It's A Wonderful Life
Throughout all the years of writing for websites, including this one, there’s been one challenge that I haven’t meet. It should be obvious to everyone by now that challenge is writing this “Flicks To Hold You Over” review of this motion picture. It’s a classic staple of the Christmas season; to many people it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas until this Frank Capra has been watched.
Or at the very least it’s been in the background while the tree or other parts of the house is being decorated.
What about the actual film? What is it about this movie that is so special and essential for the season? Would it stand up to non-holiday nostalgic?
The actual story of “It’s A Wonderful Life” is on the surface simple but with epic over-tones. Three angels review the life of James Stewart’s “George Bailey’s” life, from the moment he saved his brother’s life after he fell into a break into the frozen lake, to the minute his life almost comes full circle and George is about to jump off the bridge on Christmas Eve because everything he worked towards and sacrificed for was taken away because of a few thousand dollars that were misplaced by his uncle.
Two of the biggest life-defining moments in his life involve ice-cold water in winter. That symbolism is no accident.
During the angel’s review of George’s life, we meet his dad who sacrificed his own health and emotional well-being for the people of The Bedford Falls Savings And Loan. His biggest adversary was Mr. Potter, the richest man in the town, and the most spiritually poor. George has to take over The Savings And Loan for his dad after his passing, sending his brother to college in his place. Every time there’s a new opportunity for George to live his dream as a builder and traveler, the rug is pulled underneath him to keep the institution his father and his absent minded Uncle Billy started.
There is some happiness in George’s life, with his wife Mary and his friends Burt the cop and Ernie the cab driver. There’s also Violet who wants to be more than just friends, and there’s Mr. Martini the local bar owner who is one of a few other numerous friends in the backdrop that makes Bedford Falls seem like a real place.
George’s hard life is complicated when Uncle Billy loses the bank deposit on the same day (Christmas Eve) that the bank examiner shows up. In a series of events that make this horrible situation go from bad to worse, George discovers that in the eyes of people like Mr. Potter that he’s worth more dead than alive…
Thus bring us to the scene when George is about to take his own life. He meets Clearance, the angel that doesn’t have his wings yet who is sent to Earth to help. While having the I.Q. of a rabbit and the faith of a child, he shows George what Bedford Falls would have been like if he hadn’t been born. The alternate version is grittier and louder that’s full of vice. Not the kind of place where you would want to raise a family, but if you’re a single man out on the prowl it might be just the location. George discovers through seeing this alternate version of his home town that he had quite an impact, the only thing that kept old man Potter from turning it into New York State’s answer to Las Vegas.
Knowing that George might go to jail because of his uncle’s mistake, he tells the angel that he wants to live again and that things should be put right. Once again at the bridge, everything is returned to normal and George runs through the restored town like he hadn’t seen it in ages. Obviously everyone else thinks he’s gone insane. The final scene of the motion picture reveals that the town does appreciate him, and pitches in to help him and Uncle Billy set things right.
We don’t know for sure what happens to Mr. Potter, to our knowledge he never had to face his crimes and misdeeds in this life time. Any epilogue to address that issue might seem to trivialize the joyous ending with all of the people gathering around George and singing “Auld Lang Syne” as he reads the inscription that Clarence wrote inside his dog-eared copy of “Tom Sawyer.”
“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
I have an enormous sense of satisfaction each time I see that this guiltless man who sacrificed his own needs and dreams for the betterment of his whole town is finally recognized. While evil isn’t vanquished this time, it’s at least deterred. The Devil and Greed aren’t going to win this time, not on this holiday at least.
For me, from the perspective of someone who has felt such deep despair that I’ve actually debated taking my own life and wished I was never born, this motion picture really speaks to me. I know what it’s like to be caught up in something bad and been on my knees asking God to grant me mercy this time. I know what it’s like to have done something wrong and known that those I love will suffer more than I will. I’ve repented and learned from my mistakes, the biggest lesson is to allow time to sort things out. Nothing is as bad is it originally seems, don’t do anything rash.
I know what it’s like to be standing on the proverbial bridge looking into the water while thinking about jumping, andI know the sense of euphoria that comes from knowing I’ve been forgiven or that everything was all a genuine mistake and understanding with the whole event forgotten.
Why can’t that happen more often? How many times have honest mistakes been made and lives were ruined as the result. Or one’s foot slipped and because someone did something that felt good at the time and turned into a horrible quagmire that person couldn’t have gotten out of and wound up setting that person back or destroyed what was precious to them?
How many times has that been us?
I want to believe that we are all a little “George Bailey.” We all do a little something to make the world better; that none of us really know the positive effects we’ve had in the lives of others. While we have all done things that we later regret or been falsely accused of malfeasance, we have tried to do good and be better people. The lives of those around us are better because we’re in our lives. I demand and insist that we are more “George Bailey” then “Mr. Potter.”
I couldn’t stand to live in a world where that isn’t true.
If there’s anyone for whom we should feel sad for, it is Mr. Potter. Yes, he’s greedy, manipulative and perhaps evil to his core. Worse yet, he’s unrepentant. There is no love in his live, besides that of money. No one would shed a tear if he died that night. If anything, Mr. Potter is in a desperate need of a visitation from his own “Jacob Marley” and the three spirits of Christmas.
In a tongue and cheek way I can note that this motion picture is essential for Retrocentrics because of the obvious time period and Mr. Stewart’s fedora that rivals that of Mr. Bogart’s. That’s obvious, that’s a given. It also has the message of a traditional value; the need for forgiveness, understanding, and peace. There is no hope for peace without forgiveness and understanding. All of us have someone we need to forgive, if not for them but for ourselves before moving on.
"It's A Wonderful Life" is also a message about persevering in trying to make this world a better place. It’s hard work and often thankless, but rest assured that someone is watching and taking note, somewhere.