Monday, February 20, 2017

Groundhog Shack

Coming back from a one-month hiatus, I want to kick off 2017 with a good old off-the-wall movie fan theory. Since Groundhog Day was earlier this month, I think it's only fitting to discuss the movie Groundhog Day -- and how it could work as a prequel to Caddyshack.

In case anyone doesn't know the premise of these films, Groundhog Day is about a grouchy weatherman named Phil Connors who gets trapped in a time loop and has to relive the same day of his life (which falls on the titular holiday) over and over again until he figures out how to do everything right. Caddyshack is about a teenage country club caddy trying to make money for college while an eccentric new club member clashes with the snobby regulars and an insane groundskeeper named Carl Spackler battles wits with a gopher that's tunneling through the golf course. Today's fan theory is that Carl from Caddyshack is actually Phil from Groundhog Day who lost his mind after his experience in the time loop and assumed a new identity.

The first piece of evidence to support this is the creative team behind these films. Not only are Phil and Carl both played by Bill Murray, but both movies were directed and cowritten by Harold Ramis. While Groundhog Day may not have been intended as a prequel to Caddyshack, it's entirely possible that Murray and Ramis subconsciously incorporated elements of Carl into Phil's character arc.

For instance, we see that the two characters are each very mellow and detached from their surroundings. While this can be chalked up to Bill Murray just being Bill Murray in both performances, the characters aren't exactly alike. We see that Phil is much more lucid and expressive than Carl at the beginning of Groundhog Day. It's only as his ordeal of reliving the same day goes on longer and longer that we see him slip into a deep depression, start to lose touch with his emotions and surroundings, and become much more like the crazy groundskeeper from Caddyshack. This is especially apparent in a scene where he kidnaps the Punxsutawney Phil groundhog and talks to it while driving both of them off of a cliff in a failed suicide attempt. It's as if he comes to see the ground-dwelling rodent as the cause of all his torment and decides that destroying such an animal -- even an entirely different one that lives on a golf course -- is a suitable way of restoring order in the world.

In turn, we can also find hints of Phil in Carl's behavior. Phil is a weatherman in Groundhog Day, a job that requires him to narrate a great deal of what he does to a viewing audience that he never actually sees. Similarly, Carl in Caddyshack has a habit of discussing his plans and explaining his actions out loud even when he is completely alone. It could be that Carl retained some of his old identity and is still under the delusion that he's being watched by an audience that he needs to keep informed.

One problem with this theory is that it seems to conflict with the ending of Groundhog Day. In that movie, Phil breaks his curse by changing his ways and learning new skills and then gets the girl in the end. This is a happy ending, so how does it fall apart by the beginning of Caddyshack?

The answer could lie in the very last scene of Groundhog Day. As Phil and his new girlfriend Rita emerge from the house where they're staying in Punxsutawney, he remarks how beautiful the scenery around them is and suggests that the two of them move in together in that town. Rita makes no comment on this sporadic idea, not even when Phil backtracks by suggesting that they just start off renting. Harold Ramis speculated that Phil spends a decade in the time loop at the very least; considering this, the character is probably so rearing to finally get on with his life at the movie's end that he may be moving too fast.

It's easy to imagine this rushed, impulsive behavior pushing Rita to leave him somewhere down the line, and since the two of them are coworkers, it's also conceivable that Phil might impulsively decide to quit his job after losing the woman that he spent so much time pining for. From there, he could very well continue on a mental downward spiral as he struggles to fathom the point of his time loop experience until his love of scenery makes him take up caddying. This could eventually lead to his meeting with the Dalai Lama on a golf course that he recounts in Caddyshack, in which the Buddhist leader promises him "total consciousness" if he dies on his death bed (as opposed to committing suicide, perhaps). Maybe this encounter inspires Phil to assume a new identity and embrace his new life on the golf course now that he has the assurance that everything will make sense to him one day. It just so happens that the sudden, unexpected arrival of another ground-dwelling rodent into his life resurrects his long-dormant dislike for them.

This is admittedly a dark interpretation of Groundhog Day, as it seems to dismiss all of the good will in that movie. Bear in mind though that Harold Ramis was a follower of Buddhism and that he incorporated several Buddhist themes into the script, such as reincarnation and finding happiness by shedding selfish desires. Another major aspect of Buddhism is the idea that achieving simplicity in one's life is important in finding peace of mind. Well, people don't get much simpler than Carl from Caddyshack.

What's especially interesting about Carl's subplot is that for as much as he considers the golf course gopher to be his "enemy," he never seems all that angry while plotting to destroy it. If anything, he seems to find a lot of joy in hatching his schemes. It's as if the intention of the time loop wasn't to prepare him for bigger and grander things in his life like Groundhog Day suggests, but rather to make him incompatible with the busy, unfulfilling life that he had and force him into a much simpler existence.

Some may consider this notion to be dark as well, but in a movie like Groundhog Day that features womanizing, suicide, and murdering a cute, innocent animal, darkness certainly has its place. Actually, you can argue that the wackier and more cartoonish world of Caddyshack is a much happier place for Phil/Carl to live, and all evidence in his scenes seems to support that he is in fact happy. Perhaps the real intention of the time loop wasn't to prepare Phil spiritually for anything, but rather to test him spiritually and then eventually reward him for passing that test. Carl may not be living with Rita in a big house with a white picket fence, but his time loop ordeal has led him to another paradise, even if that paradise is full of gopher holes.

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