’s the OG, assuming the “G” stands for “groundhog”.) As this non-scientific form of marmot meteorology goes, if it’s sunny out, Phil sees his shadow and we’re in for six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, we’re in for an early spring. It’s garbage, but whatever, people have stupider traditions than this one.
And this junk science can be forgiven for another reason: Groundhog Day has given us something fantastic in the form of Groundhog Day, the movie. The 1993 movie stars Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a (human) meteorologist who is assigned the Punxsutawney Phil story. He doesn’t want to go and has no qualms telling everyone how much he hates his job. The good news is that, in most situations, he’d wake up the next day and it’d be February 3rd. But in the movie, Connors is doomed to repeat Groundhog Day time and time again, until such time that — well, in case you haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin the ending. (Although really, the movie is wonderful and more than twenty years old, so I wouldn’t feel so bad if I did ruin it for you.)
But: exactly how many times did Bill Murray’s character re-live the same day over and over?
Well, to manage your expectations here, there’s no universally agreed-upon solution. But the theories are pretty interesting. So, let’s go to it.
(Before we do, if you haven’t watched the movie, do that first. Two reasons: (a) this probably won’t make a lot of sense to you otherwise and (b) it’s going to ruin some plot points for you. And I will feel somewhat bad about that.)
One of the first articles addressing the topic dates back to 2009. A website called “Wolf Gnards” began exploring the question by noting that, on-screen, we see 36 distinct repeated days of Connors’ life, and another six are referenced but not depicted. But that, the site explains, isn’t a complete picture by any means. Connors robs a bank, which requires a lot of planning, which they estimate at a month. Connors also learns to toss playing cards in a top hat, which Murray’s character thankfully states took about six months. (When the day just repeats, you end up with a lot of stupid hobbies.) Murray’s character also learns French, becomes talented at ice sculpture, and masters the piano, three things which Wolf Gnards estimates is about eight years of practice, total. In total, Connors re-lives February 2nd for about eight years, eight months, and 16 days worth of time, never aging in the process.
The story could have ended there, but alas, Harold Ramis got involved. Ramis, the movie’s writer and director (and, in Ghostbusters, Murray’s co-star), emailed Heeb Magazine with his take: “I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and, allotting for the downtime and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years.” That sparked a new investigation into the question, this time by What Culture on February 2, 2011.
What Culture follows a similar (although much more detailed) process as Wolf Gnards, at least in the beginning — first, it looks at the on-screen/explicitly referenced days and then continues with the days spent learning various tasks. At that point, the result differs by a lot — What Culture pegs it at just over 30 years. Here’s the breakdown:
- 38 days shown on screen (full list here).
- Connors states that he was “stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned,” but only one of those seven is depicted on-screen, so that’s six more days.
- An estimated 20 more days for the horrible feelings of malaise (which lead to the non-death experiences) to kick in.
- Six months (240 days) learning to throw cards in a top hat.
- 100 days watching the movie Heidi 2.
- Two days watching Jeopardy! enough to memorize it.
- Six days stalking various townspeople, in order to learn their lives well enough to account for their whereabouts in future re-livings of the day.
- Another 100 days exploring the town, and learning enough about Rita (his work colleague and love interest) to craft a perfect date.
- Ten years (this isn’t an exact science) mastering the art of making sculptures out of ice.
- Another ten and a half years to master the piano.
- A dozen years to learn French fluently, which seems like a lot, but it kind of makes sense because as What Culture points out, there probably aren’t a lot of French speakers in Punxsutawney.
- Twenty-six days to learn enough to become an amateur chiropractor.
- Six weeks to plan the above-mentioned bank robbery.
- Five days to get enough information to save a falling child.
- Another day to source a jack so he can change a tire.
- Two days to learn the Heimlich Maneuver.
- Four days to find wrestling tickets.
In the end, via this conservative take, they land on a grand total of 33 years and 350 days. That’s a long time. But wait! It gets longer. Just ask Ned Ryerson. (Who? Watch.) Actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who played Ryerson, sat down with the Epoch Times in 2010 to share his memories of the production of Groundhog Day. Tobolowsky (citing Ramis) said that “the entire progress of Groundhog Day covered 10,000 years.” Of course, Tobolowsky’s basis for this is related to Buddhism, not groundhogs. So you may want to ignore that one.
So, let’s settle on this: If someone asks you how long Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day is stuck on February 2nd, “ten to thirty years” is a pretty good answer.
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