The movie Groundhog day is such a unique story but I think it’s the construction of it that delights me most. How you can relate to Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, as he arcs his way from the worst day of his life to the best day of his life, all in the same 24hrs. The film has so many themes, optimism, altruism, opportunity, misanthropy, it’s a life lesson every time I’ve seen it.
Which, somewhat ironically, is multiple times.
However, what I didn’t know until recently was that what was left out was even better.
Or rather… worse.
I am assuming you have seen this movie, but if not… press pause dear reader, go away, nip down to Blockbuster, rent the film, then fire up the old VHS recorder, watch it and then return, remembering to rewind! (Remember all that rigmarole?) Oh and don’t forget to return it on time otherwise you’ll be charged.
One of the things that has always struck me as part of the film’s charm is the lack of explanation as to why it all happens.
I always thought it was some oblique reference to a celestial being and some sort of karma-like judgement. Phil Connors is a self-centered asshole who needs to learn how to live a better life.
Well, yes and no.
Harold Ramis wrote, but ultimately left out the part of the ex-girlfriend who cast the spell on Bill Murray’s character, meaning that he was sentenced to re-live the same day over and over. It’s a typical movie conceit, the ‘wish that somehow magically is realised’, from ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Big’ to ‘Liar Liar’.
So here’s what’s fascinating about the omitted part of the narrative.
It explains everything but adds nothing.
They shot the scene but edited it out and found the lack of explanation really worked.
One is left to ponder the magnitude of the universe and all its myriad of wonders. It raises questions… and in communications, questions are good.
In pharma we are often obliged to ply our HCPs with facts and data and that’s all well and good, but does it make much difference at the point of engagement?
You know that feeling when you see something, let’s call it an ad, and it just tells you the facts and then you just stand there for a bit and go oh okay, thanks for that information.
It’s not that satisfying is it?
You say to yourself, ‘I don’t really have any questions about this information, but I will consider myself informed.’
What Harold Ramis did was essentially the old ‘cover it up and if it still works, you don’t need it‘ test.
For those newer to this advertising lark it was a good way to learn about the dynamics of communication; if you can cover up the headline and the idea still works, guess what? you don’t need the headline. Takeaway the visual, does the headline do the same job? You have yourself a copy campaign.
The best comms tend to raise questions in your head and make you do a little work.
Maybe I should start using less plastic?
Perhaps my car should be more economical?
Do my armpits smell too?
An air of inscrutability, so long as it doesn’t confuse the hell out of everyone, can have an enigmatic effect.
It’s why we watch murder mysteries, It’s why we watch rom-coms to find out how the lovers can overcome the obstacles in front of them. It’s how to tell a good story.
It’s amazing how many people actually do want to find out more if the bait has been laid well enough.
Plus, it can push your idea in to some more interesting and different areas.
And as Phil Connors says when he finally awakes in tomorrow, “… anything different is good”.
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