I’m not sure if there is a more appropriate Christmas film than It’s a Wonderful Life. I have been watching it with my family yearly at Christmastime since I can remember. The story takes its time throughout the narrative; not skipping over relatively dark themes (life is not fair, I wish I had never been born, etc.) and carefully weaving its way back to the reason why George Bailey lives the life he does. I appreciate certain old movies like this; it is not a romantic comedy in which the whole of it is a laugh, the characters run into a quick hiccup of a fight, and then all is well. Life is complicated and problems are not always solved easily, and It’s a Wonderful Life shows just that.
Three things that stand out to me are as follows:
1. Just as George is about to leave for his honeymoon, the market crashes. Everyone demands money from the building and loan that is not currently in the bank’s possession. I cringe every time I watch this scene—I can hardly look at the screen as George and Mary spend their wedding money in order to save the Bailey Building and Loan. It can be argued that George does have a choice to leave it behind and travel to “far-off lands,” but being the good person that he is, it is no choice at all. How could he watch what his hard-working and humble father built crumble to the ground as the greedy Mr. Potter takes control of the town?
2. Clarence’s (George’s guardian angel) matter-of-fact and silly demeanor. This certainly adds to the humor and gives the viewer a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the desperation and sadness coming from George. One of my favorite parts is when Clarence and George are drying off after Clarence saved him from drowning, and the angel’s antiquated pajamas seem to come into question. He responds, “This underwear– I didn’t have time to get anything more stylish. My wife gave me this on my last birthday. I passed away in it.” Jaws drop. I laugh every time.
But, doesn’t this comedic relief do a little bit more? I believe this is a reflection of how we are to relate with God—with comfort and ease as with a friend. How effective would it have been if God—or, in this case, the flickering star in the sky—was a distant being who judged the hearts of all, but did not intervene? I think if we go by that school of thought, we ignore that there is a reason for the people who cross our paths, for years or for maybe even five minutes, who make a difference in our lives.
3. Life is not better, or less complex, without George Bailey. After roaming his hometown as a stranger, George begins to see the impact that he has made throughout his life. His wife, Mary, would have become a librarian (heavens, no!) and an old maid. He wasn’t there to stop Mr. Gower from accidentally putting poison into a prescription bottle, and now “Old Man Gower” has lost everything: his drugstore, his dignity and his wits. George wasn’t there to save his brother’s life in a sledding accident, and now his mother is a lonely and bitter woman. The list goes on.
I think that, like George, we forget what we have done, or what God has done through us, and we believe the lie that we are useless and that our talents are mediocre. We might not be as low as George, who was wishing he was dead (or some might be), but we are so narrowly focused on what is in the near-sighted here and now that we don’t remember. We don’t remember all of the graces bestowed upon us, all of the things that just couldn’t be coincidences, all of the joys that we have in family and friends. We allow ourselves to believe falsities about our own worth—but It’s a Wonderful Life reminds us that every moment is precious, every decision is important (no matter how small we may think it is), and no person is an accident. It reminds us that we are surrounded by loving brothers and sisters, and even a host of unseen angels, if we’ll only open our eyes and hearts.
So, this Christmas season, find time to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it—I bet you’ll find something new. And if you haven’t seen it, all the better! It is definitely not the first time we have heard it, but it is a resounding reminder that money certainly does not buy happiness, and that love is all around us.