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Group Writing themes help generate conversations that are not necessarily about politics or current events. For August, our theme is “A day in the life.” Movies that reflect this theme could be a straightforward telling of a tale in 24 hours, a slice of life. Here, however, are three movies in which a day is lived over and over: Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run, and Memento.
Groundhog Day. The 1993 movie with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell became a part of American culture, shifting the meaning of “Groundhog Day” from a day predicting the weather to an experiential loop, living the same day over and over. Bill Murray is in a sort of purgatory, working off his cynical, selfish disposition. The plot moves along because Murray wakes up remembering each past day, so is able to treat each 24 hours as an experiment. Groundhog Day is hard to dislike and safe for almost any audience.
Run Lola Run, originally Lola rennt, is a 1998 German film. Lola’s boyfriend calls her frantic that he has lost a crime boss’s money and has 20 minutes to somehow come up with the money or suffer the consequences. Lola sprints to the rescue, only to fail and apparently find herself back in the first moment. This plays out three times, with vignettes showing how the lives of people she contacts change in each iteration. Run Lola Run is unconventional in its structure, and you really need to be able to understand a German-language film, with or without subtitles, to enjoy this movie.
Memento, released in 2000, is more violent and disturbing than Run, Lola, Run. A man apparently has no ability to shift short-term memory into long-term storage. We see images suggesting he suffered a head injury when he interrupted the rape and apparent murder of his wife. His reason for living is revenge upon a second attacker, as the police apparently are convinced he killed a lone attacker before losing consciousness. He sets a routine of taking Polaroid pictures and annotating them, capturing some essential fact or conclusion about the person or place. He has the most important facts, to him, tattooed on his torso, arms, and legs.
The whole movie consists of fragments, apparently overlapping and shifting in time. We are alerted from the beginning that what he thinks happened is subject to manipulation, that he may not have all his facts, written on Polaroids, a thick file, or his skin, right. Memento is neither sweet nor quirky. It is a dark, violent film that challenges viewers to unravel the real narrative. There is an option, in DVD format, to solve a puzzle at the menu level, unlocking a version that plays all the segments in chronological order, apparently revealing what actually has happened.
Each of these three movies deals with time differently. While the audience sees characters looping through time, only in Groundhog Day is the protagonist aware that he is living the same day with different variations all terminating and restarting with the same morning. Lola might be looping in time living out alternatives, or we might just be seeing three possible permutations of the same initiating event. Leonard, while he can never remember one day to the next, is actually progressing through linear time, distorted by his damaged and partial perception. Most of us would prefer a day in the life of Bill Murray’s character, I suspect, to Lola’s frenetic race through the streets of Berlin or the frightening fog and fragments of the damaged, vengeful Leonard.Published in