THE PHIL CONNORS PARADOX
So how long was Phil Conners actually in Punxsutawney?
"A gust of wind. A dog barks. Cue the truck. Exit Herman, walk out into the bank. Exit Felix, and stand there with a not-so-bright look on your face. All right, Doris, come on. Hey, fix your bra, honey.. That's better... 10, 9, 8, car, 6, 5, quarters, 3, 2.."
1. How much time, planning, and preparation would it take Phil to memorize every meticulous detail to be able to pull off such an impeccable bank robbery?
Think realistically about how much planning and effort went into pulling off this scheme. First off, it would have taken him at least a few weeks just scouting out the location and observing before he even made a rough draft strategy. Did he try any of the classic bank robbery scenarios like the ol' ski mask, gun, and a duffel bag routine before getting creative and settling on his timing based method? Once he had a set strategy how much longer would he have had to sit, observe, and memorize all the details? How many failed attempts did he have in the process? The biggest unanswered question in this scenario is how many times was this a part of his daily schedule once he had perfected it?
By the early 90's credit cards were everywhere and used by everyone, surely a successful broadcaster like Phil Connors owned at least one credit card. Think about it, a credit card would be the perfect item to have in this situation, you could spend at will without any consequence. Was Phil doing this for the money or for sport? Whatever his reasons we can at least all agree that it took up a fair amount of his time.
Elapsed time estimate: 6 months
“It’s like I said: I love this film, I’ve seen it over 100 times.”
2. Phil claims to have seen the same film over 100 times, how long did this take?
This one is fairly easy, we can break it down in a number of different ways. He says he has seen it over 100 times, but how many times over 100 has he seen it? We could say he is being modest and he has seen it 199 times or maybe he's only seen it 101 times. So for the sake of argument lets just say he's seen it 101 times. Now the average movie length is 90 min. - 120 min. So we'll say that the movie run time is right in the middle of those two times and is 105 minutes long. That would mean the film is 1.75 hours long. So basic math tells us 1.75 hours x 101 viewings = 176.75 hours. So if he were to watch it 101 times consecutively without any breaks it would end up taking him 7.36 days (176.75 hours / 24 hours in a day = 7.36 days). Within the framework of Groundhog Day we already know that Phil can't just go on a cocaine and Jolt Cola fueled bender and bang out all 101 viewings in eight days. I'm sure like any other movie theater, the theater in Punxsutawney only has a limited amount set show times each day. Most likely he saw the film once a day for 100+ different days.
So what movie was he watching anyway? In the scene we only get to see one playbill for the movie Heidi II, does this movie even exist? Based on his costume and impersonation of Clint Eastwood's character from the "Man with No Name Trilogy" I'm betting my left ball that the playbill on the left side of the marquee that we don't get to see is for the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Honestly dressed like that, what do you think he is going to see over 100 times, a sequel to a Shirley Temple movie from the 30's, or the greatest western of all time?
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly run time is 161 minutes (2 hours and 41 minutes)! With the amount of prep time it takes to get the girl, car, and costumes he is definitely only seeing this film once a day.
Elapsed time estimate: 3.5 months
"Hey did you see the Groundhog this morning? What's your name? What high school did you go to? Who was your 12th grade English teacher?... Nancy. Lincoln. Walsh. Okay, thanks very much."
3. How much time and effort did Phil put into manipulating Rita & Nancy Taylor?
More than half of the on screen days in Groundhog Day take place between a barrage of Sweet Vermouth's and slaps. Phil spends over two weeks worth of on camera days taking advantage of Nancy and manipulating Rita. If we learn anything about Phil during this portion of the film it is:
A. Phil Connors is a gigantic, self-serving, douchebag.
B. He has an amazing amount of endurance, and perseverance.
I don't think the film misses much when it comes to this plot point, so I'm going to call it as I see it.
Elapsed time estimate: 1 month
"Lakes and Rivers for $1000. Milky colored from... (interrupts) "What is the Rhone".. glacial clay when entering Lake Geneva,
this river is clear upon exiting (Takes a swig of Jack Daniel's)."
4. How long did it take Phil to memorize and perform an entire error-free episode of Jeopardy?
There are a few factors to consider in determining the length of time it would have taken Phil to pull off this task. It's important to remember that this event is taking place during one of the darkest points of his stay in Punxsutawney. Also, this had to be an accomplishment born from the beautiful combination of depression, boredom, and alcohol. Case in point: Phil is accomplishing this wearing pajamas, holding a large bowl of chips or popcorn on his lap, and drinking hard liquor. Keep in mind besides being drunk, he would have only had the chance to view Jeopardy once a day. Phil's a smart guy, this probably took 2 weeks.
Elapsed time estimate: .5 months
"Then put your little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb. Babe, I got you babe."
5. The alarm clock Smashing montage accounts for only a small passage of time, but how much?
Anybody with a spoonful of brains and an eyeball clearly knows from just looking at it that the alarm clock in Phil's room is a Panasonic RC-6025. There isn't a snooze button to be found anywhere on that model! This leads me to believe that not only was the alarm clock was destroyed way more than just the three times we see in the film. This is a man in a very dark place, I would set the over/under at around 9.5 on how many times the alarm clock was thrown through his window and onto Cherry Street. It's hard to imagine ever being more depressed than Phil Connors during this period of time, he has come to the lowest point and killed himself only to wake up again the next morning. How many days did he just refuse to get out of bed?
Elapsed time estimate: 1.5 months
"I am a God, I'm not the God.. I don't think."
6. How many days did Phil devote just to killing himself?
We know for a fact Phil killed himself in the following ways:
A. Drove a truck off the cliff.
B. Electrocuted himself with a toaster in the tub.
C. Was run over by a truck.
D. Jumped to his death from a large building.
Some may overlap, but he also claims to have been blown up, stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.
Phil later tells Rita "I've killed myself so many times I don't even exist anymore." Based on the information we have and as creative as Phil is, odds are he committed suicide plenty more times.
Elapsed time estimate: 1.5 months
"This is Bill. He's been a waiter for three years since he left Penn State and had to get work. He likes the town, he paints toy soldiers, and he's gay."
7. How long did it take Phil to learn everything, and everyone in Punxsutawney?
Originally I thought this could be done in a month, maybe two, but the more time I think about it the longer I think it must have taken. I think this was more of a process than it was a series of specific events. From the time he left his room everywhere he went and everything he did he encountered the people of Punxsutawney. Whether he was interested or not he was engaging with them, at the cafe, Gobbler's Knob, the bed & breakfast on Cherry Street etc. Probably through boredom he eventually made it an effort to learn more, I think this accounts for quite along period of time. Then as he went through his personal paradigm shift he really started to learn more. He was interested and more importantly he cared. Like I said, I think this was a long changing process, and by the end he must have personally knew everything and everyone in Punxsutawney. If a bearded, heavy set man sneezed in an obscure corner of town at 3:17PM not only did Phil Connors know all about it, he also knew all about that person.
Elapsed time estimate: 2.5 years
"So this is what you do with eternity?" "Now you know."
8. How long did it take Phil to become an expert at throwing cards into a hat?
Phil says "Six months, four to five hours a day." So there you have it.
Elapsed time estimate: 6 months
"Winter, slumbering in the open air, wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring! Ciao."
9. How long did Phil spend reading, studying, and memorizing poetry?
This one is any one's guess. He could have had a fully eventful day of doing other things and come home at night and still read and memorize poetry for three or four hours before going to bed. I'm sure he did just that, or at least something very close. Speaking from experience, two years of studying three to four hours a day is all you would need to become fairly well versed in your field of choice.
Elapsed estimate of time: 2 years
"Believe it or not, I studied 19th-century French poetry." "[laughs] What a waste of time! I mean, for someone else that would be an incredible waste of time. It's so bold of you to choose that. It's incredible; you must have been a very, very strong person."
10. How long did it Phil spend reading, studying, and learning French?
This one is a little more difficult to determine than just studying poetry. I'm sure pretty early on he found someone in town who taught French, he would also have had the entire Punxsutawney library at his disposal. We know he was already studying it before he had a change of heart. But having a desire to learn to get into someones pants and studying out of a desire that develops out of personal interest are two completely different things, trust me I know (just kidding.?) He is at a natural disadvantage because he is in trapped in Punxsutawney instead of Paris or some ridiculous place like Quebec where he could be fully immersed in the abomination that we call the French language.
My sister in law Misti is not only married to a man the French call les incompetents (my brother), but she also just so happens to be fluent in French. I ran the Phil Connors situation past her and she agrees that without proper training and the ability to be fully immersed it would be extremely difficult. For instance, his accent would be extraordinarily terrible if he didn't have access to other people speaking the language. Who knows maybe he found an French teacher, and or others in town that spoke it?
It's difficult to try to get a set answer without having access to answers from questions like: Did he previously speak any Latin based languages like Spanish or Italian? One of my best friends Drew is fluent in English & Italian and spent some time learning French. So when I asked him if Phil had known Spanish or Italian prior to getting trapped in Punxsutawney would it have given him an advantage? His response was "Huge advantage. Since French and Italian are both Romance languages a lot of words were very similar and almost all of the rules of grammar conjugation were identical". How much time and effort did he really put into it? One thing we do know is Phil had the gift of time on his side. So it really all comes down to the one major question of just how much does Phil really know?
Elapsed time estimate: 3.5 years
"Not bad Mr. Connors, you say this is your first lesson?" "Yes, but my father was a piano mover, so."
11. How long did it take Mr. Connors to become proficient at playing the piano?
I recently finished reading the brilliant book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A considerable amount of the book calls attention to Dr. K. Anders Ericsson's "10,000-Hour Rule", which basically reiterates and confirms the old adage "practice makes perfect". Gladwell writes "The idea that excellence at performing a complex task that requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours."
Neurologist Daniel Levitin writes "In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number (10,000 hours) comes up again and again... no one has yet found a case in which this is true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery".
There you have it, Phil would have had to practice a minimum of 10,000 hours to be on accomplished pianist. So the question we have to ask is this:
Is he Tom or is he Eli?
I have an old roommate from college named Eli. At some point over the years Eli had learned how to play five or six select guitar scales really well. He could go into a crowded party full of college kids pick up a guitar and play one or two scales and completely own the entire room. For all they knew they had just witnessed greatness from a Thom Yorke/Clay Aiken looking prodigy on the level of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It was a beautiful spectacle to behold; The only catch is he couldn't play anything else. He couldn't show you a chord formation to save his life. He couldn't perform an entire song, let alone take requests. Anyone looking to have an intelligible discussion with him on the subject of basic music theory would be sorely disappointed.
I also have a friend named Tom. Tom is without exception the single greatest guitarist I know. I could listen to Tom play the guitar everyday for two years and never get bored or hear the same song twice. He has every tangible characteristic of a great guitarist. He has extensive tonal memory, he plays all styles and genres of music, and sight reads. His most impressive quality may be his supernatural ability to play by ear. Much like the legend of Robert Johnson, over the years the story of Tom "The Ear" Jensen has taken on a legendary, almost mythical type status.
At the age of 19 Tom was considered to be a below average guitarist at best. Rumor has it, he was then miraculously called upon by God to leave all his earthly positions, get a pumpkin pie haircut, and move to Georgia. Two years later he inexplicably returns home a glorified guitar virtuoso. Now unlike most myths this one is far more fact than fiction. So how was it done? It all goes back to the "10,000-Hour Rule". My friendship to Tom has granted me a certain amount of inside access and privy as to how this nearly impossible feat was accomplished... It also doesn't hurt to have the hearsay from a secret source that for the sake of confidentiality and anonymity I will call Dott Scavenport.
In Malcolm Gladwell's book he indicates that to attain ten thousand hours of practice is typically a ten year process. I'll reveal how Tom accomplished it in two!
For two consecutive years Tom's daily routine was something along the lines of this:
6:30AM - 7:30AM prayer, study, and hygiene
7:30AM - 2:30PM guitar practice
2:30PM - 3:30PM lunch/beach break
3:30PM - 4:30PM proselyting
4:30PM - 11:30PM guitar practice
11:30PM - 6:30AM sleep
365 days x 2 = 730 days
24 hours - 10 hours = 14 hours of practice
730 days x 14 hours of practice a day = 10,220 hours
So how about Phil, Is he Tom or Eli? Again, the gift of time of time has to be accounted for in this scenario. All signs point to the fact that theoretically Phil could have stayed up for 23 straight hours practicing the piano the majority of that time and go to bed at 5:30AM and wake up fresh as a daisy an hour later at 6:30AM. Now that really isn't that much help to him unless he had round the clock access to a piano or keyboard. So could he have bought a keyboard or paid someone for that kind of access to a piano? Most likely.
So like Tom did he crack ten thousand hours of piano practice in ten years or less?
Or a la Eli did he just get really good at Rachmaninoff's 18th variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini practicing 2 or 3 hours a day for a month? I personally think Phil is probably somewhere in between.
Elapsed time estimate: 5 years
12. "I'm just trying to give you your money's worth, you paid top dollar for me." "We'll I think you were a bargain." "Sweet of you to say. You're probably right.
How long did it take Phil to become an expert ice sculptor?
The same principles apply as the piano discussion. Tom, Eli, or somewhere in between?
Elapsed time estimate: 5 years
"It gets hard down there at the bottom."
13. How long did Phil spend trying to save the homeless man's life? And more importantly, why would you even want to save a homeless man's life?
(Homeless humor anyone?)
As persistent as Phil is this couldn't have taken more than a week or two. Though it's a pretty minimal plot point, these scenes serve as a really nice fulcrum showing us as to where Phil is in his change of heart.
Elapsed estimated time: .5 months
"What do you say? What do you say? What do you say?! You little brat. You have never thanked me! See you tomorrow... Maybe."
14. How long did it take to learn, map out, plan, a daily routine of all Phil's "errands"?
Things like saving the kid falling out of a tree, helping the old ladies with their flat tire, performing the Heimlich Maneuver on his older brother Brian Doyle-Murray.. Err, I mean Buster Green. Also all the little touches like lighting the woman's cigarette, saving the Kleiser's marriage, and Felix's back. I'm sure most of this was accomplished bits at a time along the way and fits hand in hand with point #7, So I'm going to limited it to a relatively small number and say two weeks.
Elapsed time estimate: .5 months
"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."
15. How much time, thought, attention, and planning did it take Phil to become a local celebrity/hero all in one day?
It must have been much more difficult than he makes it look to accomplish everything he does in his last day reliving Groundhog Day. I'm sure Phil put massive amounts of time, thought, energy, and research into meticulously planning how he was going to accomplish everything he could in one day. I'm sure it slowly came together over time as well.
Elapsed time estimate: 1.5 months
"Excuse me. Dr. Connors, I want to thank you fixing Felix's back. He can even help around the house again." "We'll I'm sorry to hear that Felix."
16. Dr. Connors?! Are we to believe Phil studied to become a Chiropractor? If so How long did it take?
At first glance I thought, eh it's just a throw away bit used for humor in the film... Phil probably just gave Felix the ol' Russian belly to back bear hug. But what if it was more than that? What if Phil really had a thirst for knowledge on modern medical science? During the scene where he takes the homeless man to the hospital he does ask to see his chart. Why would he bother asking for his chart if he didn't already know how to read it? We've already established He would have had access to Punxsutawney's public library. He could have also just as easily have paid the local Punxsutawney Chiropractor and or Physician (Harold Ramis) to let him shadow and observe him for a few hours every day. If he weren't stuck in Punxsutawney and was really interested in becoming a Chiropractor it would take him years. Since I'm sure he just wanted to learn the basics on how to help the average person's back, he could have done that in a much shorter time.
Elapsed time estimate: 2.5 years
"Now you can go back to Punxsutawney or you can freeze to death? It's your choice.. So what's it gonna be?" "I'm thinkin'."
17. How long did Phil try to get around the blizzard and get back to Pittsburgh?
From his time spent trying to manipulate Rita and killing himself we know that Phil perseveres and doesn't give up easy. I guarantee Phil wasn't satisfied after his first failed attempt back to Pittsburgh. How many alternate routes did he take before finally accepting he was stuck in Punxsutawney? How many times did he steal the van, leave early and skip the broadcast? How many times did he hail a cab or steal someone else's car, leave early, and beat the blizzard back to Pittsburgh? How many times did he make it back, go home, sleep in his own bed, and then wake up in Punxsutawney?
Elapsed time estimate: 1.5 months
"Hey, hey! Now, don't you tell me you don't remember me because I sure as heckfire remember you... Ned.. Ryerson. "Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"? C'mon, buddy. Case Western High. Ned Ryerson: I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson: got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn't graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson: I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple times until you told me not to anymore? Well?" "Ned Ryerson?" "Bing!"
18. How much time did it take to find Ned, listen to his pitch, and fill out all the paperwork on his final day reliving Groundhog Day?
Phil gives Ned the best day of his life by purchasing whole life, term, uniflex, fire, theft, auto, dental, health, with the optional death and dismemberment plan, and water damage. I get an unholy amount of paper work every year for my personal auto policy, imagine how much paperwork Ned has to go through with Phil. This could have easily taken up the majority of the day. Did Phil just pay Ned the premium and insist on doing the paperwork another day and give him another overly friendly hug? Knowing Ned more than most everyone else in Punxsutawney probably allowed him to navigate through this process without taking much time.
Ps. Can you think of a more underrated character then Ned Ryerson over the last 20 years? Apparently I am 1 of only 156 people to see this documentary, but I highly recommend it. While we are off topic how great was Chris Elliott as Larry? Perfect sidekick and set-up man.
Elapsed time estimate: 1 hour
"I think we should meet again, how's tomorrow for you? (Phil repeatedly punches himself in the face through a pillow)... Is that not good?"
19. How long did Phil seek medical and psychiatric help?
We only get to see one or two scenes of this and the scenes that we do get to see don't go well. Did he try beating the blizzard to Pittsburgh and try his luck with specialists there? Did he seek therapy along the way for support, clarification, or counseling in his attempt to change and become a better person?
Elapsed estimate of time: 1.5 months
"Some guys would look at this glass and they would say, ya know that glass is half empty. Other guys would say, that glass is half full. I bet you is a glasses half empty kinda guy, am I right?"
20. How long did it take Phil to rehabilitate himself, become a better person, and have a complete and authentic change of heart?
Coming from someone who is actively working on a change of heart myself, I can tell you it is much easier said than done. I am still working on changing destructive habits and behaviors I've had for 20+ years. I also still refer to my brother as a "Gobbler's Knob" from time to time... So I think it is safe to say Phil was in Punxsutawney for a very long time.
Because the length of time it took to go from a glasses half empty person to become a glasses half full person and the total length of time Phil was stuck reliving Groundhog Day are one and the same, lets do some math and figure out approximately how long he was there. If we were to tally up all the time estimates of Phil's stay in Punxsutawney it would add up to: 22 years, 2 months, and if you are scoring at home 1 hour! It's crazy to think about but, if we are trying to be accurate that can't be the final time estimate. It doesn't take into account any crossover time for instance; with a little advanced planning hypothetically Phil could have woken up, destroyed his alarm clock, went to see a movie, saw a therapist, watched Jeopardy, practiced the piano or ice sculpting, studied french and read some poetry before bed all in the same day. So factoring that in could very well take 10 years off the total time leaving us with...
Final Elapsed time estimate: 12 years, 2 months
So what does co-writer and director Harold Ramis think? Well thanks to this website I stumbled on while doing some nerdy A! research we have a direct quote.
Originally on the Groundhog Day DVD Harold Ramis estimated Phil's time in Punxsutawney was 10 years. He has now since 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."
Well said, and with that I leave you with a Groundhog Day where are they now.
"Maybe the real God uses tricks, maybe he's not omnipotent. Maybe he's just been around so long he knows everything."