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Consider the subject of this movie: It’s A Wonderful Life is about a man who has more than his share of disappointments, watches others get ahead in life while he stays stuck in his job at the Savings and Loan, never gets out of the town in which he grew up, and nearly ends up in jail for something he did not do. The hero, George Bailey, is a nice guy but he’s not the most gifted man in the neighborhood. Why then has this become such a popular movie and a Christmas season classic to boot?

I don’t know if I can answer my own question, but this I know: It’s A Wonderful Life is not the sappy movie that a lot of people tend to think it is. Underneath it’s twinkling surface with a befuddled angel, goofy friends, loving children and an unbelievably patient wife, there is a hard core of some pretty cold realities: The decent don’t end up on top; life is just one mistake away from disaster; people can let you down; life can be pretty darn hard. Can it be that the power of It’s A Wonderful Life is that it looks squarely at these realities and, rather than giving into despair, affirms the determination of those who attempt to make the best of what life sends their way, not just for themselves but for others, and in the process make a difference? And doing so they are rewarded with friendships that are indeed a type of richness?

George Bailey is, in a sense, the guy (or gal) next door. He is not the person with the great vision, not the dynamic maker and shaker, nor an obvious role model. He is hard working, committed to his family and community, willing to stand up and be counted on in a crisis, and boringly reliable. George Bailey is not the one for whom a statue is likely to be erected but the one who does the things that help hold things together. Frank Capra, the director and producer of this movie, said he wanted "to show those born slow of foot or slow of mind....that each man’s life touches so many other lives. And that if he isn’t around it would leave an awful hole."*

The first two thirds of this film show George’s generally good spirited efforts to save the Bailey Bros. Building And Loan and the town itself. His personal plans often end up being undermined by disappointing developments. Finally, when the worse seems behind, George faces not just a serious financial loss but possible criminal charges. Everything comes crashing in. The tone of the movie changes completely. We suddenly see a man who has given up and lost hope. Old man Potter, the town’s greedy power broker, seems to win. With no way out of his predicament, George’s rage turns inward, and he considers killing himself.

We must remember that film makers use different devices to make a statement and advance their stories. Capra did something that would seem hokie if the device did not result in such an original and meaningful turn. He introduced an angel who in an attempt to help George, grants him his wish that he had never been born, allowing George (and us, the viewers) to see how his life had made a difference by seeing what would exist without that impact. George is suddenly lost in a world, literally, not of his making. It is even colder and harder than the one he knew and all the people that he has lived with have lives more difficult and troubling because he was not there to touch their lives.

It’s A Wonderful Life
is considered a fantasy because of Clarence, the angel. I disagree. The only thing that Clarence does is allow George to see his value and what would be the fate of his friends and the town if he had not been around. The angel creates for George a situation that allows the man’s love for his family and friends to pull him out of his despair. In the end it is George’s friends who chip in to save him from disaster.

Can one person’s life make such a difference? Of course, all the time, in small ways, but ways that add up. Most of the time we don’t really see what we have done and the difference it makes. Sometimes someone might thank us or let us know but usually the impact is not seen. More often than not the negative impact of abusive or bad behavior is more obvious. And those who tend to have great pride in how they help others are not the ones who are the most significant.

It’s A Wonderful Life
would be good to watch after viewing Citizen Kane. Charles Foster Kane is a man of incredible material fortune but, in contrast to George Bailey, ends up a lonely man. Kane is also an idealist, at least he seems to start out that way, but despite his wealth and influence does little for those he truly could have helped, including his friends.

*Frank Capra, The Name Above The Title
Not rated by M.P.A.A.

The booklet Understanding Victimization can be an aid for those who struggle burdensome issues as George Bailey did. You might also find the booklet helpful to read after seeing It's A Wonderful Life. For only $3.00 plus shipping and handling you can have this booklet mailed to you within two days! Check out this booklet NOW!
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Last modified: 18 March, 2009