The death of film maker Harold Ramis is a moment of deep sadness. For people of my generation, now living on the generous side of thirty, the Ghostbusters films were huge cultural touchstones, up there with Star Wars and Indiana Jones in the pantheon of fun, exciting stories that grew in meaning as we grew in age.
But for my money the most notable of Ramis’s works, the one that touches my heartstrings and tickles my funny bone, will always be Groundhog Day.
The day that just keeps giving
I first saw Groundhog Day in the cinema on my fifteenth birthday. The story of a grumpy TV weatherman stuck living the same day again and again, it didn’t make my teenage friends laugh as much as they’d wanted. But for me it was a perfect combination of sweet and funny. Watching Bill Murray’s character grow, remake himself, face despair, hope and ultimately transformation, there was something very relatable about it.
What I realise now is that Ramis did a fabulous job of reinventing the oldest writer’s maxim – write what you know. He might not have known what it was like to be stuck in a time loop (if he did then good for him), but he knew about human desire. He knew what it was to fall in love, to dream of being a better person, to long for the chance to re-do a significant day and make sure that you get it right.
Ramis turned ‘write what you know’ into ‘write what we all wish for’.
If I had a Groundhog Day
I suspect that we all have a Groundhog Day, a day we would like to live again, whether to put right our mistakes or to relish a treasured moment.
A year after seeing Groundhog Day I fell out with a group of close friends. It was largely my fault. Few teenagers know how to deal with their feelings, and I was worse than most. My cataclysmic blow-out – the first time I ever yelled at anyone in public – ended my first set of really close friendships. I didn’t know how to fix the damage any more than I could go back and avoid it. But I dwelt on that day for years, running over in my mind how I could have got it right.
If I could have a Groundhog Day, one day that went round over and over until I fixed it, it would be that day. I would save those friendships and in the process learn to deal with emotions that even now, as an adult, I get horribly tangled on.
All our Groundhog Days
Ramis achieved something amazing with Groundhog Day, making a common human feeling magical, showing something we all feel. It’s why I’ll always love his work, and is one of the many, many reasons why his loss is such a tragedy.
How about the rest of you? What were your favourite Harold Ramis moments? And what would your Groundhog Days be?