(Plus Comment on Bill Murray’s Solution to His Information Theory Problem in the Film, Groundhog Day)
I recently re-watched the 1990 film Ghost with Patrick Swayze as a young banker murdered before his time, Demi Moore as his love interest, Molly Jensen, the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg as psychic Oda Mae Brown and Tony Goldwyn as junior banker Carl Bruner, Sam’s erstwhile best friend.
This is a chick flick. I have to admit I’m a sucker for romance so I’ll sit and watch these films from time to time especially when I can’t sleep and everyone in my famdamily is sleeping so I can be alone and NO ONE NEED EVER KNOW! It’s like women CEOs or women with PhDs in English Lit who secretly read Harlequin Romance novels. No harm done as long as no one finds out!
The scene that interested me this time around is when Oda Mae comes to visit Molly to tell her that her shot lover is now a ghost that only she can hear. The problem? How do you convince a skeptical audience of one that you really are who you say you are?
Sam tells Oda Mae secret things like the color of Demi’s favorite underwear and other things that presumably only he could know. This is a non trivial problem. Challenge yourself: how could you convince your girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse that you have come back channeled through another person’s mind? Not easy, right?
It really is the ultimate in terms of encryption/decryption problems. Information is originating from a source that cannot be traced (i.e., a ghost) or authenticated. So I solved it. I rewrote the scene. See if you like my solution!
This is an easier problem to solve than the one Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) has to tackle in the film, Groundhog Day. Each day is restarted and there is no obvious way he can convey any information whether written or digitally recorded (audio/video/image files) from one day to the next. He cannot change anything in the physical world from one day to the next nor can he alter the memory of any person other than himself.
This finally gives him the clue that he can, in fact, take information from one day to the next– in his mind but only in his mind. Once he realizes this, he is able to effect change in his Möbius strip looped life. He uses his repeating days to learn how to play the piano and otherwise better himself. By the end of the film, he plays like Oscar Peterson. Even better, he gets the girl, the lovely Rita played by a transcendent Andie MacDowell.
I give writer Danny Rubin huge kudos for developing this storyline; it’s believable within the context of a time warp that betrays the laws of known physics. That is, it works. It’s one of the few films where that can be said to be true (the other is, of course, Back to the Future) and the film is actually better on a second or third viewing because the writer and director don’t treat their audience as numbskulls and their material as a platform for puerile antics by adult actors playing a group of teenagers.
Now since as I write this it is in fact Groundhog Day 2012, I asked myself early this morning what I would do in Phil Connors’ place? The answer is I would write the next great novel using the same technique that Eli (played by Denzel Washington) used in The Book of Eli. [Spoiler alert] Denzel memorizes every line of the King James Bible so that its words and message will not be lost in post apocalypse America until he can find a safe place to render it into written form again. Hence, I would write each day and then memorize every line I wrote so that if I ever did get out of that Möbius strip of a life, I would have it done. And, good news, I wouldn’t be a day older.
Anyway, here is my re-write of a crucial scene in Ghost accompanied by a new solution for their information theory problem.
In the apartment that they shared before his untimely death, Molly is still totally unconvinced that Oda Mae Brown is actually channeling her murdered boyfriend, Sam Wheat. Oda Mae seems to know certain facts about her that maybe she could only have gotten from Sam but there’s no real way to know that for sure. Perhaps she has some other source—Molly’s friends or Sam’s or maybe she just goes through their garbage for some perverse reason of her own. Or perhaps the place has been bugged and Oda Mae has been listening in to their private conversations for God knows how long?
‘Oh the horror,’ Molly thinks.
“I’m going to call the police if you don’t leave right now!” Molly says to Oda Mae.
“Look I don’t want this, Molly, any more than you do but Sam won’t leave me alone until I deliver his message,” Oda Mae responds stubbornly.
“I don’t care. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. Get out. Get out!”
“Alright, I’m gonna go but you’ll be sorry.”
STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE, ODA MAE. YOU CAN’T LEAVE AND NEITHER CAN I UNTIL YOU DELIVER MY MESSAGE.
“I can’t and she won’t believe me anyway,” Oda Mae says to the invisible Sam.
SHE WILL. TELL MOLLY TO GO UPSTAIRS INTO HER ROOM AND GET A PAD OF PAPER. SHE’S TO WRITE DOWN A MESSAGE TO ME, TO SAM. I’LL BE RIGHT BEHIND HER, ON HER LEFT. I WILL READ HER MESSAGE OUT LOUD TO YOU AND YOU TELL HER WHAT YOU ARE HEARING, OK?
“Molly, Sam has a test for us. Go upstairs to your room, he’ll be there looking over your left shoulder reading whatever you write down. He’ll tell me what you are writing; I will hear him in my mind and I’ll tell you what you wrote, OK?”
“You probably just have a camera hidden in my room or something. You’ve been spying on me. It won’t prove a thing.”
TELL HER SHE CAN WRITE UNDER OUR COMFORTER.
“Sam says you can write under your comforter, it won’t matter.”
Molly looks suspiciously at Oda Mae but now she’s thinking of taking a risk—she wants to talk to Sam, just once, just once more. She also thinks that it’s kind of interesting that Oda Mae didn’t tell her to use her computer which would be much easier to intercept somehow. Maybe Oda Mae is on the level?
She goes to her room taking her diary with her.
Draping the comforter over her head, the pale translucent light from her bedside table lamp penetrates the tiny space she now inhabits. Sam’s head is there peaking through the cover, looking over her left shoulder.
Dear Diary, she writes.
“Dear Diary,” says Oda Mae raising her voice so that she can be heard upstairs.
“Hold on Oda Mae. That could just be a good guess,” a now impatient Molly says.
Dear Diary, if only I could talk to Sam once more, just once more.
DEAR DIARY, IF ONLY I COULD TALK TO SAM ONCE MORE, JUST ONCE MORE.
“Dear Diary, if only I could talk to Sam once more, just once more,” repeats Oda Mae.
Sam, is that really you?
SAM IS THAT REALLY YOU?
“Sam, is that really you?”
How can I be sure?
HOW CAN I BE SURE?
“How can I be sure?”
This is unbelievable.
THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE.
“This is unbelievable.”
I don’t believe in ghosts.
I DON’T BELIEVE IN GHOSTS
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
Oh Sam I love you.
What did you just say?
DITTO, TELL HER DITTO.
“Ditto, tell her ditto,” says a bewildered Oda Mae.
Why are you here?
I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR YOU.
“I have a message for you.”
TWO OF THEM.
“Two of them.”
What’s the first one?
THAT I WILL LEAVE AFTER MY WORK HERE IS DONE AND THAT YOU MUST GO ON WITH YOUR LIFE—FIND A NEW ONE.
“That I will leave after my work here is done and that you must go on with your life—find a new one. Wait. That’s what Molly wrote?” asks a now completely confused Oda Mae.
BE QUIET, ODA MAE. JUST REPEAT WHAT I SAY.
“Okay, Okay, don’t be so testy.”
Why are you looking over my left shoulder?
IT IS SAID: ‘LET DEATH BE YOUR ADVISOR*’.
“It is said: ‘Let death be your advisor’.”
Am I to die then?
NO. WHEN DEATH LOOKS OVER YOUR LEFT SHOULDER, HE IS HERE TO ADVISE YOU.
“No. When Death looks over your left shoulder, he is only here to advise you,” Oda Mae editorializes a bit.
What was your other message?
THAT YOU ARE IN DANGER.
“You in danger, girl.”
I WAS MURDERED.
“I was murdered.”
But why, why you Sam? You never hurt anyone. Everyone loved you, I love you.
I DON’T KNOW WHY. BUT THE MAN WHO SHOT ME DOWN WAS HERE TODAY IN OUR APARTMENT.
“I don’t know why. But the man who shot me down was here today in our apartment.”
What should I do?
TALK TO CARL, HE’LL HELP US. TALK TO CARL!
“Talk to Carl, he’ll help us. Talk to Carl right now! I’m leaving, I done my job, now everyone have a good life and you, Sam, have a good death. Bye.”
ONE MORE THING, ODA MAE.
ASK MOLLY TO DANCE WITH YOU AND LET ME IN.
“That’s two things, Sam.”
I KNOW. BUT SHE’S MY GIRL AND THIS IS THE ONLY CHANCE WE’LL EVER HAVE.
“Okay. Alright. Molly, Sam is within me or will be in a moment. He wants to dance…with you.”
Molly unshackles herself from the comforter and comes down to their living room once more.
“What shall I play?” she asks out loud.
“Unchained Melody,” says Oda Mae.
Molly enters the living room and selects this fabulous tune by The Righteous Brothers on their hulking Wurlitzer Jukebox that dominates one entire corner of this space. The 45 RPM record begins playing.
(This video should only be viewed by persons 18 or older. NSFO.)
Oda Mae experiences a significant event as Sam’s spirit enters her body—she is changed—her tone is different, her stature, her stance. Shyly at first, Molly comes into her arms then as she gets more comfortable, she nestles into the larger woman’s arms and bosom. Somehow she can feel Sam’s presence enveloping her.
They dance, passionately locked in a lasting embrace.
* Let Death be your advisor is a concept we see in many cultures. It is a way for each of us to prioritize what’s important and meaningful about our lives. There are many urgent but unimportant things that clutter up each day. Death can help you de-clutter and simplify things. Carlos Castaneda used this concept in his books about Yaqui shaman Don Juan. Here’s another way to say it: MAKE EACH DAY COUNT.