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A Strange Little Thought

Groundhog Day, temporal loops, agency, the past, etc.

February 23, 2018Filed under Art#ethics#filmMarkdown source

I was, for some reason, thinking about the movie Groundhog Day this morning, and thinking about what it would be like to be caught in a temporal loop of that sort. Plenty of interesting things have been said about the movie (which is very good), but one I’ve not considered before is the extent to which the day Bill Murray’s character lives (and lives and lives and lives) is a product of choices he made the day before.

The loudest (though least important) of these earlier choices in the film is the alarm clock which wakes Murray’s character every day. He starts the day on the same radio station to the same vapid announcements because of choices he is powerless to affect in any way throughout the film: whatever he had done the night before.

The quieter (but much more important) versions of that are that the people in the town are who they are, and Murray’s own character is who and what he is, because of choices now out of all of their hands. The past is fixed to us, and in very real ways, we are who we are and live the lives we live now because of things we have already done (and things others have already done) and which we cannot change. That goes for it all: good, bad, and indifferent. And so the other side of the coin is that the choices we make today similarly mark our courses for the future.

Nothing particularly profound or novel in any of that, of course. It was just something that was made a bit more striking in thinking about the predicament of a man caught in a time loop, living the exact same day over and over and therefore more particularly confronted with the choices that had led him to that specific day. What, I wonder, would I think of yesterday’s choices if I had to live today over and over again? And likewise: What of tomorrow and the choices I make today?—even just at that simplest level of setting an alarm.

Just a strange little thought to start the day.