The Mountain We Can’t Climb

It’s February 2020, and I’m on my annual Groundhog Day movies marathon. If you don’t know, Groundhog Day is about a man stuck in a time-loop on February 2nd, where every day is the exact same as the day before, and in recent years it has spawned a whole sub-genre of similar movies with varying spins on that central time-loop premise: The Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day in space with aliens, Happy Death Day is Groundhog Day as a horror slasher. I find these films absolutely fascinating in contrast with one another; what is preserved and what is changed in each iteration, each just a little bit different from the film before it, repeated and reimagined without end. There’s a really very satisfying synchronicity to the fact that these films about minor iterations on an endlessly repeating day are themselves endlessly repeating with minor iterations between them, and the growing popularity of these kinds of stories must surely say something socially significant. I plan to write about it properly sometime soon, but I never quite get round to it. I often don’t get round to things. Maybe when I have some more free time.

Simultaneously, in my first-year University house, we bleat about the overblown reaction to the arrival of this new disease that will surely pass entirely out of mind in some small number of days…

It’s February 2021, and I’m on my annual Groundhog Day movies marathon. There’s been a really very major development since this time last year… and it’s called Palm Springs. What makes Palm Springs so interesting is that, unlike those films mentioned before, it has no major, elevator-pitch-able genre shift from the original Groundhog Day, making it, more than any other, a kind of direct reinterpretation for the 2020s. And apart from some aesthetic updates, the main differences that this reinterpretation entails are 1) that our man stuck has chosen to bring other people into his Sisyphean ordeal out of sheer loneliness, endangering their lives outside his bubble of time because he couldn’t bare to remain so distant and without real human contact, all of which the film frames as an understandable, but terrible, failing, and 2) that Palm Springs explicitly rebukes Groundhog Day’s notion that all it takes to escape this kind of small eternity is to learn a lesson. Here, self-improvement is no guarantee of being able to get back to ordinary life.

Were I to get around to writing about these films, I think there would be some applicability here to our situation, almost a whole year into the pandemic. I’m halfway through my time at university, and I’m on the other side of the country instead, at home, having not returned after Christmas. I’m keeping my distance from other people, trying not to endanger them out of my own need, and I’m struggling to be proactive in my own life. The knowledge that no amount of personal growth on my part will get us out of this trough is demotivating in the extreme; it’s almost impossible to plan for the future when it so seems not to exist at all. Waves come in and go back out, as waves are wont to do, but there’s a growing sense that this might be forever…

It’s February 2022, and it feels like my last annual Groundhog Day movies marathon was only yesterday. I’m not a brain surgeon, I’m a film student — perhaps the exact antipode — but my understanding is that in the absence of new experience, our minds compresses our perception of time, and I think this goes some way to explaining that feeling of these last years as both forever and no time at all: because I’ve simply not been having those experiences. And, of course, the principal reason for this is obvious, and I have a real, and I think justified, sense of loss in my life, as it has both stagnated and slipped away at once…

But as I finally write this, I’ve just wrapped on a film I conceived, wrote, and produced in just the last few months, and I’m making plans already for the next one. I’m coming up on the end of a degree dashed by circumstance, but I have designs for what’s next, and they excite me. I’ve made personal and inter-personal changes in my life that make me proud of myself. And I know that none of this will end the time-loop. The pandemic stretches away into the future, further than I can see: the same day forever ahead of us. But what I do with those days is mine to decide.

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