—at the beginning of its first paragraph. If you were to live the same day over and over, how would you use it? Me— I’d learn a foreign language or Pi to the Nth decimal place, just to freak out my friends and colleagues. It would depend on the day, of course. Some days, the second-of-Januaries, and those real 13th-of-August kind of days—they would rain on your parade. Beyond the “I never have to work again” celebration and obligatory “I can do what I like” dance, you might begin to realise that the Groundhog just isn’t in your favour.
So when Phil Connors and (perhaps with better reason) William Cage discovered they were stuck in the useless loop to end all useless loops, they both went a bit Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man. It is perhaps better for Connors in Groundhog Day that his loop was an ordinary day, because if I hear the words “on your feet, maggot!” one more time, I’m going to denounce Tom Cruise’s new film The Edge of Tomorrow and move to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to become a weatherman.
Unfortunately for Major Cage, he hears these words every time he wakes up and is mistaken as a deserter. Hurried off to the barracks, he soon finds himself on a battlefield, about to be slaughtered by the alien enemy on the eve of an invasion. It’s Groundhog Day with space ships.
The difference between 1993’s Groundhog Day and 2014’s Groundhog Day with Space Ships (or as the box office rather unimaginatively calls it, The Edge of Tomorrow) is ironically the reality of waking up to Day One, day after day after day. In the former, the resolve is found in the heart (or rather, the pants) of a woman rather fancied by Mr Connors. His day is left to the ticking of time after getting his rocks proverbially off with a certain Rita Hanson (who funnily enough shares her first name with the love interest of The Edge of Tomorrow, Rita Vrataski).
In The Edge of Tomorrow, however, it’s up to Tom Cruise to stop an invasion before he dies, and only in stopping the invasion will he survive. The science is out there, but it’s largely consistent and for the most part it works. The interesting part, though, is in the length of time each film spans. Given somebody smart has already calculated how long Bill Murray spent in Groundhog Day, let’s look at the second film from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint.
Time in The Edge of Tomorrow is taken for granted. It’s a mistreated mistress. It is exploited and it is left, cold and bruised, on the floor of a pub toilet. For this reason to represent the film in a timeline would be virtually impossible. But then, so is time travel.
You can click on the spoiler-y timeline for a bigger version.
Poor old Cage really has the worst of it. To simplify the deaths in the film is remiss, but the fast, progressive nature of it denies viewers the joys of counting the days and the deaths as in Groundhog Day. And with this progressive nature comes a simplification of character. It may be Groundhog Day’s biggest strength, but at least Bill Murray could hold a fairly large candle to Tom Cruise if he were inclined to do so. It’s not the quality of acting, but the depth of the script.
Where Cage goes through an near-entire cycle of such a timeline, progressing further and further through the effect of the cause, the daily cycle, in a heartbeat or a straightforward cut, Connors takes the time to develop through the repetition of each day on camera—barring a few gimmicks.
There was a man named Campbell—he was the king of gimmicks. He had a first name too, in fact. Joseph Campbell concocted what is known today as the Monomyth, or the “Hero’s Journey,” which goes like this (and which I have borrowed from the the Royal Society of Account Planning, bless). Reads from left down.
It is said that the Monomyth can be applied, more or (more often than not) less, to any story. But can it be applied to films with such complicated timelines? Let’s look at this in table form. Contains spoilers.
|Monomyth Element||Groundhog Day||The Edge of Tomorrow|
|Call to Adventure||Bill Murray discovers he’s woken up to the same day as yesterday. Uh-oh.||Tom Cruise is enlisted to fight at the front line. Uh-oh.|
|Refusal of Call||Murray acts as if it’s all a farce.||Cruise blackmails General Brigham.|
|Supernatural Aid||???||Cruise wakes up at the Heathrow base. He has been put there by General Brigham.|
|Crossing First Threshold||Murray decides to take advantage of the situation without consequences the following morning.||Cruise is dropped into battle.|
|Belly of the Whale||Murray realises he cannot die.||Cruise dies and wakes up at Heathrow base. He soon decides to use it to his advantage by warning people of the impending doom. He meets Rita.|
|Road of Trials||???||Cruise tries to escape and encounters many difficulties along the way, learning each time from his experiences.|
|Meeting with the Goddess||Murray realises his love for Rita.||Rita explains that it’s up to him to save the world. He is determined to do so.|
|Temptation||???||Cruise leaves the base for London.|
|Atonement with the Father||???||Cruise and Rita go to meet General Brigham.|
|Apostasis||Murray explains the situation to Rita.||Cruise has a blood transfusion. He can no longer relive each day.|
|The Ultimate Boon||Murray gets close to Rita, they fall asleep together.||Cruise has the vision he’s been searching for: The Louvre, Paris.|
|Refusal of Return||Murray wakes up still in the time loop.||Cruise stops Rita from killing him because he’s “out”.|
|Magic Flight||???||The two escape from the hospital.|
|Rescue from Without||???||Cruise convinces members of J-Squad to join him. They go to Paris.|
|Crossing the Return Threshold||Murray uses what he’s learned to craft the perfect day, saving people’s lives and being a generally good person.||Cruise realises that neither him nor Rita are going to escape, so he goes to kill the Omega.|
|Master of Two Worlds||Murray goes to bed with Rita.||Cruise kills the Omega and absorbs its blood.|
|Freedom to Live||Murray wakes on February 3 to find he is out of the time loop.||Cruise wakes up en route to General Brigham. He lives his life.|
As you can see, Groundhog Day with Space Ships fits the Monomyth like a glove, while the original Groundhog Day fits more like a loose sock with holes in it. It’s not that The Edge of Tomorrow is a better film than Groundhog Day, but Groundhog Day‘s focus is on the time loop itself, while The Edge of Tomorrow takes a more Hollywood-esque approach: there is something greater to achieve.
Of course, the question of whether love is a greater attainable commodity than the safety of the entire world is, one could argue, a moot point. Each film has its goal, and in achieving that goal the time loop is broken. Does it really matter that Groundhog Day is more revolutionary in the sense that it doesn’t follow the Monomyth? Does it matter that The Edge of Tomorrow has more (or dare I say, better) structure?
The net result of the two films is just that: two films. One is not a remake of the other, and for the love of God, don’t expect another Groundhog Day going into the cinema tomorrow. What should you expect? You should expect to be interested, to be intrigued, and to be confused. Frankly, it’s as confusing as putting the second half of a sentence from the end of an article—