In case you didn’t know, today – February 2nd – is Groundhog Day. And to celebrate the momentous American holiday that inspired the bloody brilliant Bill Murray film of the same name, we’re going to answer one of the most asked questions in cinematic history.
Just how many days does Phil Connors spend trapped in the perpetual loop of Groundhog Day?
Okay, so director Harold Ramis has sort of already answered it on the DVD commentary of the film (10 years he reckoned) and then later, in response to several sites online running an article that came to an answer of just 8 years, 8 months, and 16 days, he offered the following (seemingly contradicting his own bloody answer in the process!):
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…
Fair enough, Mr Ramis, but since when did I ever let something as trivial as the truth of the creator of something get in the way of a good opportunity to offer my own take? Anyway, I don’t agree with his estimate at all, as you’ll see below.
Now before I start, a small disclaimer – this article doesn’t take into account days in which Phil does nothing (like those days when all you want to do is lie in bed and play with yourself – which he inevitably will have done), so don’t go complaining that I haven’t factored them in. I actually have, though not explicitly, because my calculation inexplicitly accepts that Phil may have spent time learning some of his new skills on the same day. Don’t phone, it’s just for fun!
Right, so here goes:
The first stage is to work out how many separate days are shown on screen during the movie. So here’s a good old-fashioned list of them:
- Day 1: Groundhog Day
- Day 2: The first repetition
- Day 3: The fixed pencil
- Day 4: Punching Ned
- Day 5: Deceiving Nancy
- Day 6: Robbing the bank
- Day 7: Seeing Heidi 2 with a French Maid
- Days 8-12: Engineering the near-perfect date
- Day 13: The bad perfect date
- Days 14-21: One for every slap
- Day 22: “Phil you look terrible!”
- Day 23: Jeopardy
- Day 24: “This is pitiful!”
- Days 25-27: Breaking the alarm clock
- Day 28: Kidnapping Punxsutawney Phil
- Day 29-31: Phil’s suicides
- Day 32: I’m a God!
- Days 33- 35: First piano lessons
- Day 36: Sexually harassing Ned
- Day 37: Looking after the homeless man
- Day 38: The final Groundhog Day
So by my reckoning that’s 38 separate days shown in the movie. This is of course assuming that every separate thing listed above happens on separate days, which I think isn’t too much of a dangerous assumption, given that Phil is something of a quitter (case in point: multiple attempts at suicide).
Second, and far more difficult stage is to take things Phil says as indicators for other days we do not see.
I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.
Electrocution we saw, see it’s up there in the list – but the other six account for an additional six days (again assuming they weren’t on the same day). Which brings the running total up to 44 days. But then that isn’t factoring the number of days of perpetuation that it would take to force a man who is already thoroughly depressed to attempt suicide – delicate matter, but since Phil is an entirely self-centred man, trapped in his own idea of hell, and surrounded by “hicks”, you’d have to wager that normal circumstances wouldn’t apply. If it were me, a month would be more than enough time to drive me to despair, and I’d say Phil Connors was at least as self-aware as I am, if not more given that he gives up “living by their rules” on day 3 – so let’s factor in 20 more days at this point.
That’s 64 days so far.
And then there’s the scene where Connors tells Rita exactly how long it would take to learn how to expertly throw playing cards into an upturned hat:
“Six months. Four to five hours a day, and you’d be an expert.”
So, that’s 6 months added to the 62 days, bringing the running total to 244 days (taking a month as 30 days).
The insightful quotes don’t stop there- next up is the scene in which Phil takes a companion in a French Maid outfit to see Heidi 2 at the local cinema, and teasingly says:
“It’s like I said: I love this film. I’ve seen it over 100 times.”
There’s another 100 days then – seriously, who would see the same film twice in the same day? Especially when its Heidi 2…
New total so far: 344 days
Add to that two full days of Jeopardy watching to be able to perfectly recite the answers (spread over some other days no doubt – but probably empty days, considering Phil’s mood at that point in the movie) and you have 346 days.
Then of course there’s the diner scene in which Phil explains to Rita that he is stuck reliving Groundhog Day, and uses his extensive knowledge of the other diners to prove his point – let’s give each person a day (ignoring Nancy, as she’s in the original 38 on-screen days), since he clearly knows a lot about them. So that’s a day each for Doris the waitress, Debbie & Fred, Phil the waiter, Gus the drunk ex-sailor, Tom the former coal miner and Alice the waitress, totalling 6 additional days, bringing us to 352 days.
And finally, in this section are the few odd bits and pieces mentioned on screen that would have taken some time, including sourcing a Rolls Royce and Cowboy outfit in small-town Punxsutawney and meeting his French maid companion, discovering the candy store, finding out that Rita likes Rocky Road, and generally learning everything there is to know about Rita. Conservatively, that’s going to be 100 extra days, most of which would be spent in Phil’s attempts to find out as much about Rita as possible to give her the perfect date.
Keeping up? We’re on 452 days already.
Next up, there’s the third stage of the operation – taking the things Phil achieves on screen that imply he has spent time learning new skills, and attempting to use educated guess work, and other reference points to work out how long each achievement might have taken. Armed only with Google, and a healthy curiosity, I set out on this part of the quest with incredible gusto. Then I had a lie-down and watched Hot Shots: Part Deux instead. But then I got back on it:
First there are the big two – learning how to make ice sculptures and how to play piano from scratch.
The ice sculpture business is pretty difficult to quantify, though you would assume that being in show business he has some interest or background in art, so even if he went in as an ice virgin, he might learn faster than another person. I’ll also assume he is self-taught, which is bound to take some time (top Ice Sculptors in London Eskimo Ice can only call themselves top of their game due to 25 years of experience), and portraiture’s got to be the most difficult style to master. In conjunction with that, Malcolm Gladwell has stated that it takes anyone 10,000 hours to become an expert at any one subject, and Phil is clealy an expert ice sculptor, since the ice sculpture is the one thing in Groundhog Day that is entirely quantifiable by what we can see on screen (playing one song well does not make anyone an expert pianist, and speaking one French poem perfectly likewise is not an indicator of expertise).
Broken down that is an hour a day for 27 years, but we know Phil by now, and we know that when he figures out that something gets him closer to fourth base with Rita, he’s likely to pursue it a little more rabidly than that. So I’m suggesting an average of 4 hours per day – based also on his willingness to stick to 4 or 5 hours of card flicking for six solid months, and the impending threat of frost bite over longer periods – which brings that to just under 7 years, based on him working for consecutive days for that whole time, or more likely 10 years sticking to a traditional 5 day a week working directive.
A giant leap to the next running total: 4102 days
And then there’s learning the piano. Again, you have to consider that 10,000 hours to become an expert – not that we know Phil is an actual expert, in the Mozart mould (took him 13 years to produce world class music after being “discovered” at the age of 4), because he isn’t composing or anything. So let’s call him an exceptional pianist – three quarters of the way to expert – so 7,000 practice hours. At the level he is clearly playing at at the end, he must have been putting in two or three hours of practice a day at least (any more and he would be in severe danger of carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis) though not every day (for the same medical reasons). That breaks down to about 7.5 years playing for between two and three hours a day every day. But I’ve already said I’m working on the basis that he sticks to the habit of five days on, two days off- so that makes it ten and a half years or there abouts (seems Harold Ramis was right about the ten year mark).
10.5 years= 3833 days
And a new running total of 7935
But then there are other things too – it is implied that Phil has learned French when he recites French poetry to Rita – but then, at this stage in the film, Phil has shown that he is more than willing to use deception to get into her knickers, so what’s to say that he didn’t simply spend a couple of days learning how to perfectly recite the one passage he picks to impress Rita. But that’s probably nit-picking, so let’s accept that he took lessons (given that Ramis himself also confirmed that Phil learned the language, and that the script confirms it below).
Rita: Believe it or not, I studied nineteenth-century French poetry.
Phil: [talks in French]
Rita: You speak French?
So, taking into account the fact that America only has about 1.6million French speakers, and isn’t strictly speaking a Francophone nation, and the fact that Pennsylvania had no historical French settlement it would presumably have been more difficult for Phil to learn the language than it would somewhere with a large French speaking community. With that in mind and also the fact that Phil is an adult learner, and thus less susceptible to learning a second language quickly, a conservative estimate, based on the idea of him taking lessons everyday (he clearly really wants to impress Rita), it would have taken somewhere around 12 years to become completely fluent (though ex-pats living in Francophone countries sometimes state it takes longer even than that) bringing the running total to:
Not only does Phil learn things to woo Rita – he also became all selfless, as indicated by this quote from Felix’s Wife:
Dr. Connors. I want to thank you for fixing Felix’s back. He can even help around the house again.
Hang on, he fixed his back?! When exactly did he find the time to learn enough in the medical field to “fix” the back of a man so incapacitated that he couldn’t even help around the house?! Oh yeah, right, stuck in an infinite circle of time! Well, I wouldn’t think he had actually gone to Medical School (there isn’t one in Punxsutawney – and he’d just end up doing first-day induction over and over anyway) or the required four years post-graduate studying to become a chiropractor, but you have to wonder how long it would take an unqualified TV presenter to master chiropractory to that level – or at least enough to wing it (it’s a giant law-suit waiting to happen). This one has to be pure speculation – though I did find a useful, teach yourself chiropractory video, of 100 minutes, which you’d think Phil would have to watch at least five or six times to learn off by heart (a low number since he would have some familiarity with learning lines quickly). It’s probably also reasonable to suggest that Phil would have read up on the subject before attempting to administer off-the-cuff medical attention on a frail-looking elderly gentleman – say 20 days to be safe.
Adding the time it took to source the video (no more a suspension of belief required than his acquiring WWF tickets!), and the probable few times he practiced on Felix and it didn’t quite work out as planned (and assuming each failed attempt then spoiled his entire day), I’d say a very rough bare minimum estimate of 26 days to learn to fix Felix’s back.
So, so far that’s: 12,341 days
I’ve already stated (in the disclaimer above) that these periods of learning could overlap – but really, I’m not entirely sure they would: clearly, you couldn’t learn to play the piano after spending a few hours learning to sculpt ice (which would necessarily be a morning activity, given the lower temperatures and appropriate lighting). And further, given Phil’s professed dedication to each subject (his spending six months learning to throw cards into a hat proves an invaluable bench-mark), I don’t think it likely that he would learn each thing in one long, crammed period of time. You have to remember, at the stage he is learning piano and ice sculpting, he has seemingly abandoned his desire to leave Punxsutawney, and is revelling in the infinite possibilities for self-advancement. So there.
Anyway, ignoring for a minute the good that he does, Phil does himself some badness too. Chief among them naughty activities, he robs a security van outside the bank, thanks to a Rain Man style plan:
[sitting outside the local bank]
Phil: A gust of wind.
[a gust of wind blows]
Phil: A dog barks.
[a dog barks in the distance]
Phil: Cue the truck.
[an armored truck drives up]
Phil: Exit Herman; walk out into the bank.
[Herman gets out of the armored truck and walks into the bank]
Phil: Exit Felix, and stand there with a not-so-bright look on your face.
[Felix gets out of truck and stands there]
Phil: All right, Doris, come on. Hey, fix your bra, honey… That’s better.
[Doris walks up fixing her outfit]
Phil: [impersonating Doris] Felix.
[Doris says, “Felix”]
Phil: [impersonating Felix] How ya doin’ Doris?
[Felix asks Doris a question]
Phil: [impersonating Doris] Can I have a roll of quarters?
[Doris asks Felix for a roll of quarters]
Phil: [Phil stands up and begins to walk towards the armored car, counting to himself]
Phil: 10, 9, 8, car…
[a car drives in front of Phil]
Phil: …6, 5, quarters…
[roll of quarters breaks open, hitting the ground]
Phil: …3, 2…
[Phil reaches over Felix and takes a bag of money out of the back of the armored truck]
Herman: Felix, did I bring out two bags or one?
Felix: I dunno.
[scratches his head]
That impressive knowledge, perfect to the exact minute detail, seemingly implies an extended period of research, including failed attempts (presumably also including him being run over by the car), which could not have been feasibly shorter than six weeks in my opinion. And I’m the one with the keyboard here- so six more weeks it is:
Running total: 12,383 days
The final stage of this whole operation is breaking down what Phil achieves in his final Groundhog Day, and working out how long each soul-saving gesture would have taken, as follows:
- Saving a falling child – a day to hear about the accident, and find out where it happens, a couple more days to investigate, and maybe two more to get the timing perfectly off to a tee = 5 days
- Changing the old ladies’ tire – being in the right place, finding a tire and a jack = 1 day
- Saving Buster – discovering when and where Buster chokes, learning the Heimlich Manoeuvre = 2 days
- Getting a couple WWF tickets (entirely improbable but – one day to find out they enjoy WWF, one day to find out you can’t get WWF tickets within the same day – with a blizzard no less – and two full days to somehow source some tickets within the town itself = 4 days)
Total for those selfless acts: 12 days of hard work
Which brings us to a penultimate count of 12,395 days.
But then there is a final calculation to consider- the small matter of leap years, which add a 366th day to the calendar every four years. So that, Math Fans, is 8 extra days, leading to a massive final total of… drum roll please….
And written in more sensible terms that is…
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