One of the world’s most popular screenwriting books , Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has brought clarity and a sense of direction to thousands of screenwriters, who were looking for the logical extension of Syd Field’s work.
If you’re not familiar with it the book delivered a structural roadmap to writers: not quite join-the-dots, but in some ways, close.
With fully 15 story beats to hit over 90-120 pages Save the Cat gave writers both a pathway through those tricky narrative woods and a way to quickly filter out the stories worth developing to full screenplay stage.
But how well do the theories hold up?
In Blake’s 2nd book, Save the Cat Goes to The Movies, he attempted to firm up and solidify his thesis, by analyzing various classic films. And whilst this analysis proved for the most part effective, the doubters (largely, let’s face it, from the independent-slash-art-house sector of the industry) remain…
So whilst Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters probably remains the pithy maxim “give me the same, just different”, here at Industrial Scripts we thought we’d really stress test the theories, against a range of films of varying quality.
“The pithy ‘give me the same just different’ remains Snyder’s greatest gift to screenwriters…”
If you’d like to view all the articles in our Save the Cat Analysis Series please do so at the link, and simply read on for the next instalment in the series!
Save the Cat Analysis Series Part 3: GROUNDHOG DAY
FILM: GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
STORY TYPE: “Out of the Bottle” / “Rites of Passage”
NOTES: Groundhog Day is one of Snyder’s “reverse Out of the Bottle, comeuppance tales”, or what Robert McKee describes as a “punitive” plot, where the protagonist is punished for being bad. As far as the film’s adherence to Snyder’s theories goes, it’s a familiar mixed-bag here. Set-Up sequence is one of the most Snyderian we’ve come across, but there’s no Theme Stated. Debate is non-existent, which isn’t really a surprise, and Break Into Act Two and B Story also fail to match Snyder’s structure. However Fun and Games remains one of Snyder’s most convincing sequences, and Bad Guys Close In is strong too. However the Finale appears where the Dark Night of The Soul should be, and the ending, while satisfying, doesn’t really match Snyder’s expectations for it.
GROUNDHOG DAY Plot Synopsis
- Opening image: a blue sky with clouds moving across it.
- Voice of PHIL (Bill Murray) and his hand against a blue backdrop. “Someone asked me today, where would I most like to be”, he says, “and I’d probably say about here”. Camera pans back and we see that Phil is a weatherman, and although he’s against a blue background, he’s appearing on TV in front of a map of America. Phil takes us through what’s happening weather-wise, and even blows clouds across the screen to show how an icy blast is approaching Seattle. Phil returns to his seat with his CO-ANCHOR (Carl Bivins) and reveals that it’s Groundhog Day today, and that he’s off to Punxsutawney for the country’s oldest Groundhog festival. “So as you know tomorrow, according to the legend, if the Groundhog wakes and sees your shadow then we’ll have 6 weeks of bad weather in a row”. His co-anchor finishes the report, and then after they’re off-air gloats about how Phil has to head off to Punxsutawney. “For your information, Hairdo”, Phil quips, “there is a major network interested in me”. LARRY, behind Phil, says: “yeah, that would be the home shopping network”. Phil then interacts with KENNY, who’s covering him while he’s in Punxsutawney, and Kenny urges him not to hurry back but Phil doesn’t want to stay any longer in Punxsutawney than he has to. Kenny points out that RITA (Andie Macdowell) thought it would be a good idea to stay in Punxsutawney a while longer to get some footage of the other events, and the fun going on in aid of Groundhog Day, and Phil looks over towards Rita while Kenny praises her. Phil describes Rita as “fun, but not my kind of fun”, and says that he’ll absolutely be back for the 5 o’clock show.
- Sweeping shots of the city, with the camera finally coming to rest on Phil’s moving weather truck.
- Cut to inside the truck. Phil sits in the passenger seat. “Can you keep a secret, Larry?” he asks, “I’m probably leaving WPBH, so this will probably be the last time we do the groundhog together”. “I don’t see what’s wrong with the groundhog festival”, says Larry but Phil replies: “someday someone’s going to see me interviewing a groundhog and think I don’t have a future”. Rita says that she likes the groundhog and so do lots of people, but Phil replies: “people are stupid”. Phil then takes the mickey out of Rita’s impression of the groundhog, and she’s amused by his sarcasm.
- Shots of the truck moving on, going past the sign for Punxsutawney, and then arriving in the small town centre.
- The van stops and Phil gets out and promptly announces that he doesn’t want to stay at the hotel, because he stayed there two years ago and was thoroughly miserable. Rita reveals that Phil isn’t staying there, she is. She booked him into a very nice B & B instead. “You know I think this is one of the traits of a really good producer”, says Phil, pleased, “keep the talent happy”. “Well, anything I can do”, says Rita, and Phil replies: “can you help me with my pelvic tilt?” Rita laughs, and says “within reason”. She then asks him if he’d like to come to dinner with Larry and her, but he declines saying “I’ve seen Larry eat”, and then doing a grotesque impression of Larry eating. After Phil’s gone, Larry and Rita laugh about how Phil was describing himself as “the talent”.
- Shot of a quaint B & B.
- Shot of an alarm clock, going off at 6am. Phil gets out of bed as the radio comes on, and presenters discuss the icy weather. “But the big question on everyone’s lips”, they say, “is: will Phil see a shadow?” The presenters go on to announce that it’s Groundhog Day, and Phil looks wearily out of the window as they do impressions of the groundhog.
- Phil exits his room and is immediately approached by a man who asks him if he’s off to see the groundhog. Phil replies that he is, and the man then asks if Phil thinks that it’s going to be an early spring. “Yes I am,” says Phil, “I’m predicting March 21st”. Phil walks off and the man says: “good gas! You know I think that actually is the first day of Spring”.
- Cut to the breakfast room. Phil enters and MRS. LANCASTER (Angela Paton) asks him if he slept well, and he replies that he slept “long”. Phil asks if he can get an expresso or cappuccino and Mrs. Lancaster says “I really don’t know…”. Phil finishes her sentence under his breath, saying “how to spell cappuccino”. Mrs. Lancaster says that she hopes he enjoys the festivities, and Phil rolls his eyes, before Mrs. Lancaster brings up the subject of a blizzard on its way. Phil goes into sarcastic overdrive, giving a detailed breakdown of the weather forecast before saying: “did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chit-chat?” She answers “chit-chat”, and he leaves. She then asks him if he’ll be checking out that day, and he replies: “chance of checkout today: 100%”.
- Phil walks through Punxsutawney, and passes a TRAMP, and Phil pretends to check his pockets for change and then breezes past.
- Cut to a man called NED (STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY) in the street, who spots Phil. He runs over to Phil, and Phil thanks him for watching the show. Ned asks Phil if he remembers him, and Phil replies that he doesn’t. Ned reminds Phil that they went to school together, and drops in a series of reminders to try and jog Phil’s memory. “I dated your sister Mary-Pat a couple of times before you told me not to anymore”, says Ned. Phil humours Ned by pretending to remember him, and then Ned tells Phil that he sells insurance. “What a surprise”, says Phil, rolling his eyes. “Ned”, says Phil, “I would love to stand here and talk with you, but I’m not going to”. Phil walks off but Ned follows, and continues jabbering away in Phil’s ear. Eventually Phil stops and Ned asks him what he’s doing for dinner, and Phil replies: “something else…it’s been great seeing you needlehead, take care”.
- Phil walks off but puts his foot in a giant pothole full of icy, drenching his foot. Ned laughs uproariously, and Phil walks off looking very, very annoyed.
- Cut to Phil walking through an archway which reads “Gobbler’s Knob”, into the park where the festivities are being held. Phil makes his way through the crowd to the stage, where Rita and Larry are waiting. Rita asks him where he’s been, and he replies that “a giant leech got me”. Rita raves about the people, about their commitment to the festivities, but Phil is unimpressed: “they’re hicks Rita”, he says. “So”, he says, “you sleep ok without me? You tossed and turned didn’t you?” They banter some more, and then it’s time for Phil to go on air. He addresses the camera, setting the scene for the viewers.
- Cut to the stage, where a man wraps on a wooden door, and produces Punxsutawney Phil (a groundhog). All the while Phil provides cynical commentary for us.
- Back to Phil, who does an impersonation of the groundhog and says to Rita: “hey, do you like your guys with prominent upper teeth?”
- Back to the stage, where an ANNOUNCER, having spoken to Punxsutawney Phil, relays the message that Phil has “definitely seen a shadow”. “Sorry folks”, says the announcer, “6 more weeks of winter”. The crowd boo.
- Phil goes back on air, and tells the viewers: “this is one of those occasions whereby television fails to capture the excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”. Rita says: “ok, let’s try it again without the sarcasm”. Phil reckons they got it fine the first time, however, and walks off. Larry rolls his eyes: “primadonnas”, he says to Rita.
- Cut to the weather van driving out of Punxsutawney, as the weather worsens and snow rolls in.
- They then get stuck in traffic, and the snow is really thick on the ground.
- Phil is furious and gets out of the van, and trudges through the snow to the front of the queue, where there’s been a crash. He approaches the policeman there, who reveals that they’re closing the road, because there’s a blizzard moving in. Phil protests, and the policeman says: “don’t you listen to the weather? We’ve got a major storm here”. “I make the weather!”, Phil protests, before launching into one of his on-air style analyses of the conditions and what’s causing them. The policeman offers Phil two options however: go back to Punxsutawney, or freeze to death.
- Cut to Phil in a service station on the phone to an operator, who informs him that all the long-distance lines are down. “What about the satellite?”, asks Phil, “is it snowing in space?” Phil then queries whether they have a line that they keep open for emergencies, or celebrities, and when the operator asks him what he is he replies: “both: a celebrity in an emergency”. As he’s speaking a man comes in wielding a shovel, and mistakenly bangs Phil over the head with it.
- Establishing shot of the Pennsylvania Hotel.
- Phil sits at the bar, alone, criticising the barman for giving him a shot with no booze in it. Rita and Larry then appear, and Rita asks him if he’s going to the groundhog dinner. “No, I had groundhog for lunch”, says Phil. He then ridicules Larry (“looking foxy tonight man”), before Rita asks him what he’s going to do. Phil says that he’s going to go back to his room and take a hot shower, before reading a Hustler in bed. “Suit yourself”, says Rita as she and Larry leave.
- Cut to Phil trying to get some hot water out of the shower, with no joy.
- He runs into Mrs. Lancaster in the hallway, who laughs at him for even imagining there might be hot water on groundhog day.
- Cut to the alarm clock, as before, going off at 6am. Phil wakes up and the radio presenters are playing the same tune as the day before. “Nice going boys you’re playing yesterday’s tune”, says Phil. Phil listens for a while but is alarmed when the presenters announce that it’s groundhog day. He looks out of the window in surprise.
- Out in the corridor, Phil has the same exchange with the fat man. “Didn’t we do this yesterday?” Phil asks. Phil then pushes the fat man up against the wall and asks him what day it is. “It’s February 2nd”, says the man, “it’s groundhog day”. Phil laughs, relieved: “you know I thought it was yesterday”, he says.
- Phil comes downstairs and has the same conversation with Mrs. Lancaster. “Do you ever have déjà vu Mrs. Lancaster?” he asks, and she replies: “I don’t think so but I could check with the kitchen”. She then asks him if he’ll be checking out that day, and he replies: “I’d say the chance of departure is 80%”.
- Phil comes out into the street and asks a woman where everyone’s going. She replies that they’re off to celebrate groundhog day. “It’s still just once a year isn’t it?” asks Phil, but gets no reply.
- As before, Phil passes the tramp, but still doesn’t give him any money. Then he’s spotted by Ned, and this time of course, knows who Ned is. Ned goes on to tell him about how he works in life insurance, and then Phil says that he’s got to go, and he runs off, putting his foot in the same puddle as before.
- Phil walks through to the stage as before, and when he sees Rita asks her to give him a “good hard slap in the face”. She does so, and he pulls her to one side and tells her that “something’s going on, and I don’t know what to do”. Before he can continue, however, it’s groundhog time and he has to go on air. He goes on air, explaining to the viewers that it’s groundhog day “again”. His delivery is decidedly bewildered, and then once the groundhog appears he can’t even manage another delivery, simply throwing the mike away and walking off.
- Cut to Phil in the shower as before – the water’s still cold.
- Phil is on the phone trying to find out when the long-distance phone lines are going to be repaired, but he’s rude and the operator hangs up on him. Phil snaps his pencil and leaves the light on as a test, and then we cut to…
- Phil’s alarm clock going off at 6am, as before. He gets up, and to his horror finds the pencil still in one piece.
- Phil leaves his room and avoids the fat man altogether.
- He goes downstairs and also avoids Mrs. Lancaster, before running off into the street.
- He walks past the tramp and this time makes a big gesture of avoiding him. Ned then approaches him and this time Phil makes a point of shoving him away. Ned pursues him and in his agitation Phil steps in the icy puddle…again.
- He makes his way through the crowds and approaches Rita. “May I talk to you about something not work related?” he asks, and she replies: “you never talk about work”. He pulls her to one side and she tells him that they’ve got work to do. “No, I don’t”, he says, “I’ve already done it twice – when you’re finished come and meet me in the diner”. After Phil’s gone Larry revisits his earlier line, calling Phil a “primadonna”.
- Cut to the diner. Rita sits with Phil. Rita compliments the waitress on her sticky buns, and after she’s gone Rita says: “now tell me why you’re too sick to work and it better be good”. “Rita”, says Phil, “I’m re-living the same day over, and over”. Rita doesn’t believe him, and accuses him of making it up. “I am not making it up”, he says, “I am asking you for help”. Rita advises him to get his head examined, and when she mentions his name two hicks behind them start cracking jokes at Phil’s expense. Larry then approaches and tells them that they better get going if they’re going to stay ahead of the weather, and Rita reassures Phil that they’ll talk about it back in Pittsburgh. “I’m not going back to Pittsburgh”, says Phil, “because of the blizzard”. Rita replies: “I thought that was going to hit Al Tuna”. Rita reiterates that she thinks Phil needs help, and he says that’s what he’s been saying all along.
- Cut to a scan of Phil’s brain, being examined by a NEUROLOGIST (Harold Ramis), who can’t find anything amiss. However if Phil wants a cat scan or an MRI, the neurologist explains, Phil will have to go into Pittsburgh. Phil tells him why he can’t go into Pittsburgh (ie the blizzard), but then the doctor recommends Phil see a psychiatrist.
- “That’s an unusual problem”, says the PSYCHIATRIST (David Pasquesi), as we cut to Phil lying down with a pillow over his head. They don’t seem to get very far due to the psychiatrist’s lack of experience, but arrange to meet again. “How’s tomorrow for you?” he asks, and the psychiatrist covers his head with a cushion. Phil starts punching himself in the face, using the cushion to block the blows.
- Cut to the bowling alley. Phil tells the two hicks from earlier about one of his romantic trips on holiday, where he and a girlfriend “made love like sea otters”. “That was a pretty good day”, says Phil, “why couldn’t I get that day…over…and over…and over”. One hick chips in, using his half-full beer glass to identify Phil as a “glass if half-empty kind of guy”. “What would you do”, says Phil, “if you were stuck in one place, and you did the same thing every day, and nothing you did mattered?” “That about sums it up for me”, says the other hick.
- Phil leaves the bowling alley with the two drunk hicks, and they offer to give him a ride home, but one of them collapses by the car. “You wanna throw up here or you wanna throw up in the car?” asks Phil, and the hick replies: “both”. In the end Phil is the only one sober enough to drive, and they head off. One of the hicks wants to eat some flapjacks.
- As they drive along Phil asks them what they would think if there were no tomorrow. “There’d be no hangovers”, says one, “no consequences, we could do whatever we wanted”. “That’s true”, says Phil, veering the car into a post box.
- They’re then pursued by the police, and Phil does a sneaky manoeuvre which results in the police crashing into a water hydrant.
- Inside the car, Phil is ranting. “It’s the same thing your whole life”, he says, “clean up your room and stand up straight, pick up your feet, take it like a man, be nice to your sister, don’t mix beer and wine, ever and oh yeah…don’t drive on the railroad tracks”.
- Phil drives the car onto the tracks, with the police in pursuit. They approach and oncoming train, and Phil says: “I’m betting he’s going to swerve first”.
- Phil swerves the car off the tracks just in time, and is highly amused by the experience, saying: “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore…you make choices, and you live with them”. Phil swerves the car through a giant sign of the groundhog, and crashes the car into some others, as the police finally catch up with them.
- A police officer approaches the window, and Phil tries to put in a junk food order through him. “Too early for flapjacks?” he asks.
- Cut to Phil in prison then cut to…
- Phil waking up in bed again, as the day begins once more. He pre-empts everything that usually happens: reciting what the presenters on the radio say; then he goes downstairs and kisses Mrs. Lancaster on the lips, before asking her to hold his room for him as he’s going to stay an extra day.
- He then walks past the tramp, and still won’t give him any money. Ned approaches, and this time Phil just punches Ned in the face.
- He’s just about to walk into the icy puddle when he manages to stop himself, and waits long enough for another man to walk through it in front of him.
- Cut to Phil in the diner eating from an enormous spread of food, as Rita looks on, unimpressed. “I like to see a man of advancing years throwing caution to the wind”, she says, “it’s inspiring in a way”. “My years are not advancing as fast as you might think”, he replies. “Don’t you worry about cholesterol, lung cancer, love handles?” she asks. Phil replies that he doesn’t worry about anything anymore, before stuffing an entire cake in his mouth. She’s disgusted, and quotes a Sir Walter Scott poem at him, and he cracks up. “You think I’m egocentric?” he asks, and she replies: “I know you’re egocentric it’s your defining characteristic”. Larry then appears and urges them to get going in order to stay ahead of the weather. Phil explains that he’s going to stay there and finish his food, because the town is “beginning to grow on me”. Rita and Larry leave.
- Phil sidles up to a woman sitting on her own in the café, and strikes up conversation with her, establishing that she was at the groundhog. He asks her what her name is, and she replies that he name is NANCY TAYLOR (Marita Geraghty). He then asks her where she went to school, and who her first grade English teacher is. She tells him, and he thanks her and walks off.
- Another new day. Phil wakes and up…
- Approaches the stage as before. He sees Nancy, and approaches her, and uses the information he acquired previously to ingratiate himself to her. She’s also impressed by his job, and then we cut to…
- Nancy and Phil in bed, getting amorous. By mistake he says the name “Rita” rather than Nancy, but gets himself out of this fix by pledging his undying love and asking her to marry him.
- Cut to Phil sitting on a wall, predicting the events around him (“a gust of wind, a dog barks”). He then observes/predicts an armoured car’s movements, as it collects money from a bank. He commentates as DORIS (Robin Duke), the waitress from the diner, approaches one of the security men and asks him to change some quarters for her. However the man drops the quarters, and both security guards bend down to pick them up including Doris, which leaves the way clear for Phil to calmly stroll in and steal one of the big bags of money sitting in the back of the truck.
- Cut to Phil – dressed in cowboy gear – arriving at the cinema driving a Rolls Royce. His date is dressed as a French maid, and then Nancy walks past, and Phil says hi, but of course Nancy doesn’t know who he is.
- Cut to Phil and Rita watching back footage of them at the groundhog festival. “If you only had one day to live what would you do with it?” Phil asks Rita. She thinks he’s hitting on her, but he replies that he’s just “interested” in her. “What do you want?” he asks, “what do you like? What do you think about? What kind of men are you interested in?” Rita still doesn’t believe he’s for real, but he says that he just wants to talk how normal people talk, and persuades her to let him buy her a donut.
- Cut to the café. “I suppose I want what everybody wants”, says Rita, “career, love, marriage, children”. Phil asks her if she’s seeing anyone and she replies: “I think this is getting too personal, I don’t think I’m ready to share this with you”. She asks him what he wants, and he replies that what he really wants is someone like her. He pushes her into describing her perfect man: “well first of all he’s too humble to know he’s perfect”, she says, “he’s intelligent, supportive, funny”. “Intelligent, supportive, funny….”, muses Phil, “me, me, me”. Rita continues to list qualities she looks for in a man, and Phil continues to maintain that he matches these criteria. “He’s not afraid to cry in front of me”, says Rita, and Phil replies: “this is a man we’re talking about, right?” By the end of Rita’s exhaustive list, Phil says: “I am really, really close on this one”.
- Cut to Phil fiddling with the engine in the weathervan. Two fans recognise him and he thanks them for watching.
- At the hotel bar, Phil approaches Rita who reveals that Larry is working on the van to try and fix it so they can leave. Phil offers to buy Rita a drink, and she orders an exotic number.
- Cut to the next day, same situation. Phil enters and orders the exotic drink Rita wanted, and she orders the same. “That’s my favourite drink”, she says, and he says “mine too”. She asks what they should toast, and Phil proposes a toast to the groundhog, but Rita replies: “I always drink to world peace”. Phil pretends to enjoy the drink, when his face momentarily tells a different story.
- Same situation again. This time, Phil proposes a toast to world peace, and Rita is very impressed.
- Cut to Phil and Rita in a bakery store. She asks him how he knows so much about Punxsutawney, and he explains that he’s spent a lot of time there, because “small-town people are more real, and more down-to-earth”. He then offers her some white chocolate, but she refuses, and he appears to make a mental note of this. “There’s something so familiar about this”, she says, “do you ever have déjà vu?” “Didn’t you just ask me that?” he says, and she laughs.
- Cut to Phil and Rita out to dinner. “I think people put too much emphasis on their careers”, he says, “I wish we could all live in the mountains, at high altitude…that’s where I see myself in five years”. She agrees with him, and then reveals that she didn’t study journalism at all, she studied 19th century French poetry. Phil cracks up, saying “what a waste of time”, before swiftly backtracking and describing her as “bold” and “strong” to have chosen such a course.
- Same situation again. This time, when Rita reveals that she studied 19th century French poetry, Phil has done his homework, and starts reciting poetry in French.
- Cut to Rita and Phil building a snowman. “I hope one day I can do this with my own children”, says Phil, and then some kids begin pelting them with snowballs too, and eventually Phil and Rita end up lying on the snow together. They look into each other’s eyes, and seem about to kiss…
- Cut to them dancing in the snow where, once more, it seems likely they’ll kiss.
- Phil and Rita walk home in the snow. “I’m just amazed”, she says, “and I’m not easily amazed…about how you can start a day with one kind of expectation, and it turn out so completely different”. He asks if she’s enjoyed her day, and Rita replies: “it’s been amazing…you couldn’t have planned a day like this”. “Well you can”, Phil replies, “it just takes an awful lot of work…come on in I want to show you something”. “I don’t think I should, Phil”, she says, and he replies: “oh nor do I…I’m just going to show you this one thing and then kick you right out”. They head inside.
- In Phil’s room, it isn’t long before he and Rita are kissing on the sofa. Mid-kiss she says: “I dunno Phil, I’m not sure we should be doing this”. “Neither do I”, says Phil, kissing her. “Well, it’s a little fast for me”, she says, pulling away, but he tries to keep her there with promises of French poetry, and her favourite ice cream. She’s still trying to leave, however, but Phil maintains that “it’s gotta be tonight”. He then resorts to telling her that he loves her, and she recoils at this, saying: “I can’t believe I fell for this…this whole day has been one long set-up”. She then accuses him of calling up her friends and asking them what she likes, and he denies this, but tells her that he loves her again. “I could never love anyone like you Phil, because you’ll never love anyone but yourself”. “That’s not true”, Phil protests, “I don’t even like myself…give me another chance”. Rita then slaps him, and says: “that’s for making me care about you”. She storms out.
- Replay of the earlier scene where Rita and Phil made the snowman. This time however, Phil’s impatience has come to the fore, and he’s too manic in his actions, putting Rita off slightly.
- Montage of Phil being slapped earlier and earlier in the timeline, until finally he’s slapped outside the hotel itself.
- He traipses down the street, looking at ice impressions of the groundhog.
- Cut to Phil wandering up to the stage during the groundhog festivities. He comes up to Rita, who remarks on how awful he looks. He admits he’s had a “rough night”.
- Large shot of the clock turning to 6am.
- Phil lies in bed, with bloodshot eyes. He recites the radio presenters’ words mechanically, a glazed look on his face.
- Later, he watches a quizshow on TV with Mrs. Lancaster and the other old people in the guesthouse, and gets every answer right, to their amazement.
- Cut to Phil doing his on-air report of the festival. This time, he slates all hell out of the festival. “If you’re after a weather prediction”, he rants, “you’re asking the wrong Phil…I’ll give you a weather prediction – it’s going to be a long, cold, grey winter and it’s going to last you for the rest of your life”.
- Cut to a shot of the alarm clock going off, and Phil’s hand knocking it off the bedside table.
- Next time it goes off Phil smashes it with his fist.
- Next time it goes off Phil hurls it onto the floor, smashing it.
- Phil’s back in front of the camera again, and he makes a mockery of the report again. “There is no way that this winter is ever going to end”, he says, “as long as this groundhog keeps seeing his shadow…I don’t see another way out…he’s gotta be stopped, and I’ve gotta stop him”.
- Cut to Rita and Larry talking about Phil by the newsvan – they’re very worried about him. Phil then appears and says: “I’ve come to the end of me Rita, there’s no way out now, I just want you to know we had a beautiful day together”. He walks towards a truck where there’s a cage containing the groundhog. The cage is put in the truck, and Phil simply gets in the truck and drives off. The alarm is raised that Phil the groundhog has been kidnapped, and all the police and Rita and Larry too set off in pursuit of Phil and Phil (although Rita and Larry don’t know that Phil has stolen Phil).
- The chase is on and we see Phil driving with the groundhog holding the wheel too. Phil leads them to a building site, and the police pull up and reveal that there’s no way out of the site except the way they came in. Phil then reappears from behind a huge mound of shingle, and drives seemingly towards the assembled policemen, but the veers off the side of a steep gorge, plunging to certain death. We watch in slow-mo as the truck crashes to the earth, and then explodes.
- Cut to the clock hitting 6am again.
- He strolls downstairs wearing just his pyjamas, and enters the breakfast room. Mrs. Lancaster – as always – asks him if he wants any coffee but he just ignores her, unplugs the toaster, and walks off…
- Cut to his room, where Phil gets into a bath full of water, plugs the toaster into the socket, and drops it into the bath with him…
- Cut to downstairs, and the lights going off in the breakfast room.
- Cut to Phil in the street, stepping out in front of a truck.
- Cut to Phil atop a bell tower, about to jump off the top. We watch in slow-mo as he falls.
- At the morgue, the sheet is pulled back and Rita and Larry identify Phil’s body. “He was a really, really great guy”, says Larry, not entirely convincingly, “I really liked him a lot”.
- Cut to the diner. Phil tells Rita that he’s a “God”. “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned…and every morning I wake up without a scratch on me, without a dent on the fender…I am an immortal”. Rita asks him why he’s telling her this, and he replies: “because I want you to believe in me”. They continue to argue over whether he’s a God or not, and Phil then grabs Doris the waitress and provides a full description of her life history, inviting Rita to wonder – how does he know that? He then takes Rita over to another couple in the diner, and gives her the low-down on them, he continues to walk her around the diner, introducing her to the various people there. After a while she stops him and asks: “is this some kind of a trick?” “Well maybe the real God uses tricks”, says Phil, “maybe he’s just been around a really long time”. Rita puts Phil to the test, going around the diner asking him who people are. Rita is baffled, asking him how he knows everything, and Phil then predicts that a waiter is going to drop a tray shortly…which he does. Rita asks Phil if he knows her too, and he delivers an accurate breakdown of Rita’s hopes, dreams and history. “How are you doing this?” she asks, and he replies: “I told you, I wake up every day right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd and there’s nothing I can do about it”. “If you still don’t believe me”, he continues, “in 10 seconds Larry is going to come through that door and take you away from me, but you can’t let him…please believe me”. Phil scribbles on a piece of paper, and then Larry appears, saying: “are you guys ready? We better get going if we’re going to stay ahead of the weather”.
- Cut to a shot of Phil’s writing, which reads: “we better get going if we’re going to stay ahead of the weather”.
- Cut to Phil and Rita strolling through the park. “Maybe it really is happening”, he says, “otherwise how could you know so much?” “Well there is no way”, says Phil, “I’m not that smart”. “Maybe I should spend the rest of the day with you”, she says, “just an objective witness”.
- Cut to Phil and Rita sitting on his bed, tossing cards into a hat. She misses a lot, while he explains that if you practise 4 to 5 hours a day, then you’ll get very good. “Is this what you do with eternity?” she asks. “That’s not the worst part”, says Phil, “the worst part is that tomorrow you will have forgotten all about this, and you’ll treat me like a jerk again”. “No!” protests Rita, but Phil says: “it’s alright, I am a jerk”. She begs to differ, but he says that it doesn’t even matter anymore, he’s killed himself so many times he doesn’t even exist anymore. She tries to be positive about it, and he says: “gosh you’re an upbeat lady”. She laughs, and tells him that she’s had a really nice day, and that she’d like to do it again sometime. She goes in to hug him, and then the clocks ticks past midnight, and she expects him to disappear, but he tells her that it doesn’t happen until 6am. She agrees to stay.
- Cut to them in bed at 3am. Rita is nodding off and apologises for doing so, but Phil says: “don’t worry you don’t have to stay awake, I promise I won’t touch you…much”. She goes to sleep anyway and he tucks her in, and then talks to her. “What I wanted to say”, he says, “is that I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life, I’ve never seen anyone who’s nicer to people than you are…and the first time I saw you, something happened to me, I knew that I wanted to hold you, as hard as I could…I don’t deserve someone like you, but if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life”. She wakes up and asks: “did you say something?” They say goodnight to one another.
- The next morning Phil is awoken at 6 as always, and he looks across to the other side of the bed, and sees it’s empty.
- He approaches the tramp as always, and this time gives him a big clip of money.
- He then walks through the park carrying some coffees for Rita and Larry.
- They gratefully take the coffees. Phil then says: “hey I was just talking with Buster Green…he’s the head groundhog honcho, and he said if we set up over here we might get a better shot. Phil asks Larry what he thinks, and Larry likes the idea, and Rita compliments Phil on his “good work”. Phil then grabs the bags saving Larry to drink his coffee, and says: “we never talk Larry, do you have kids?”
- Cut to Phil in the diner, reading poetry and listening to classical music.
- Phil knocks on the door of a PIANO TEACHER’S house, and asks if he can have a lesson. The teacher explains that she already has a pupil in there at the moment, but Phil offers her $1000 and she invites him in straight away, shoving a schoolgirl out in the process.
- Cut to Phil meeting the fat man on the stairs. This time he warmly kisses him on both cheeks., before quoting poetry at him. The fat man walks off in a good mood.
- Cut to Phil chewing gum and playing the piano very badly, as the teacher looks on, unimpressed.
- Cut to Phil using a chainsaw to carve beautiful ice statues. Larry and Rita appear, and Larry asks Rita if she knew Phil could ice sculpt.
- Cut to Phil improving on the piano. “Not bad Mr. Connors”, says the teacher, “did you say this was your first lesson?”
- Cut to Phil running into Ned again. He gives Ned a hug and tells him he has missed him “so much”. Phil continues to hug Ned, and says: “are you heading somewhere? Can you call in sick?” In the end Phil freaks Ned out to the extent that he runs off.
- That night Phil walks past the tramp, and takes him off to the hospital to get seen to.
- In the hospital, a NURSE approaches Phil, and tells him that the tramp just passed away. Phil asks what he died of, and the Nurse replies: “he was just old, it was just his time”. “I want to see his chart”, says Phil, and marches through to the patients’ area, as the nurse protests. He pulls back the curtain and asks where the chart is, and the nurse reiterates what she said earlier, about it just being the old man’s “time”. “Not today”, says Phil.
- Cut to the diner, where Phil has bought the old man some soup. “It’s hard down there at the bottom”, says Phil, giving the man his bowl of soup.
- Cut to an alleyway, where Phil is trying to resuscitate the tramp via mouth-to-mouth. It’s too late though, the tramp is dead, and Phil gazes heavenwards.
- Cut to Phil on camera, surrounded by mikes. “When Chekov saw the winter”, says Phil, “he saw a winter bleak and dark, bereft of hope, yet we know that winter is just a step in the cycle of life, but standing here among the people of Punxsutawney, and basking in the warmth of their hearts and hearth, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter”. Phil signs off and gets a round of applause for his efforts. Larry tells Phil that he “touched” him, and Rita says that she had no idea Phil was “so versatile”. She asks him if he’d like to get a cup of coffee, and he says that he’d love to, but he’s got some errands he needs to run. “What errands?” Rita asks, “I thought we were going back?” Phil has gone, though.
- Phil walks down the street, but looks at his watch and begins sprinting.
- Cut to a kid in a tree. The kid slips and falls, but Phil is there to catch him. The kid just runs off afterwards, and Phil calls him “a little brat” for “never thanking” him. “I’ll see you tomorrow”, says Phil, “maybe”.
- Cut to a car with a punctured tyre rolling down the street.
- Inside, three old ladies beginning arguing amongst themselves about who’s to blame for the flat tyre. However they’re surprised when the tyre appears to be re-inflating, and we cut to a shot of…
- Phil pumping up their tyre.
- Cut to a restaurant where a man is having a heart attack. Phil appears and performs the Heimlich manoeuvre on the man, who spits out a piece of steak. “If you’re going to eat steak”, says Phil, “get some sharper teeth”. They thank him, and he lights a woman’s cigarette on the way out.
- Shot of the Pennsylvanian Hotel.
- At the bar, Larry is chatting up Nancy, without much joy. Nancy heads off to the party, and Larry joins her, bumping into Rita on the way. “Maybe we should call Phil”, says Rita, and Nancy says: “Phil Connors? I think he’s already in there”.
- They enter the party and Larry puts his arm round Nancy, who subtly removes it. Rita looks up to the stage, where she sees Phil with sunglasses on, playing the piano with the rest of the band. She’s amazed, and moves through the dancing crowd towards him.
- Rita stands in front of Phil with his piano teacher, and after Phil has finished playing Rita says: “isn’t he good? He’s my student”. Phil greets Rita with a kiss, and in answer to her question about how he can play like that, says: “oh I’m versatile”.
- They dance, and Phil is spotted by the old ladies he helped out earlier, who sing his praises. “What was that all about?” asks Rita, and Phil replies: “I don’t know, they’ve been hitting on me all night”. Then the steak man’s wife comes up to Phil and kisses him square on the lips, saying: “I never thanked you for what you did for Buster”. “Hang on to him dear”, says the woman to Rita, “he’s a real find”. “What did you do today?” Rita asks him, and Phil replies: “oh you know, same old, same old”. The young couple from the café are the next to approach, and they thank Phil for helping nudge their relationship in the right direction. “I don’t understand”, says Rita, “how does everyone know you? You only come here once a year, and you seem like the most popular person in town”. An old couple then approach, addressing Phil as “Doctor Connors”, and thanking him for fixing the old man’s back. “Doctor Connors?” questions Rita, after they’ve gone, and Phil replies: “it’s kind of an honorary title”. Rita says that she’s sure there’s something going on, and Phil says: “would you like the long or the short version?” Rita wants the short version.
- Then the announcer reveals that they’re going to have a bachelor auction, and Doris pushes Phil up into the crowd of eligible bachelors. Phil goes up on stage, and the bidding begins. A bidding war quickly develops between Doris and Nancy, but eventually it’s Rita who blows them both away with a $300 bid. Phil walks offstage and takes Rita’s hand. Next up on stage is Larry, who is sold to a little old lady for 25 cents.
- Outside the party, Rita and Phil run into Ned, and Phil explains that he’s taken out life insurance with Ned. Ned explains that it’s the “best day of my life”, and Rita and Phil agree before Rita makes their excuses and leaves.
- Cut to outside in the snow. Phil is sculpting a statue out of snow and ice, and won’t let Rita look until he’s finished. “I need to give you your money’s worth”, says Phil, “you paid top dollar for me”. “Well I think I got a bargain”, says Rita. He finally turns the statue around and we see that it’s a sculpture of Rita’s face. She thinks it’s beautiful, and asks him how he did that. “I know your face so well”, he says, “that I could have done it with my eyes closed”. Rita doesn’t know what to say, but Phil does: “no matter what happens tomorrow, for the rest of my life, I’m happy now, because I love you”. “I think I’m happy too”, says Rita, and they kiss. It starts snowing, and they walk away…
- Cut to the clock hitting 6am. This time, however, Rita is alongside him in bed. He pinches her to check she’s there, then says: “something is different”. “Good or bad?” she asks. “Anything different is good”, he replies, “but this could be real good”. They kiss, and he asks why she’s here. “I bought you, I own you”, she replies, “you said stay so I stayed”. He gets out of bed, excited, and looks out of the window, where he sees an expanse of snow and no people in the street. “They’re all gone!” he exclaims. He jumps back into bed: “you know what today is? Today is tomorrow!” He begins kissing her and she says: “oh Phil, why weren’t you like this last night? You just fell asleep”. “It was the end of a very long day”, says Phil. “Is there anything I can do for you today?” asks Phil, and Rita replies that she’s sure she can think of something. They start kissing, and camera pans across to the clock, which reads 6:01, and then moves out of the window.
- Cut to Phil and Rita leaving the guesthouse. “It’s so beautiful”, says Phil, before proposing that they come and live there. They kiss, and Phil says: “we’ll rent to start with”.
- Final image: Rita and Phil running off into the snow, on the idyllic sunny day.
Save the Cat Analysis
Opening Image (p. 1)
– Opening image: a blue sky with clouds moving across it, and “marching band” type music. The clouds moving potentially foreshadows the unrest in the heavens that results in Groundhog Day actually occurring, but this doesn’t really feel like a counter-balance to the finale. The strange music also sets some sort of tone – the film is odd, and so is this music – but overall this isn’t a particularly Snyderian Opening Image.
Theme Stated (p. 5)
– “People are morons”, Phil tells Rita and Larry in the truck on their way to Punxsutawney. This is about as close as we get to a Theme Stated moment here. People may be morons, but often they’re nice morons, and this is the moral of the tale – be nice to people or bad things will happen to you. Ultimately though, this isn’t a very convincing beat in Snyderian terms.
Set-Up (p. 1 – 10)
– Where this first 10 minutes is very effective is in showing “how and why the hero needs to change in order to win”. Phil is rude to Larry, egotistical (referring to himself as “the talent”, and insisting he gets better lodgings than everyone else), arrogant (he believes his weather report is correct, and dismisses everyone else’s), and is also dismissive of all the random people he comes into contact with (the fat man, Mrs. Lancaster, the tramp, Ned etc.). Of course, this film is the king of running gags and call-backs, as we revisit the same scenes over and over again, just tweaked slightly each time. So the opening 10 minutes here very much sets these up. There’s also a great sense of the “calm before the storm” here, as this is the only 10 minutes aside from the finale where Phil isn’t trapped in some bizarre netherworld. There is, as Snyder, argues, “a sense in the set-up that a storm’s about to hit”, and in GROUNDHOG DAY, one actually does, trapping Phil in Punxsutawney. Take into account the characters set-ups (many are introduced in this section), and this is one of the most Snyderian Set-Up sequences we’ve come across.
Catalyst (p. 12)
– 14 minutes in and “Punxsutawney Phil” appears, and declares that he does see a shadow, so that winter will last for 6 weeks. This is one contender for the Catalyst moment here, the other occurs soon afterwards (15 minutes in) when Phil, Larry and Rita get stuck in the blizzard and have to return to Punxsutawney. The latter moment feels more Snyderian ultimately, rooted as it is in some kind of reality (as opposed to the weather-predicting groundhog). Both arrive slightly late in this 94 minute movie, but it’s still big enough and impacts on the story sufficiently to feel in sync with Snyder’s theories.
Debate (p. 12 – 25)
– Aside from the obvious, “what’s going to happen next?” feeling, there isn’t any significant sense of Debate here. Phil doesn’t even know what’s happened to him yet (and nor do we), so there isn’t even the sense of proactive thinking on Phil’s part, about what he should do next. There’s obviously some sense of debate – or bewilderment would be the better word – on Phil’s part after he realises what’s happening to him, but whether that is a direct-enough question to satisfy Snyder is dubious. Overall then, this is another in a long line of Debate sequences that fails to endorse Snyder’s theories.
Break into Act Two (p. 25)
– 26 minutes in and Phil has come to understand the fix he’s in, and attempts to describe it to Rita, who just thinks he’s crazy. There’s also no evidence of any abnormalities when Phil has his brain scanned, but overall there’s virtually no sense of a clear act break here – it’s more a case of previous events reoccurring, as Phil experiences them in different ways. The “proactive decision on the part of the hero”, which Snyder so loves, is also absent here: Phil has no choice but to enter the whacky netherworld of GROUNDHOG DAY (although it is arguable that this lack of choice is indicative of the type of film this is, ie. a punitive one).
B Story (p. 30)
– “The B Story of most screenplays is the ‘love story’”, writes Snyder, “and it is also the story that carries the theme of the movie”. As discussed elsewhere, it’s also one of Snyder’s least convincing story sequences, and there’s virtually no semblance of a B Story in GROUNDHOG DAY.
Fun and Games (p. 30 – 55)
– Phil realises that, in his world at least, there are no consequences, and runs wild, crashing cars; eating as much as he likes; using his special situation to seduce women like Nancy, Rita and others; stealing money; dressing like a cowboy and generally doing precisely what he wants. This is a very Snyderian Fun and Games section, which not only feels very upbeat and mischievous in terms of tone, but also very much contains “the promise of the premise”. The fact that it also ends around the right time would also please Snyder.
Midpoint (p. 55)
– Having thoroughly enjoyed himself playing God in Punxsutawney, with an uninterrupted string of mini-triumphs, Phil’s journey comes to a halt when Rita fails to fall for the charms that seduced Nancy, and refuses to sleep with him. This happens 54 minutes in, and feels like a natural – if not particularly explosive – Midpoint (and a clear “down” moment at that).
Bad Guys Close In (p. 55 -75)
– Bad Guys Close In as Phil initially grows impatient with his routines, and gets slapped by Rita earlier and earlier in the timeline. There’s a genuine sense of the Bad Guys Closing In here, as Phil’s appearance deteriorates (he looks ghostly and dishevelled), his on-air performances are depressing and cynical, he smashes a series of alarm clocks, and then kidnaps the groundhog – the symbol of all that is sweet and good in the small town. However the whiff of death comes early here as, 60 minutes in, Phil tries to kill himself (and the groundhog). The whiff of death swiftly becomes a stench, as Phil continues to try and kill himself in a variety of ways. Overall though, there’s certainly a strong sense of the forces around Phil, tightening their grip, as nothing he seems to do has a positive impact on his situation.
All is Lost (p. 75)
– The All is Lost beat here involves an “up” for Phil, to counterpoint his “down” at the Midpoint, as he manages to persuade Rita that he’s really telling the truth about his strange predicament. The whiff of death, of course, has come earlier but overall this is an effective Snyderian beat, taken in tandem with the Midpoint.
Dark Night of The Soul (p. 75 – 85)
– This sequence begins positively, and continues in a similar vein, as Phil and Rita enjoy a lovely day together, and then when Rita falls asleep Phil confesses his love for her. However subsequent scenes really feel like they’re the stuff of a Finale sequence, not a Dark Night of the Soul, as Phil rights all his previous wrongs: giving money to the tramp; being nice to Ned; getting coffee for Rita and Larry; doing a great on-air report; and generally “improving” himself through learning the piano, reading poetry and ice sculpting. Overall then, this is actually a very positive, life-affirming sequence, and really not Snyderian at all.
Break into Act Three (p. 85)
– 77 minutes in and Phil is told that the old man he saved once, has died anyway. This is a strange beat – certainly, it gives Phil the final bit of impetus he needs to get in touch with himself and realise what he can do for other people, rather than what they can do for him, but it’s far from the most convincing Break Into Act Three moment, lacking the sense of “hazzah! The solution” that Snyder loves (Phil has already found the solution, after all, as shown by his earlier good deeds). Overall then, another weak act three break.
Finale (p. 85 – 110)
– As suggested, the Finale really occurs earlier here, during the Dark Night of the Soul sequence. This sequence, in which Phil plays Superman (saving kids from trees, pumping up tyres and performing Heimlich manoeuvres) is really just an extension of the earlier one, where Phil gave the tramp money etc. But the earlier sequence felt more like a Finale because Phil was righting specific wrongs he’d committed earlier, rather than new ones (we’ve never seen the kid up a tree, for example). Snyderian in many ways then, but not as Snyderian as the Finale moments within the Dark Night of the Soul sequence.
Final Image (p. 110)
– Final image: Rita and Phil running off into the snow, on the idyllic sunny day. A beautiful and happy image, but as suggested above, not exactly a strong counterpoint to the opening.
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2 thoughts on “Save the Cat Analysis Series: GROUNDHOG DAY”
Of course, I don’t expect every movie to adhere to every theory of structure. However, along with Jim’s excellent observation above, I have some thoughts on some of the Snyderian Beats.
I agree that the The Catalyst is the storm. But, Debate/Point Of No Return is the short period after the storm hits when Phil argues first with the traffic cop and then with the phone operator to let him get through to Philadelphia. When he ends up back in Punxsutawney, he’s at the Point Of No Return. I agree that it’s not his choice, but since it’s a “punitive story”, he loses this debate.
The B Story to me is Phil’s relationship with Punxsutawney (and its people). This means that at Break Into Three, the solution to Phil’s A Story is to combine with the B Story of letting himself “fall in love” with the town (and people).
At Dark Night Of The Soul, Phil’s new A Story goal is clearly stated: “I don’t deserve someone like you, but if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.”
Break Into Three starts when he wakes without Rita the next morning with a newfound sense of purpose, which now involves the B Story of having to accept his relationship to Punxsutawney.
Thus, the Finale is Phil forging his new world by accepting where he is instead of where he (thinks he) prefers to be.
Theme stated: 2:Voice of PHIL (Bill Murray) and his hand against a blue backdrop. “Someone asked me today, where would I most like to be”, he says, “and I’d probably say about here”.
The theme is being happy here.