The Magic of Friendship January 29th, 2008
I’m going to say something provocative and see if my friend Paul can be provoked.
Paul is Paul Hannam, author of the just released blockbuster book The Magic of Groundhog Day. In the book Paul talks about such things as whether it is possible for people to break out of their unwanted repetitive patterns, and whether change is possible for the rest of us in the way it worked for Phil Connors.
I have read the book and, to sum up (spoiler alert!!!): yes.
So, here is my provocative challenge to Paul: Is one lifetime enough to change a repetitive pattern? To be truly honest and to accurately follow the model suggested by Phil’s journey, a person may have to live longer than one lifetime in order to transform.
This may be a good time to inject one of the questions I often get from the movie’s fans: how long was Phil stuck in time? How many days?
This question may seem a little “’fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’”, but it actually became important in the development of the film.
My original intent was that the length of time needn’t be specific, just terribly long, and in my mind, more than one lifetime. That was in fact the whole point of the original experiment, the one I hoped to play out via comedic dramatization: if a person could live long enough would that person fundamentally change? The clarity of the experiment would come from the huge exaggeration of time. He would have to live longer than a person is supposed to live, more than one lifetime. The repetition part was how I got to the immortality.
I know that I have been quoted as having originally intended for Phil to have lived “ten thousand years”, a time-frame with Buddhist overtones. I find that so incredibly cool that I put no effort into disputing it. But it’s not true. For me, any lifetime for Phil longer than one would have sufficed, and even so, that statistic never had to leave my head. As long as the audience understood it to be a very, very long time, it never had to become specific.
In my original draft I had created a device to help audiences feel the massiveness of time on Phil’s shoulders. It was my version of five-bundled hatch marks on a prison wall, which of course would not work for Phil as each morning the marks would be gone. My solution was a wall-length bookcase in the Bed and Breakfast. Every day Phil would read a single page from a single book. Every now and then we would see him finish the first chapter, then the whole book, then the last book in the row. On one sad day we see him finish the last page of the last book in the bookcase – only to then have to walk back to the very first book and begin again.
The studio had a note: He’s there too long. He can’t repeat the day so many times. Peoples’ heads would explode. The studio solution: Two weeks.
Now it comes to Harold, who must play director, philosopher, and politician, and make a decision.
What he ultimately did was take out my bookshelf and leave the time-frame as ambiguous as possible. People can still read into it whatever they wish. But in his mind – and I think the movie reflects this – it lasted about ten years.
Harold also created that one amazing iconic slo-mo shot of the giant clock flipping over to the next moment, thus communicating in an elegant few seconds the eternal weight of time on Phil’s shoulders. Truly in the movie world there are good ideas and there are even better ideas.
I brought all of this up so that Paul, who is very sharp, will not waste your time splitting hairs over how long it took Phil to change. I want to know why he thinks Phil’s journey can be your journey.
Okay, Paul. Come out, come out, wherever you are! And let anyone else who wants to jump into the mosh pit feel welcome.
Filed under: Uncategorized by danny