'Groundhog Day:' Just How Long Was Phil Connors Stuck In A Time Loop?

Today is Groundhog Day, which naturally leads film fans to thoughts of the classic 1993 comedy from Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray in one of his most effective comic performances. (One which, like a lot of the essential comic performances, is really a dramatic one at heart.) One of the core questions for many fans of the film is: just how long was Phil Connors (Murray) stuck reliving the same day in Punxsutawney, PA during the events seen in Groundhog Day?

One article estimated about nine years. Harold Ramis originally estimated ten years on one DVD commentary, then in response to the nine year computation revised that number to be much higher. Now Obsessed With Film has put together a detailed estimation that might not be correct, but makes for a fun read, and leads to some thoughts about the film.

First up, the point here isn't to be exact when it comes to figuring out how long Phil was stuck in his loop. That is an impossible task. The point (for me at least) is twofold. One, to have fun with the movie. It's a comedy, and one that is very open to thinking about the mechanics of Phil's life as he's stuck in Punxsutawney. If you don't like poring over the minutia of a film and just want to enjoy the overall impact, no big deal. But for some of us, it's this sort of option to interpret things that helps elevate a movie like Groundhog Day into something more than a simple comedy.

And then there's the question of impact. Initially harsh and sarcastic, Bill Murray imbues the role with a soft warmth as the movie unfolds. He accepts what is happening, learns to live with it, and his life changes as a result. But his life changes very slowly. The weight of time isn't crushingly overwhelming. Sure, there is a montage of Phil's morning moments, but the film becomes so funny and tender that it is possible to focus on the heart and the comedy rather than the time. Harold Ramis made smart choices in the film, focusing on the evolution of Phil's life and allowing viewers to estimate some of the weight of time for themselves. Some audiences seem to find it easy to watch the movie without really considering that Phil might spend an entire second lifetime stuck reliving the same day.

So how long was it, really? Harold Ramis eventually said,

I think the 10-year estimate is too short. It takes at least 10 years to get good at anything, and alloting for the down time and misguided years he spent, it had to be more like 30 or 40 years... People [like the blogger] have way too much time on their hands. They could be learning to play the piano or speak French or sculpt.

This new article more or less agrees, so the question of 'how long' would seem to be sealed up. But poring over the details is an activity very much in keeping with the film. Thinking about the details has really made me want to watch the film again, and I think I'll look at it differently this time.