I have never watched It’s a Wonderful Life. As a continuation to my ongoing sub-goal of seeing one classic movie I have never watched each month of my “I have never...” year, sitting down on Christmas Day to watch a film that has been associated with the holiday for decades seemed a good fit. As a result, Rachael helped me locate a time the movie would be broadcast on television during the holiday season and set up our home television system to record the broadcast. Although I didn’t look forward to the interruptions of commercial breaks during my first experience with the film, recording It’s a Wonderful Life from a television broadcast was a convenient way to gain my first experience with the film during what is easily one of the most hectic times of the year.
As a result, I settled in to watch It’s a Wonderful Life as Christmas festivities wound down around our house this afternoon. With roughly half of my family in attendance, remarks on the film were commonplace as the sights of a young George Bailey began splashing across the television screen. With scenes obviously familiar to those in attendance coming and going, statements regarding the quality of the plot and the significance of its early moments sprang from Rachael, my Mother, and my Father. It was apparent they knew the experience would leave me reflecting on meaning behind the tale and what it meant in the context of everyday life, which made me anxious to see the remaining story unfold as George’s young adult life transitioned into his role of a working man upholding his family’s legacy at a local financial institution.
|Saving a life... or two.|
|The kindling of a flame|
With our guests slowly dissipating with the fading daylight, I said a few goodbyes during the commercial breaks of It’s a Wonderful Life before our house was emptied and the familiar quiet of Christmas night settled in. With Rachael at my side, I found a comfortable place on my sofa and wrapped myself in blankets before continuing on to the second half of the film. The onset of the Great Depression and the subsequent World War made it clear changes in George Bailey’s life were inevitable. As a man with a distaste for the sense of permanence that came with settling down and raising a family in his home town, it became clear that the struggle between George’s dreams and his commitment to his friends, family, and home was a constant undercurrent in his actions. With these elements in motion, it was clear facing that conflict was an inevitable occurrence in George Bailey’s life.
|The bank run|
|Facing an enemy|
At first, I expected George’s struggle to be tied to one of the broader events occurring around him during the course of his life. Emerging roughly unscathed from the depression and avoiding significant harm due to World War II, it was unclear where the source of George’s conflict to emerge. As a result, I was surprised when George’s uncle caused George’s unraveling with the simple act of misplacing the family financial institution’s deposit funds on Christmas Eve. I watched as a passing mistake resulted in the Baileys’ business rival coming across the misplaced funds, which caused a significant discrepancy in the financial records of George’s business. Unaware of what to do and incapable of receiving assistance for locating the funds, George spun into a spiral of self-destruction that left his family in fear, left George’s freedom in question, and left George contemplating the idea of taking his own life.
|Desperate and broken|
As George stood ready to jump from the bridge above the frigid waters of Bedford Falls River, I found myself questioning his route out of his unfortunate circumstances. Then, in a plot twist akin to the heart of A Christmas Carol the story introduced an angel, Clarence, who interrupted George’s plans and placed him into an alternate reality where he never existed. Upon facing the changed world wherein George’s previous employer was a homeless ex-convict, his brother had died, and his wife led a lonely, unfulfilling life, he realized the importance of his place in the world. In one uplifting shift of emotion, It’s a Wonderful Life encapsulated the idea of recognizing and being grateful for the blessings we are given in our lives, and to realize how who we are as people intertwine with those that mean the most to us.
|Facing an alternate reality...|
|...Where a brother was lost|
As George came back to the reality he previously knew at the blessing of his guardian angel, this perspective overwhelmed him and set the course for the remainder of the film. I watched as George turned back toward his home and ran through town celebrating everything he had taken for granted before his angel rescued him from himself. Overjoyed, George outwardly expressed his gratitude for the people around him, for his family, and even for the undesirable circumstances he knew he would eventually have to face. Even when he arrived home to press and police waiting to question him over the controversy with the missing funds at his bank, George let his newfound perspective guide him. In the face of hopelessness, George reveled in his blessings, which was a stark reminder of our tendency to overlook the good in our life.
|The generosity of all|
Uncertain as to how the tale would end, I watched as George was reunited with his family. With love pouring out of him, George grabbed his wife and his children in an embrace, realizing it might be the last time he can do so for some time. The intersection of such joy and sadness gripped me in those final moments, until the friends, family, and citizens George had done right by throughout his life began pouring into his home with stacks of dollar bills. In reflection of all of George’s good deeds, the people of Bedford Falls sacrificed a part of their income to lift George out his financial troubles after catching wind of the dilemma from George’s wife. As the Christmas holiday closed in, George was spared from his legal troubles and was granted the gift of a new life full of gratitude, happiness, and love. Thanks to Clarence, George found peace and good in his life, which was a message that was not lost on me.
|A man saved|
As the credits of It’s a Wonderful Life began to roll, I found myself taking a few minutes to take in the film’s broader meaning. It was easy to see why it was viewed as one of the best films in history, and easier still to see how it had become so closely associated with the Christmas holiday. After watching the film for the first time, I know it is likely I will revisit It’s a Wonderful Life again in the future. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself watching a broadcast of the movie this time next year. During a season when we should be mindful of all the good things in our lives, It’s a Wonderful Life provides a message that speaks directly to that perspective. That’s something I know I should be more mindful of, and if it takes a good story about a man begin saved from himself to do that, I’ll gladly sacrifice a few hours of my time for a little perspective.