One of my favorite holiday movies has always been It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Directed by Frank Capra, it was based on the Philip Van Doren Stern short story The Greatest Gift. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, It’s a Wonderful Life has been recognized as one of the 100 best American films by the American Film Institute. Perhaps one of the reasons for my affinity for this film is that it was made in 1946, one of my favorite eras. So I have always felt a connection to this black and white classic…until this year.
Perhaps the cynical aspect of my personality which has emerged over the past few years has caused me to reexamine this holiday tradition. Objectively, it’s a fairly depressing film. Yes, part of the story of George Bailey is inspirational, but his continual self-sacrificing gets tiresome. As a young man, George does many heroic and helpful things. He saves his brother from drowning in a frozen lake, as a result losing his hearing in one ear. George prevents Mr. Gower, the druggist, from accidentally poisoning a child. When his father dies abruptly from a stoke, George unselfishly delays travel so he can run the family business. George even gives his college tuition to his brother Harry, expecting that Harry will take over running the Building and Loan once he graduates.
But then, things really go wrong for George Bailey. Henry F. Potter, the wealthiest man about town, continually tries to scam George to eliminate the competition of the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan. George is forced to remain with the company to prevent its dissolution. Although he marries the woman he loves, George never gets out of Bedford Falls, and even has to give up his honeymoon to prevent a run on the bank. When Potter gets his hands on funds from the Building and Loan, George faces criminal charges and a potential scandal that will ensue.
Potter notes that George is worth more dead than alive. A guardian angel, Clarence, thwarts George’s eventual suicide attempt. When George shares that he wishes he had never been born, Clarence shows George what would happen if this had occurred. To say the least, the town did benefit from George’s sacrifices and the angel reflects that George really has had a wonderful life.
George recognizes that the angel is correct. As he races to his home, the neighbors have gathered the necessary money to save George the scandal of missing funds. The bell ringing on the Christmas tree prompts his child Zuzu to say that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings. At this, George realizes that he has once again helped another as Clarence earned his wings.
Okay, yes, a heartwarming story…but seriously?!?! George was somewhat screwed. His desire to travel, go to college, and get out of that small town is prevented because he refuses to allow his personal desires to win out over the needs of others. Yes, it’s wonderful…hence the title of the movie. The selfish part of me wishes that George would be less self-sacrificing and actually go for what he really wants in life. For the moment he basks in the joy of all he has done for Bedford Falls, but I predict that ten years later, he would regret the missed opportunities. We have one life…I believe we should grab it by the balls. Help others, sure, but not to the extent that you set aside all of your life’s desires and goals. Balance is the key. George lacked that balance.
(Copyright 2018 Susie Krivacic)