With Christmas just around the corner I thought this week I would get into the spirit of things and watch a Christmas movie. And what Christmas movie stands out in every person’s memory, be they young or old, more than It’s a Wonderful Life? This Christmas fantasy dramedy is based on a short story called “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern. It’s a Wonderful Life has become a film synonymous with the Christmas season, and is considered one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made. Not only is it recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, but it tops their list at #1 of the most inspirational American films of all time. Director Frank Capras even revealed that this is his favorite film he directed, and he screened it for his family every Christmas season. With such high recommendations I figured I was in for quite a good time.
It’s a Wonderful Life was everything the critics and fans said it would be and more. I found myself sympathizing with George Bailey, played by the talented James Stewart, at the beginning at the same time as I disapproved of his weakness and selfishness in wanting to commit suicide. It’s such an easy way out that, especially when you think about all the loved ones he’d be leaving to cope with his death, that for a moment it made me hate him. He embodied the spirit of a two-sided coin. On the one hand he is extremely selfless for giving up his dreams in order to help others. On the other hand he’s extremely selfish for wanting to throw his life away.
Luckily, his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), intervenes just in time to show him all of the lives he has touched through his selflessness. Odbody, through a fantastical adventure through an alternate universe, reveals to Bailey what life would have been like in his community if he had never been born.
But before we even meet Odbody we get to experience Bailey’s life and see all of the sacrifice’s he’s made for those around him, as well as the love he’s gained from his friends, family, and community through his selfless acts. From the very beginning George Bailey wants to get out of the small town of Bedford Falls and make something of himself out in the world. As a child he reads National Geographic and claims he’s going to be an explorer someday. He’s also very responsible, and not only saves his brothers life but saves his employer’s when the man accidentally puts poison into a customer’s prescription. We see him grow from a boy to a man, his dreams only getting bigger as time goes on. He has plans to go to college, see the world, and become an important architect, make “something big, something important” of himself. He doesn’t want to be stuck in some crummy little office like his dad. As he says, “I’m shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet, and I’m going to see the world!”
I actually loved watching his enthusiasm and excitement. It reminded me of how I was when I was in college, and had the same kind of big dreams. Not that I don’t anymore, but it was rather nostalgic watching him as a young man.
His romance with Mary also touched my heart. He’s funny and charming, and I can see how any girl would want to be with him. He wants to give her the world and more. I finally understood that famous line from when they’re talking after the school dance.
“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”
“I’ll take it. Then what?”
“Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see… and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair… am I talking too much?”
He’s got such a vivid imagination. He has every last detail of his life planned out, and is confident he’s going to achieve it. I could imagine, under the right circumstances, him accomplishing all those dreams he set out for himself. And they’re not just for himself either. I think he really wishes he could give Mary anything she wanted. He loves her that much. Sadly, life doesn’t always work out as we plan. The death of George’s father puts a rather large dent in George’s plans. In order to save his father’s business, The Building and Loan, from Mr. Potter, the “richest and meanest man in Bedford Falls,” George has to take over and start running it himself. His father’s business helps out a lot of people, though. When the bank refuses to give people loans for a house, The Building and Loan can be counted upon to help out.
And so, George takes his father’s place, something he vehemently wanted to avoid. He gives the money he saved up for school to his brother Harry for his schooling. It seems that every life George touches becomes blessed with good fortune. He provides homes for people living in the slums, he helps his brother go to school and then take a prestigious job in Buffalo, and he helps businesses in his town grow through his own loan business. The entire community profits from George’s good will. Despite having to give up his dreams, George still doesn’t lose that boundless energy and optimism either. He puts as much energy into keeping the business alive as he put into going to school and seeing the world. What does he receive from all of this? A life filled with love; the love of his friends, his family, and his entire community.
So, what does end up pushing George over the edge into considering suicide? On Christmas Eve he finds out his accounts are short by eight thousand dollars, a hefty sum in those times. His Uncle Billy somehow lost the money, but the blame will be put on George. The business will go bankrupt and he’ll go to jail. Even after this news, he still trudges on. He even goes to Mr. Potter to ask for a loan to save the business, for which he’ll provide his life insurance as collateral. Mr. Potter simply laughs in his face, saying to George, “You’re worth more dead than alive.” This is when George reaches the “end of (his) rope.”
Then comes good old Clarence Odbody literally falling out of the sky to come to his aid. He fulfills George’s wish to have never been born, and George is able to see what the town would have been like had he never existed. It’s a seedy, crime-ridden place, full of casinos and bars. Bedford Falls no longer exists, as the entire town is now owned by Mr. Potter and is named after him. To top things off, because George never existed his brother Harry died as a child. Odbody’s comment is truly wise in this situation. “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” George is more important than he realized. He has in fact done something great and important with his life. He just wasn’t able to see that until he was gone. As Odbody once again wisely says, “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
Well, this is just the kick in the pants George needed. He wants to live again. He wants his town back, his family and friends back. In a scene reminiscent of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, after getting his life back, George runs around town yelling “Merry Christmas!” to everyone he sees, just like Ebenezer Scrooge. And then a true Christmas miracle occurs. After everyone in the town discovers George’s problem, they all chip in to help him make up the money he lost. George’s business and life is saved by the love of all of his friends.
As his brother says, he’s “the richest man in town,” rich in love that is. And so this film truly won my heart and soul. I’ve been converted. I think I shall watch this movie every Christmas season from now on.
Do you love It’s a Wonderful Life? Does it lift your spirits and fill you with love for mankind? What other Christmas movies do you love to watch during the holidays? Sound off below…
Need a list of great Christmas films to get you through the holidays? Check out Julia’s Top 15 Christmas Movie Picks.
Want to know the best Christmas television specials to watch? Check out our list from last year here.Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.