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September 18th, 2003

My Own Ending
I received a package from Amazon that included a copy of Groundhog Day, a movie with Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. I don't think I originally saw it in a theater, since Murray, for whatever reason, has never been a favorite. On the other hand, Andie MacDowell flirts from the screen like a goddess. So I rented Groundhog Day when it was released and liked it: you know, one of those movies you like, but suspect you won't see again because, well, how many movies do you ever see again?

Except it would occasionally turn up on television and I'd think, "Hmmmm, it's been cut to hell and riddled with commercials, but there's still enough to remind me how well it works. No more than a series of three or four scenes on TV and I'd think, "Wow! Right! I'd forgotten!" so I've rented it again more than once.

What happens when Bill Murray (in this case) repeats one single day for what he finally realizes might well be the rest of eternity, awakening each and every morning at six to hear Sonny and Cher singing "I got you, babe" on the radio? Bill Murray's character does many things. He seduces one or another of the local women (you can try a different approach every day for a year, if necessary, to find a way inside), he drinks, he eats, he finally commits suicide in various desperate attempts to break the cycle; he asks "why, why, why", he learns to play the piano, he learns to sculpt ice with a chain saw, he saves children falling from trees, he lifts a few grand from an unattended armored car from time to time to finance his fantasies (he does a tasty Clint Eastwood interpretation), he (in one memorable scene) takes Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) flying off a cliff at sixty miles an hour in a stolen pickup truck. And he learns from his, um, errors. And he ever so slowly changes (one assumes) for the better.

The ending seemed weaker, less than believable after the really good beginning and middle. I had a college friend who wrote a story about a (young) man in single minded pursuit of his Ms. Beautiful but Superficial until he too, in his drive and his longing, forced himself toward self knowledge, but learned and understood in his attempt to win this woman that he'd become another man, a man who no longer needed or desired what this woman represented. The old "If you were the man who was man enough to win her, she'd no longer be the woman you wanted to win".

It was a good story, I've often wondered if he's written others. This is not to say Ms. MacDowell plays Ms. Beautiful but Superficial in Groundhog. Who knows who Ms. MacDowell may be in the real world, but in Groundhog her character pretends to be a reasonable facsimile of the girl whom you'd both most like to find next to you under the lights on Twenty Questions and under the covers in your bedroom except - and this is a minor objection - for a few icky bits where she confesses her favorite drink is sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a twist preceded by a prayer for world peace.

Murray does a brilliant (alright, so now I'm a Murray fan) "man on a quest to seduce the lady in question", his first focus on seduction rather than introduction, then introspection leading to realization and there you are watching his progress, taking notes, making comparisons (Where am I in this cycle? Self absorbed don't give a damn sycophant? Dumb monkey still sitting in a puddle?) Maybe that's why I was less satisfied with the ending. Unlike my friend's story, "young man wakes up, finds depth, compassion and a new much wider reality, moves on", Murray in the end achieves sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a twist.

I thought you said MacDowell played the real deal here, Vermouth notwithstanding? More, in other words, than the woman you'd like to meet in the hormonal firestorm. Why the carping?

Maybe the screenwriter crapped out, maybe there is no "end" to this progression, just an unsteady process called living. Maybe I need to see it a few more times. The objective (I think. You never know.) is more than sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a twist except in Hollywood and certain old esoteric clown cultures.


So anyway, I have my own copy of Groundhog Day. My life, I would imagine, is complete. I can write my own ending.

The photograph was taken at an Oakland City Center concert.