For many, Groundhog Day is a time to let loose. It’s the perfect excuse to forget your worries and have an old-fashioned good time.
For others, it is a holiday of quiet reflection: an opportunity to take stock of the year thus far and plan for how to make the best of the months to come. Certainly in Montreal, the notion that winter could be nearly over is not very seriously entertained (despite, or perhaps especially because of its late arrival this year).
No matter what meaning this particular day holds for you, I am sure that we all can agree Groundhog Day is, at the very least, a fantastic film.
That zany 1993 Harold Ramis masterpiece starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell pulled one of the greatest fast ones in Hollywood history by cleverly marketing and selling an experimental narrative structure under the guise of a mass-appealing, 80’s romantic comedy. To this day, viewers are still so mesmerized by Murray’s screwball antics that most do not even consciously realize that the film is breaking the laws of physical reality in the way that only film can.
Films can tell stories backwards and forwards. They can tell the same story over and over. They can zig and zag through time, confusing and delighting us at the same time. In the spirit of Groundhog Day, both the classic film and the holiday itself, I present a list of films that play with time – be it duration, frequency, order or mere time travel plots.
I will warn you, however, that in this list you will not find any Pulp Fiction or Run, Lola Run.
Here, the aim is to encourage exploration of your local video store beyond the new releases and blockbuster hits. These films are lesser-known, (some, for good reason) but they all have one thing in common – their disregard for linear, chronological story-telling. So sit back, relax, pop some corn and enjoy a great way to spend a cold, winter’s holiday. These films are time well bent…
1) Following – Christopher Nolan 1998. Before he broke through with Memento, the one that blew everyone’s mind, Nolan made this film- obviously a practice round. Though not as good as its follower, Following is a decent warm-up and a fun look back at how far this filmmaker has come.
2) Primer – Shane Carruth 2004. This one is a guaranteed head-scratcher which you will most likely need to watch more than once. Two IT nerds invent a time machine and then try to avoid their doubles… or something like that. Carruth, a math/engineering genius, definitely does not pander to his audience and its exhausting trying to keep up.
3) Blind Chance – Krzysztof Kieslowski 1987. The film was not seen for years after completion due to its political content. One mundane event triggers three possible outcomes. If Run, Lola, Run is your funky cousin, Blind Chance is your slow, long-winded grandfather. That said, it is worth looking at for its place in cinematic history.
4) Lost Highway – David Lynch 1997. This one meets the “lesser-known” requirement only because of its relation to Mulholland Drive. Years before that gem, Lynch used Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman, Robert Blake and, oh yes, Marilyn Manson is his gloriously bizarre time experiment.
5) Nick of Time – John Badham 1995. Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken star in this amusingly cheesy thriller that’s claim to fame is real time duration. The action onscreen takes place in ninety minutes of the characters’ lives. If you would rather see a better film along these lines, rent High Noon, the 1952 classic Western.
6) La Jet