Groundhog Day is about making films, and several other reductive interpretations

16.07, Friday 8 Sep 2023

6 years ago I wrote an essay putting forward a general theory of creative work: creative works are commentaries on the act of creation.

Like, for instance, Blade Runner. Replicants are characters in a movie:

Characters look like people, except they exist for only the duration of a movie - only while they are necessary. They come with backstory and memories fully established but never experienced, partly fabricated for the job and partly drawn from real people known by the screenwriter. At the end, they vanish, like tears in rain.

Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Like replicants.

Roy knows he is a replicant. He’s the one who comes closest to understanding his true nature: that his memories were given to him, that when the short span of the film passes he’ll be gone.

I called it the Narcissist Creator Razor and the mechanism works like this:

All creators work (by necessity) from their own experience. The most direct experience they have is their current act of creating.

Therefore the material used to construct the inner reality of the creative work is derived from the outer reality act of creating that work.


In that essay I also dealt with:

  • Star Wars – the Force is the demands of narrative.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey – the Monolith is the cinema screen, this threshold between the inner and outer realities, and we watch the characters in their effort to interpret it from their side.
  • Arrival – there are three times: Viewer Time; Character Time; Author Time. The aliens exist in Author Time.
  • Permutation City/Diaspora/Schild’s Ladder, Greg Egan – the layers of the universe = time = the pages of a book.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – Ros and Guild are inner reality characters able to sense their nature of outer reality actors.
  • Hamlet – the uncaused cause of the whole thing is the Ghost… who was originally played by Shakespeare. Enough said.


Far from revising or recanting my reductionist Razor, I’ve been collecting more examples.

Groundhog Day

It’s about the outer reality experience of writing or filming a scene. You have to go through mistakes, frustration, play, acting, and unknown iterations to make genuine progress and complete it properly. Only then can you move on.

From the inside, every time is the first time. It’s impossible to know what “done” really means, until you arrive at us. Thus the outer reality experience is the material to perform the inner reality.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Crowley (the demon) and Aziraphale (the angel) are Gaiman and Pratchett, and their activity of controlling the world together - not always successfully - is the experience of authors.

1984, George Orwell

Winston Smith is paranoid that O’Brien, member of the Inner Party, can read his thoughts.

Though he believes what’s in his head is free: Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.

Smith is wrong, of course, because we can read his thoughts. The novel is told through his eyes, so we - the reader - are effectively the true O’Brien. We are the Inner Party.

The Smith/Party/Big Brother triad in 1984 is the character/reader/author triad. The world is a book. That’s why the past can be so fluid: there is no time in books; no reality except that communicated in the current line of text.

Foundation, Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was John Campbell’s not-entirely-willing protege. This ambivalence about Campbell - a powerful man who created Asimov’s early success - is re-told in the inner-reality Foundation’s struggle to get out from the under the thumb of Hari Seldon, who put into place the ancient Plan to lead them to greatness.

(Standard caveat: Asimov and Campbell were troubling individuals. More here.)

OR: we could read Foundation and Hari Seldon in particular as Asimov’s own conversation with planners vs pantsers. You can outline as much as you want but narrative has its own demands.

The Star Wars sequel trilogy

In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren says to Rey: your parents are nobodies. They don’t matter in this story.

He’s not talking about the First Order vs the Rebellion, but the outer reality story of Disney Star Wars vs Lucasfilm Star Wars. Kylo is not speaking to Rey, he’s speaking to us, the audience with bums in seats.

Remember that the Force is narrative:

Kylo is the radical side of the Force: none of it matters, not the Jedi (the films that were first made), not the Sith (standing in here for the expanded canon), burn it all down. We’re here to tell a story.

Rey is the embodiment of the conservative Force. She represents the side that wants to hang onto the old Jedi vs Sith, that wants to hang onto the Skywalker lineage. She represents the fans that care who her parents are. We’re here for fan service.

No, says Kylo Ren, all that matters is the reboot and the new fans. We can do this together or we can fight about it.

And this is what I imagine it was like writing a script for one of the new Star Wars movies. I must have been a nightmare. The director, the screenwriters, the marketing team… they will be wanting to create their new story, and speak to new fans. But they’re pulled back by the gravity of Star Wars history. Of needing to keep to canon, but also by the whining fans who grew up with the franchise. That must be an ordeal.

So inevitably that plays out in the sequel trilogy. The battle of two groups, both psychically present in the creators’ collective unconscious, possibly yelled in meetings, now the subject matter of the movies.

Watchman, Alan Moore

It’s a very unusual experience for Alan Moore, or any author, to live with worlds and characters in their head for so long. So it should be expected that we see that in the story.

Dr Manhattan. He can see the comic book. (Ozymandias thinks he can.)

It’s a fantastically efficient lens because, when you’re spending time wondering what any creative work is about, the Razor tells you that it’s simply the person who made it talking about what it was like to make it.

Cut to the chase!

On the other hand it must be terrifically annoying and short-circuiting for everyone around me, because at home I’m banned from talking about inner and outer realities entirely.

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