Movie Scene Doppelgänger: The Futility of Trying to Recreate a Magic Moment

VDayMoviesGroundhogDay_gallery_primarySo, rewind a few weeks, to February 2nd, Groundhog Day to be precise, and, as corny as it sounds, my family and I watched, as we do every year, the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day.

We’ve watched the movie many times, each time I tend to notice something I hadn’t noticed before, or a particular scene strikes me as funnier than it had before, or something like that, and this time was no different. It took me a couple of weeks to fully piece this year’s revelation together, and here it is:

    The snowball fight scene is the cinematic doppelgänger of the lobster scene from Woody Allen‘s 1977 film Annie Hall. (see the lobster scene below)

The photo shown above is from a scene where Bill Murray’s and Andie MacDowell’s characters are having a magical moment. Murray’s Phil has been harnessing his experience of reliving the same day over and over again in order to learn as much as he can about MacDowell’s Rita, a strategy which, at first seems to be working. Phil deftly manages to shift Rita’s impression of him as a cynical, arrogant, and selfish jerk to a sensitive guy with deep interest in her as a person, as well as someone who seems to share her values. They build a snowman together, and, after a spontaneous snowball fight with some kids, they kinda inadvertently fall close to each other in the snow, their eyes lock, and they kiss. It’s sweet and playful.

But, Phil overreaches. Managing to persuade Rita to come see his room at the B&B, his selfishness returns, he becomes extremely pushy with sexual advances, culminating in a slap to the face and Rita’s swift, angry departure.

His attempt the “next day” to recreate the magic moment is painful to watch, so forced and fake and duplicitous, the antithesis of what Rita would want:

And, of course, it doesn’t work. It will never work. That’s why the original moment was magical. It was the coming together of two people whom at first didn’t seem at all well-suited for each other, yet in the surprise that they could actually get along and have fun, affection and even love, or at least the possibility of love, happened.

Now, rewind 16 years, and try to remember, if you can, a scene from Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s Alvy and Diane Keaton‘s Annie are on a little getaway to the seaside, when hilarity breaks out in the kitchen, as Alvy and Annie are trying to cook lobsters, but the lobsters have somehow scattered about the floor.

Once again, you have two VERY different people coming together, taking delight in the fact that, despite their differences, they are having a lot of fun.

But, as we know, sadly, Alvy and Annie grow apart. And, Alvy, like Phil from Groundhog Day, is under the mistaken impression that he can recreate that magical lobster moment with someone else.

Here are both scenes spliced together:

As one YouTube commenter wrote:

This is perhaps the best scene about what chemistry is. And how it can only be found and lived, not recreated, not replaced.

So, yeah, it’s chemistry, or magic, or something, and it has a shelf life.

As I said, it took me a while to fully formulate this post, to connect the dots across 16 years of film history, but it finally came together this past weekend, in Portland, Oregon, where, as I mentioned, I was on a mini-vacation with my wife and 15-year old son.

On Saturday, we, along with, it seemed, 95% of the population of Portland, visited OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). We went to OMSI not only because it’s supposed to be an amazing place, but also because our son had been there several years ago on a class trip, having stayed the night on the premises, and it was…

…magical!

We were careful to honor the memories of that magic, and asked him if he was sure that he wanted to go, he was now 15 after all, and perhaps, we wondered, he’d think it was for younger kids and not his thing at all anymore.

And yet, when asked, he enthusiastically said, “YES!!! OMSI’s AWESOME!!!”

Fast Forward, and we’re standing outside in the rain, waiting to get in, or we’re wandering around the museum checking out the exhibits, and he’s noticeably quiet, a quiet that, we’d soon find out, represented disappointment.

The magic could not be recreated, for whatever reasons, maybe the fact that he’d been with his classmates and friends last time, or the fact that they got to have a sleepover in a museum (how cool is that?!), and the fact that he’s now a little older and he’s there with his parents, etc.

Anyway, the lesson here is pretty obvious: Should you have magic moments, savor every frickin’ drop, breathe it all in and gather it up and store it away in your heart and mind, take some photos and video if you want, so that you can think of and feel those precious, unique memories, whenever you summon them.

Just, please avoid the disappointment and don’t try to manufacture them again.

Trust me. It.won’t.work.

69 thoughts on “Movie Scene Doppelgänger: The Futility of Trying to Recreate a Magic Moment

  1. Maya

    Beautiful moral to your story: Magic moments have a shelf life and so we should savor the memory and appreciate it for what it was and not kill it by trying to recreate. So simple yet profound. I enjoyed this :-) Thank you.

    Reply
  2. kloipy

    This was a fabulous piece. The ‘Fresh Press’ badge definitely earned. Nothing good comes when it is forced. The best recreation is the one that plays in your mind.

    Reply
  3. Naomi Baltuck

    I love the parallel you draw between the movies, and also between reel life and real life magic moments.

    When I saw the night photo in your last post I wondered if you had gone to Portland for the long weekend. My husband, my 22 year old son, and I went to Portland for the weekend too. In fact, we also went to OMSI to see the Mythbuster exhibit. We had a blast–the highpoint for me was discovering that I could dodge bullets faster than either my husband or my son. Perhaps your son, being on the verge of adulthood, might have been too self-conscious to really cut loose among the hordes. In seven years, or when he goes back with children of his own, he might still be able to recapture those feelings.

    I do love revisiting old memories. Where we are mentally and emotionally can affect our perception or enjoyment of them. When I took my kids to Disneyland for the first time, and we were walking down Main Street, I felt my children’s little hands in mine, and grew teary-eyed. I remembered when mine was the the little hand, and I could almost feel my late mother’s invisible presence walking down the street with us. The same, but different.

    Great, thought-provoking post!

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Thanks, Naomi, and I should clarify about OMSI. We actually had a good time, the Mythbusters exhibit gave us some good laughs, it just couldn’t match my son’s first experience there.

      Funny that we were all in Portland the same weekend. Love that city!

      Reply
      1. Naomi Baltuck

        We do too! I understand about OMSI. One Halloween about ten years ago, I got dressed up to go trick or treating with the kids. I wore a costume with a mask and gloves, eager to see if I could recapture the excitement of the experience. It was fun, but nothing close to the wild ride it had been when I was ten. I didn’t want to consume the sugar or calories, and if I had wanted to, I could have bought as much really high quality chocolate (or Good ‘n’ Plenties) as I wanted. It just wasn’t the same.

        Reply
  4. Storm

    I had a boyfriend who always thought certain things could be created again. If we went on a date, and it was awesome, and we had an amazing night, he would try to do the exact same thing the next night and be mad when it wasn’t exactly the same feeling. I tried to explain to him, that great moment is in the past, we need to make new moments. We can’t just keep doing the same thing.

    I also like how you connected this to the museum with your son. Very good insight. The Annie Hall clip was great.

    Reply
    1. mackernally

      You are so right. In the words of your wonderful and much neglected American writer Thomas Wolfe (I mean the real Tom Wolfe; not that white-suited imposter) and it is so true: You Can’t Go Home Again. Please read him, especially the heartbreakingly beautiful “Look Homeward, Angel”. Why bother re-enacting the old when you can create the new.

      Reply
      1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

        Thanks for the thoughtful comment and the recommendation (more like the imploring) that I read Thomas Wolfe.

        Wolfe is someone whom I’ve always been ashamed to admit not having read, but you have inspired me to bump him to the top of my list.

        Reply
  5. L. Palmer

    This is the same reason why creative endeavors can’t be broken down into a specific math. There are many great how-to books on writing, painting, etc, but they miss the point that creativity is made up of long strings of hard work highlighted by magic moments along the way.

    Reply
  6. Drew

    Wow this is a great way to tie movies and life together. They say that movies are can represent real life, and you’ve found a really great way to explain that with a much deeper meaning.

    Reply
  7. timeforactionlady

    Love how you drew together so many meaningful experiences (filmatic and autobiographical) to show us something you have learned. Keep watching Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day, won’t you? As some rituals gain meaning and value through repetition. Not the point of your post, I know, but…

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Thanks for your comment and for mentioning the idea of rituals deepening with time.

      I thought about that as I was writing my post, and I even wondered if it’s kind of a contradiction to my premise.

      Ritual can be magical and can withstand nearly infinite repetition, with no shelf life at all.

      Hmmmmm. A conundrum!

      Reply
  8. Jessica

    I LOVE Groundhog Day! Just rewatched it not long ago. I agree that magic moments can’t be recreated. Even rituals can change from year to year. (E.g. Not all of the family can make it for Christmas this year, or whatever.) Great post!

    Reply
  9. robertsdsilva

    I completely agree. There’s this movie (Indian) that I & my wife have watched several years ago & we end up laughing by just thinking about the movie & its different scenes. But recently we purchased a dvd of the same movie & we watched it & couldn’t find the same joy that we had in mind all these years…….

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      I’ve had that experience with some movies too, although there are some that I’ve watched many times, still love them, and even discover new things about them each time.

      Thanks for your visit and for your thoughtful comment.

      Reply
  10. Cary Morton

    A great post :3 Thank you for sharing your musings! Also: my husband’s birthday is on groundhog’s day.. so we watch that movie every year too! I think I could probably recite the entirety of the dialogue at this point.

    Reply
  11. rossmurray1

    Wonderful post. As someone who has attempted re-dating two ex-girlfriends, I can vouch for this.
    Also, watching the Annie Hall clips, something baffled me: how could anyone possibly get into that oven with the refrigerator right in front of it?

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      I have watched Annie Hall more times than I’d like to admit, and I NEVER noticed that before, about the oven and the refrigerator!

      Good catch! I can’t fathom how anyone could use that oven without going insane!

      Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Excellent question, Andy.

      This is exactly where my thoughts are being taken, by having written this post and then absorbing some of the comments on this topic.

      As I mentioned above, I’m now slightly rethinking my premise. Perhaps there are some experiences that can be relived while retaining the magic.

      Somehow, though, I think there’s something about trying too hard to recapture a moment or perhaps it has to do with having the wrong reasons for wanting to do so.

      Thanks for contributing to this discussion!

      Reply
      1. andyhodgson2000

        Same every time or not, it’s definitely a worthwhile tradition and one worth keeping up. Groundhog Day is a great example of whatever the film equivalent of ‘comfort food’ is, always enjoyable.

        Reply
          1. andyhodgson2000

            I don’t know if there is an equivalent term for films, but there should be/ ‘Comfort film’ doesn’t exactly strike the same chord, we need something different. Suggestions welcome.

  12. Kimberly Scott

    I’m a big fan of both of those movies and you make a great point. There’s a distinct sense of fleeting unattainable happiness.
    Beyond trying to re-create a magic moment it is also true, that if you try too hard to create a magical moment in the first place, it will not be magical. Someone said that magic, is just something that science hasn’t explained yet. So if you’re too scientific about it, you’re dooming it to death.
    Maybe that’s part of the charm of these scenes. They’ve managed to keep alive the sense of something happening that’s unplanned, even though of course there was a camera crew there, and a script at least to some degree.

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Hi Kimberly,

      I really appreciate your contribution to the discussion. I’m enjoying the comments more than I enjoyed writing the post!

      I like this, particularly:

      Someone said that magic, is just something that science hasn’t explained yet. So if you’re too scientific about it, you’re dooming it to death.

      It raises an interesting question, for a former English major like me. I have noticed that over analyzing something, especially things of beauty, like the arts, can sometimes diminish the experience. And yet, I had great fun analyzing the works of literature that I studied in college, dissecting them thoroughly, and most of the time this analysis helped me better understand and appreciate the works.

      Hmmmmmmm. It’s something to think about.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  13. Mimi Broihier

    Film genius! I love your theory and, being a film fan myself, am quite impressed by your post and disappointed with myself for not ever having the memory to pull off that kind of comparison. Your post was one of the most enjoyable I have read in a LONG time. Thanks!

    Reply
  14. TomBoy

    I love that first film that you referenced… I can say it from start to finish, because I’m weird. The message is profound and rather Buddhist too–you can keep doing the same thing and can get it right when you let go of tomorrow.

    Reply
  15. Milt Farquhar

    The planets align of their own accord – no amount of effort can make it happen. You just thank your lucky stars that, sometimes, it happens when you’re on hand to witness it. Nice post, and also a gentle reminder to me that I haven’t watched Groundhog Day in too long a time.

    Reply
  16. ihaveabookinme2013

    Had a similar experience. Went with a friend to junior prom. It was spontaneous, we realized at the last minute that neither of us had dates, and we had such a great time together. We agreed that next year, should we find ourselves without serious relationships, we’d go again together to senior prom. Predictably, it was a disaster. Enjoy each moment and live life with eyes wide open.

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Nice story! Thanks!

      I asked a friend to my senior prom because I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. I tried to think of who I could ask, and I thought of this friend because she was just one of the funnest people I knew, and I figured that without all the so-called romance we would just simply have a good time.

      And we did, and we started to like each other as more than friends, and then we were a couple for several years, and I went to her senior prom.

      Reply
  17. Chas Spain

    obviously have to follow a blog called fish and bicycles. Where is the fish going? Why does he have sunglasses?

    Loved your post. We just had a magical white night festival in Melbourne. Everyone was mesmerised by seeing their city literally in a new light and sharing it with so many people – plus the weather was perfect etc… So when it was such a success naturally they said ‘we’ll do it again’ I felt a bit like – mmmm ……what will it be like a second time? …then I’ll just be comparing the next event to the last one… everything will have to be bigger and better and they’ll have B list celebrities and people will come from everywhere and it won’t just be about us and our city….. (see the magic is already gone)

    Only the art critics and journalists didn’t enjoy the festival because – ho hum – they are so impermeable to joy (the critics :<) and nothing bad happened to sell loads of papers the next day (the journalists :<) – they said 'it was an unexpected success' but pointed out in the second sentence 'there was litter on some streets' and 'people were quite everywhere and it was crowded in spots' etc.

    Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Hi Chas!

      Thanks for your comment. Always wonderful to hear from someone down under, and I appreciated learning about the white night festival. Sounds like a cool event.

      Some events like this do manage to evolve rather than remain self-referential, only to become stale and boring. I’m wishing the best for yours.

      Cheers!

      Reply
    1. Fish & Bicycles Post author

      Hi Ed,

      I don’t usually approve comments that I suspect may be thinly-veiled attempts to draw traffic to a site via an included link, but I enjoyed the video and agree that more awareness and action on the environment is badly needed.

      Cheers!

      Reply

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