There is something fascinating about watching a character spend a day on repeat in some effort to learn a lesson or become a better version of themselves. We all know, or at least have a good idea, how the ending will turn out, and yet, we keep watching. Do we want to see this person become better? Or is it just amusing to watch them be tortured for an unknowable amount of time?
Here I am strictly discussing films and TV episodes where one or more main characters are trapped in a day that continues to repeat. The time loop is not a result of known time travel, like with 12 Monkeys, Source Code, or Looper.
For me, Groundhog Day is the epitome of time-loop movies. It is an incredibly written, directed, and acted film. Here is a guy who is the literal-walking definition of jerk, and we get to watch him evolve past his self involvement and selfishness and learn how to really love and care for other people by the end.
While the seriousness of what is happening is usually played for laughs, the emotional impact is more apparent with every rewatch. As a kid, it didn't really hit me that this man had given up all hope at one point and was killing himself to just try and make it stop. It also didn't resonate that he spent months if not years trying to manipulate the woman of his affection into sleeping with him instead of actually attempting to connect with her.
It really makes you question the idea of becoming immortal. After so long — in this case 10,000 years according to Harold Ramis — there is nothing new. What do you do with yourself when you've experienced it all and know everything? Hopefully, you would move beyond yourself and begin making the lives of others better.
I've only recently watched this movie in preparation for seeing Happy Death Day 2U, but I really enjoyed it. It was played up to be a lighter horror romp, but it's hard to feel light when watching a girl get murdered over and over again. Can you imagine being stuck in that nightmare? It's funny that it becomes second nature for her to be killed at one point, but when it swaps from being stabbed to being hit with a baseball bat or blown up, it feels a little gut wrenching.
Unlike Groundhog Day, the reasoning behind the loop is little more clear. She's been running from her mother's passing, which was possibly on her birthday, instead of really facing it and moving on. This has led, we assume, to her bitchy personality that she also learns to overcome as the movie unwinds. By the end, you are rooting for her to win and live her new and improved life.
This is one of the most commonly referred to Supernatural episodes, and I don't disagree. If you've thought about watching the show, give this episode a watch and then dive in. It's enjoyable, has nods to Groundhog Day ("Heat of the Moment" playing each morning similar to "I've Got You Babe"), and really brings to light an underlying flaw in the characters.
TV shows have a little more give when it comes to time loops. For them, and this episode is no exception, it's often a way to show the character what could be or what needs to be. Here the loop is a way of teaching Sam that there is no putting off the inevitable. No matter which road he travels, the final destination is the same. Dean will always be Sam's weakness and vice-versa. This has actually been a repeating theme throughout the show's tenure that the boys have unfortunately never learned. They continue to sacrifice themselves for each other, even if it means releasing hell on Earth or much worse.