Groundhog Day

Movie: Directed by Harold Ramis.

(First structural analysis submitted by Mike Danson.)

Groundhog Day

Movie: Directed by Harold Ramis, Screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis.

Inciting Event: After covering Groundhog Day and being stuck in Punxsutawney, Phil wakes again at 6AM to his clock radio playing “I’ve Got You Babe,” the same song (a recurring motif of the film) as the previous day . He realizes it is not a radio mistake or deja vu but the same day again, a repetition of Groundhog Day—an aberration only he is aware of.

First Plot Point: Phil, ready to sleep, is aware the day may repeat again. He breaks a pencil and places it next to the alarm clock. He wakes at 6AM to the same song and finds the pencil in one piece, proving the day has repeated once more and that he is stuck in a loop.

First Pinch Point: At a low point, Phil meets with some drunks and contemplates life without consequences.  This leads to Phil driving recklessly through the town, being arrested and locked up. He wakes once again at 6AM on Groundhog Day, all consequences of the previous day erased.

Midpoint: After focusing on Rita in each repetition, Phil learns how to impress and get closer to her. This culminates in a day when everything goes perfectly for Phil until the end. Knowing the day will repeat and the opportunity will be lost, he pushes too hard and Rita sees through the falseness.  Having decided to leave, she slaps him in the face for “making her care about him.”

Second Pinch Point: After numerous further failed days with Rita, Phil is desperate to get out of the loop. He states there is only one way, steals a car, kidnaps the groundhog, and drives away. With his colleagues and Groundhog organizers watching, he drives off a cliff and the car explodes.

Third Plot Point: Phil tells Rita about his unique situation, using his knowledge from previous repetitions to convince her. They spend the day together and become closer,  Rita suggests it might be a gift and not a curse. When Phil wakes again at 6AM on Groundhog Day, he starts the day with a positive attitude and begins to use the repeating days to do good and learn new skills.

Climax: Phil spends the day helping people based on the knowledge of events he has gained, and makes ice sculptures. He plays piano with a local band at a dance. Rita is surprised once more at his skills, and when he sees her, he starts playing a ballad. They get together on the dance floor, where they meet more people who show great affection and gratitude to Phil. When a charity auction starts, the crowd suggest Phil should go on stage.

Climactic Moment: Rita outbids everyone to buy Phil in a charity auction. They begin to dance, meeting more admirers of Phil’s. Rita asks him how he has managed all this and he asks her if she wants the long or short version.

Resolution: Phil wakes, the clock radio showing 6AM. This time, Rita is with him. It is a new day, and together they go outside. Phil says he would like them to live there. He journey to compassion and love is complete.

Notes: Some sources (even Danny Rubin) suggest there is no Inciting Event because the repeating day does not happen to the main character, rather it becomes his new reality (perhaps why some suggest this point is Phil being sent to Punxsutawney or the blizzard preventing them leaving, though neither directly affect the character significantly). Although the repeating day does just happen and more than once, only Phil is aware of it, with the first repeat being the start of the disruption to the main character’s life.

(Second structural analysis submitted by Edwin Johnson.)

Inciting Event: Phil has completed his report on “Punxsutawney Phil” and is trying to leave Punxsutawney when a freak blizzard hits, trapping him in the small town. When he awakens the following morning, he discovers that the day is February 2nd… again, and that he must relive Groundhog Day.

First Plot Point: While sullenly commiserating with a pair of local drunks, Phil realizes his actions must have no consequences. He tests his theory by leading the police on a car chase through town, wreaking havoc along the way. When he awakens the following morning, his suspicious are confirmed when the day has “reset” and it is once again Groundhog Day.

First Pinch Point: Accepting that he is in a repeating loop, Phil begins collecting information about the people he meets and the events he witnesses on Groundhog Day. Using this information to his advantage, Phil begins living an increasingly indulgent and hedonistic lifestyle, seducing women, gorging on food, smoking and looting, all without consequence.

Midpoint: Desirous of his segment producer, Rita, Phil begins collecting information about her interests so he can seduce her by feigning common interests. Because she is complex and intelligent and sensitive, Rita fails to be fooled by Phil and repeatedly rebuffs his advances until he accepts that he cannot win her over.

Second Pinch Point: Phil is overcome by depression, when he realizes he cannot neither win Rita over nor escape the endless cycle of reliving Groundhog Day over and over. Despondent, he attempts suicide, over and over and over.

Third Plot Point: After convincing Rita of his predicament and spending a day together, the day resets. Finally, Phil abandons any hope of exploiting his situation and instead occupies his time with aiding the people of Punxsutawney, doing good deeds, lifting spirits, and trying to better himself. As a result, he forms real attachments to the townspeople and expresses genuine concern for their well-being.

Climax: Charmed by Phil’s altruism and the genuine affection he demonstrates for the townspeople and the love they show him in return, Rita purchases Phil at a charity auction, outbidding several other women so she can spend the rest of the evening with him. On their date, Phil uses his newly honed skills at sculpture to carve Rita’s perfect likeness into a column of snow. He sincerely professes his love and affection for her.

Climactic Moment: Phil awakens, believing the day has reset, only to discovery Rita lying in bed with him. The repetitive cycle is broken.

Resolution: Phil and Rita enter the town and ponder the limitless possibilities before them. Phil has changed; he is now optimistic and expresses genuine affection for the town. He no longer wishes to leave the tiny town he spent an eternity trying to escape.

Comments: Groundhog Day is a “Character” tale on the MICE quotient. The entire plot concerns Phil’s change in personality from a self-centered jerk to a compassionate person motivated by concern for others. The story is ostensibly a comedy. In actuality, it is more like a drama with comedy as a sub-genre. It deals with serious themes and deals with near-spiritual ideas about the purpose of life. It is a tightly written and wonderfully acted cinematic masterpiece.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Email: