Absolute Misery: The Groundhog Day Marathon

A first-hand account of the worst (and, simultaneously, the best) Sunday possible.

by Grayson Kelly

Photo: Gateway Film Center


Generally speaking, I tend to love pain. Let me rephrase that - I hate pain, but somehow, I always wind up seeking it. The greek call it Hubris - excessive pride or self confidence that seems to ritually lead to a miserable experience. It’s how a person winds up in a 100-mile bike race through the Ohio countryside, or running an actual marathon, or spending four years of their life in the Marines. But I digress.

Whether it was hubris or stupidity that led me to the Gateway Film Center’s Groundhog Day Marathon last weekend, one thing is for sure: I was thrilled for the pain. An old mentor once told me: “You can’t stop time.” 24 hours would be 24 hours, and nothing more. I figured myself to be prepared.

I arrived at the Gateway Film Center at 11:50pm alongside Julia Andreasen and Ryan Homcy. We planned to be joined by Caitlyn Horn, but as the clock struck 11:59, it became apparent she was not joining us for the next 24 hours. I can’t blame her.

The theater had alerted us that using any electronic device during the screenings is against the rules, so I had to take notes on paper. My ancestors would be proud of this old-fashioned, hard-hitting, socially important, true journalism.

The last time any of us had seen Groundhog Day, if at all, was nearly ten years ago. For this reason, I figured the first showing might be enjoyable, and the second showing would be tolerable. Thus, I would only really have to sit through ten showings. I feel confident. I’m smiling. But in the back of my mind, I know I will regret this feeling. I know so little of what the future holds.

Screening One: 12:00am - 1:40am

For all intents and purposes, this was an enjoyable experience. It was a test run for us first-timers, an opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the film, but also to learn the massive amount of audience participation. I plan to master the participation by screening three.

I ask Julia for her thoughts. “Objectively, this is a good movie.” Ryan is analyzing the selection of film: “It’s interesting, because it’s like you’re actually getting into his headspace.” When asked how he felt so far, he replies: “I really want those 24 tickets.”

The screen proudly displays: “1 down. 11 to go.” It is at this point I start to grasp the magnitude of this very poor decision I’ve made.

Screening Two: 2:00am - 3:40am

The movie is still objectively enjoyable.

We are made aware that a man a few rows in front of us is wearing a three-piece suit, specifically so he is too uncomfortable to sleep, and thus, less likely to be thrown out. I begin to worry about my ability to stay awake.

During this screening, we manage to completely lose our sense of time, until a man one row behind us informs their party of a mind-opening frame of reference. “By screening four, people will be going to church. By screening five, people will still be going to church. By screening six, people will be leaving church.” It makes the next few screenings feel a little less daunting, but our lanyards with 11 unpunched screenings do a great job at offsetting what little confidence exists.

I commit to the $10 “Bottomless Coffee” option. This will allow me to take in every minute of the next ten screenings of Groundhog Day with no fear of sleep. On the other hand, Julia fell asleep 50 minutes into this screening, waking up only to get her lanyard punched. It becomes clear there is no firm rule on sleeping, and as Ryan sets a plan to sleep during screening three, I begin to regret my cup of coffee.

I run into Dan Hoornbeek in the hallway. He looks like he took the first two screenings hard, but then again, I have no sense of self-awareness, and likely look worse.

This screening seemed much faster than the first, which gives us some vague sense of optimism about how quickly the next ten screenings will pass.

Screening Three: 4:00am - 5:40am

The next ten screenings will not be as fast.

Hunger begins to set in. Not only have we been watching the same film three times in a row, but it is also 4:30 in the morning. This has the ability to greatly confuse the body.

If you are not aware, a great Groundhog Day quote occurs when main character, Phil, is speaking to the police after a wild car chase. When the patrolman knocks on his window, he places a fast food order. His drunk passenger orders flapjacks, to which Bill Murray replies “Too early for flapjacks?”

For this reason, the Gateway promises to serve flapjacks. This sounds massively appealing, and we decide on placing an order during our next allotted break.

Julia falls asleep at the exact same point in the film, and manages to stay asleep until the finish. It’s unclear when Ryan fell asleep, but it does become clear that I am one of about twenty people in the theater still awake. We console each other anonymously through the audience participation, which dwindles to the point of one man, alone, yelling “Bing!” at a theater screen. That man was me. I curse the gods of sleep. I briefly allow myself to consider not making it through the night.

During the intermission, we leave to get our celebratory flapjacks. The kitchen informs us that an employee missed their shift, and that they are only serving breakfast burritos. I reluctantly, but alertly, accept this subpar breakfast food. I will come to regret this decision.

Screening Four: 6:00am - 7:40am

"Luckily, it's still funny." - Ryan Homcy

My body physically aches. It’s been seven hours in the theater, which seems like an accomplishment, until the man behind us says “We’re one third of the way through!” as if that is means for celebration. I consider the two thirds left to go. The 24 movie passes begin to lose appeal, as film has only caused me pain today, and I’d like to step as far away from this theater as I can. I feel like a truly weak man, but vow to not give up alongside the dozen or so we have already lost.

Julia considers how productive this all is, and that she might be able to get things done today, on “the outside”. We convince her to stay through one more showing.

The kitchen is still not making flapjacks.

Screening Five: 8:00am - 9:40am

This is easily the longest showing so far. My breakfast burrito is not settling well. My physical pain is met with mental anguish as I approach hour nine. The jokes are not fun anymore. By now, I know every single joke, its timing, and the characters’ reactions. I have taken to paying attention to background extras, to examine if their behavior is truly human, but I seem to have lost the awareness to judge - what is “human” anymore?

Ryan sleeps through nearly the entire showing.

Julia stays awake this time, and watches the back half of the film for the first time since the first showing. She is conflicted, admitting that she didn’t intend to stay through all twelve showings. Now five showings in, she realizes it might be just too much to walk away from. It’s unclear whether or not she will continue.

The man in the row behind us tells his friends that he is “feeling great”, which is extremely insulting.

Screening Six: 10:00am - 11:40am

I finally doze off during the beginning of this screening. Aware that this is happening, I feel, for the first time since screening one, optimistic. If I can sleep through this one, that’s one less screening I have to watch. I wake up 20 minutes later, convinced I’d slept for hours. It becomes clear I have to sit through this screening as well. This is a massive disappointment.

We are now halfway through this experience. The three of us are still intact, and in reasonably good spirits. Julia is still conflicted on whether or not she will stay through 12. I convince her to stay until Screening 8.

In the amount of time I’ve been sitting in this seat, I could have driven to Texas, or flown to Australia. But I am here, ready to approach my seventh screening of Groundhog Day in a row. My parents would be proud.

The Gateway employee that has been with us since screening one, hereto referred as our fearless leader, informs us that “it is 11:15am, so the bar is open again… Although I don’t advise it.” The crowd bursts into raucous applause.

I’ve run into Dan Hoornbeek every intermission, except this one. I begin to fear for his safety.

The man behind us tells his friends that he runs marathons every year, but this is the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. I think he’s lying.

We were promised Groundhog Day Trivia during this intermission. We were lied to.

Ryan and I have tried to order flapjacks during every intermission so far. I have yet to see a single flapjack in this theater. I ask how he feels. He replies, reluctantly, “I’m fine.”

Screening Seven: 12:00pm - 1:40pm

As the screening begins, Julia announces, in what could only be her best action hero impression: “Six more to go. Let’s do this thing”. She’s officially declared a commitment to the next six screenings, and seems confident.

The crowd seems aware that it is the afternoon, and the energy returns. We’ve caught our second wind. There are positive messages spread all around. “We’re on the back end!” someone shouts. It’s fun to see a crowd like this. A rarity indeed.

After the Flapjack Scene, I step outside during the screening to try my hand at obtaining flapjacks. The kitchen informs me that they’ve run out of flapjacks. I can’t believe it. I return to the theater with a chicken quesadilla, which is close enough.

During intermission, our fearless leader takes us through ten minutes of trivia. I step outside and see Dan, who is, surprisingly, alive and looking well, as if this is his first screening. His good spirits are mildly intimidating, since inside, I still feel terrible.

When asked for comments, Julia describes the restroom lines: “The women’s line is always shorter than the men’s, which means one of two things: There are more men here than women, or the men here are just hydrating better.” I don’t know where to begin to find out which is true. She takes a sip of water.

Screening Eight: 2:00pm - 3:40pm

If Screening Seven was our second wind, Screening Eight was the re-introduction to monotony. I return to watching the background extras closely. I am particularly enamored by this man with the bright red flannel and handlebar mustache wearing sunglasses inside, but I’m not sure why. He becomes one of my favorite characters of the film. I will get to see him four more times.

Julia falls asleep again for the entire back half of the film. When woken up to get her lanyard punch, she exclaims “I had dreams!”

We reward ourselves with ice cream sundaes.

Julia took this photo during a screening. No one noticed.

Screening Nine: 4:00pm - 5:40pm

In an effort to stave off the unrelentless boredom, I have been ranking every screening out of ten in terms of enjoyment (one being the quitting point, ten being “generally acceptable”). It looks something like this so far.

All three of us stay awake for nearly the entire screening. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see our way out.

Hints of the effects of sleep deprivation are beginning to set in. The screenings start to blend together. We begin to question whether or not we’ve seen a scene twice in one screening, or if that was, in fact, two hours prior.

At the end of the screening, Julia admits “That one was fun, but I actually don’t remember it at all.”

We have completely lost sense of time. I am surprised during every intermission when I’m allowed the opportunity to see “the outside”.

There’s a surprising retention rate - it seems as though 85% of our original population is dedicated to making it through showing #12.

During the intermission, Ryan orders Chipotle in a brazen attempt at defying a rule and sneaking in outside food. No one cares at all, and the Chipotle looks like the most appealing meal we’ve ever seen in our lives.

Screening Ten: 6:00pm - 7:40pm

The entire theater is gaining optimism and energy with every showing. No one left in this theater is washing out now.

Focusing on the background extras again, I notice this scene, where a waitress gets foam all over a man’s jacket.

As soon as it happens, a man across the theater yells “Oh no, that has to be dry cleaned!” and I feel intense pride for understanding his reference.

I order a sweet vermouth, on the rocks, with a twist, in an effort to feel more connected with the characters on screen.

As the showing comes to an end, the screen proudly displays “Ten down. Two to go.”

Julia suggests that the next two showings will either be intensely fast, or intensely slow. She is not wrong.

I see Dan again and pressure him for comment. Immediately and without question, he replies: “This is my hell.”

Screening Eleven: 8:00pm - 9:40pm

"Everything is just… Surreal. And so very exciting." - Ryan Homcy

The crowd is, for lack of a better term, positively amped. The end is near, and we are all intensely aware. As celebration, Julia and I place a sushi order.

I realize that, at this point, I don’t know anything except Groundhog Day. I’m unsure how I will assimilate back into society.

Screening Twelve: 10:00pm - 11:40pm

The crowd cheers through this entire screening. This is my 30th hour awake, and I am feeling the effects hard. It’s difficult to perform my required audience participation, as my reaction time and memory is significantly reduced. I’m laughing during parts of the movie that aren’t necessarily funny, as well as other times when it’s definitely funny, but I can't seem to remember why. I fear for my sanity.

I am not alone, as some patrons are screaming absolute nonsense at the screen.

We have been cheering for certain scenes for the entirety of the event, but those cheers seem to amplify during the final screening. For example:

It’s only in the movie’s final sequence that I realize the magnitude of what we’ve just been through. I never thought I’d see this hour. It’s finally over. The crowd, which typically applauds through the final scene, quiets to a dead silence, before Bill Murray delivers the final line of the film:

"Let's live here."

Nearly the entire crowd jumps out of their seat in celebration. There are hugs and high fives all around. We’ve done it - we’ve survived this 24 hours of hell.

Our fearless leader, who has been by our side through this entire ordeal, congratulates us on our endurance. As we file out and receive our twelfth punch on our lanyards, we are handed our abundant prize: “Tickets for a year, and bragging rights for a lifetime.”

It almost seems worth it.

Grayson Kelly is host to Between the Bars on AROUSE Mondays from 6p-7p. He writes regularly for his site, BetweenTheBarsRadio.com.