6. Does He Really Learn French Fluently?
When I originally wrote my assessment of how long Phil spends trapped in Groundhog Day, one of the most contentious issues seemed to be my suggestion that Phil learned French fluently. People laughed and screamed (or I imagine so anyway) at my ignorance – of course he didn’t learn French, he blatantly learned a single line in order to impress Rita on his long-game attempt to impress her/trick her into having sex with him.
But that’s wrong.
Yes, he does. Though it might appear he only learns a single line of poetry, and then blags his way through the follow-up question, there are two hints that confirm he became fluent:
1. It’s poetry: in order to understand the nuances and rhythms of a poem, you have to be fluent in the language, otherwise what you say will come out with the inflections in all the wrong places, which would probably be noticable to anyone with a passing knowledge of French, let along SOMEONE WHO STUDIED FRENCH POETRY AT COLLEGE!
2. Phil knows the nature of his predicament: in order to sleep with Rita, he knows that he has to account for every eventuality. What if she had asked a series of complex follow-up questions (which any sane person would when discovering someone else appreciates the extremely rare thing you spent many years of your life devoting your mind to)? Would Phil have merely shrugged and gone back to the drawing board to try again the next day?
No, that’s not what the underlying message of Groundhog Day is – it is an exploration of chaos theory, and of the many branching alternate realities that spring forth from any moment. Phil’s ultimate hell is that he has to attempt to simultaneously account for them all in order to gain his ultimate goal – access to Rita’s genitals.
This article was first posted on February 2, 2013