What if you had to keep eating the same breakfast, over and over?
Groundhog Day, the 1993 Harold Ramis film of semi-Buddhist philosophy wrapped up within acerbic comedy, captures countless early mornings. The plot concerns Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray at his sarcastic best), a weatherman sent to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He finds the task beneath him, and the day is filled with all manner of annoyances—and then, for unexplained reasons, he finds himself stuck in a time loop, reliving Groundhog Day while everyone else is oblivious to his metaphysical quandary. There's been debate over the exact number of times Phil relives the same day in the film (Ramis estimated around 30-40 years in an interview), but there's no doubt that he consumed thousands of high-calorie home-style breakfasts.
Breakfast is at the heart of Groundhog Day’s depiction of small-town life. Much of the action takes place at the bed and breakfast where Phil is residing, and in his very first interaction with a B&B employee, he drolly asks, “I don’t suppose there’s any possibility of getting an espresso or cappuccino?” Immediately, breakfast is a signifier of Phil’s snobbery, especially when we consider that cappuccino jokes were just beginning in the early ‘90s. Phil’s time loop dooms him to a perpetually early wakeup. At 6:00 a.m., all he has is coffee, but the early Groundhog Day ceremony (six more weeks of winter, over and over) and the blizzard that follows leaves time for a post-recording diner breakfast. For fortifying coffee and sticky buns, Phil and his producer/eventual love interest Rita (Andie MacDowell) head to the Tip Top Café. The diner functions as a philosophical anchor point for two of the film’s pivotal scenes.
In the first scene, after Phil has already repeated the day but still has many more repetitions ahead of him, Phil and Rita sit at a cozy table loaded with a veritable banquet of breakfast foods: pancakes, doughnuts, bacon and eggs, cakes, and of course coffee, which he chugs directly from the pitcher. He’s lived the day enough times to know such a wildly indulgent meal won’t affect him. Throughout Groundhog Day, we see Phil go through many different philosophical reactions to the time loop, from confusion, to hedonism, to despair, to empathy. This breakfast scene places us squarely in the early hedonism phase. “I like to see a man of advancing years throw caution to the wind. It’s inspiring in a way,” says Rita. Her tone quickly turns to disgust as Phil, in a further gesture of abandon, starts smoking a cigarette. “Don’t you worry about cholesterol, love handles?” she asks. “I don’t worry about anything anymore,” he replies. The breakfast is an exaggerated visual signifier of not giving a damn, simultaneously envy-inducing and nauseating.
After ever more cycles through the day, Phil inevitably hits the despair phase, and breakfast plays a role here too. He wakes up, goes to the B&B’s homey dining room, and without saying a word, unplugs the toaster with toast still in it. He takes it into the bathtub and plugs it in, unsuccessfully attempting suicide. We see him attempt suicide twice more, only to be revived by the time loop’s mysterious forces. Then, we’re back at the diner: “I’m a god,” Phil with only a cup of coffee this time, announces to Rita. “I’m an immortal,” he says, just before the waitress announces the special of blueberry waffles.
As proof of his “godliness” he walks Rita around the diner, rattling off every detail he knows about the patrons as they peacefully eat pancakes and drink coffee. He’s a cocky character but his vulnerability starts to come through at the diner booth—he wishes he had their innocence, and he gives Rita a poignant monologue on what he knows about her. In the next repetition of the day, finally, Phil brings breakfast for his cameraman and Rita. “Who wants coffee? Get it while it’s hot!” he offers cheerfully. We’re a long way away from the diner bacchanal, and after living the day thousands of times, breakfast for Phil has finally become a gesture of kindness.
The meal is a consistent part of Phil’s philosophical journey, and mirrors his emotional peaks and valleys—breakfast here can be utilitarian, even despairing, but we also see it become unabashedly decadent. Critics often treat the film as a kind of morality tale. By living the day over and over, exploring the infinite permutations of his actions, Phil ultimately becomes a kinder, more enlightened person. Breakfast acts as a barometer: Phil initially seems like the type not to savor the meal, for he has too much to do and sees small town diner culture as being beneath him. As he continues repeating the day, though, breakfast becomes a site of experimentation, and by the end of the film, when Phil politely brings breakfast to his coworkers, we sense that true change has taken place. The predicament at the heart of Groundhog Day allows Phil to try every breakfast he could possibly want, and ultimately leaves him more appreciative of the meal’s meditative potential.