Christmas is just around the corner, and this time around, it may be the most unique one we’ve ever had. In many ways, these past months have been disappointing due to the restricting situation brought about by the pandemic, and its prevailing repercussions will probably render the rest of the year likewise. Many will perhaps remain stuck in their homes rather than venturing out on winter adventures or capitalizing on sales at shopping malls to celebrate the biggest holiday of the year. Nevertheless, television remains a faithful anchor and source of entertainment amidst the tumult, and the home-ridden time can be used to catch up on films you never thought you would watch—especially the ones from the twentieth century. Believe it or not, some of those very movies can soon become your favorite as they have for much of previous generations, one such being It’s a Wonderful Life. Though black-and-white, this remarkable film contains the most vibrant of messages and can certainly make up what joy is deprived of by the pandemic.
Hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, It’s a Wonderful Life remains an irreplaceable part of American tradition and has been airing annually since 1974, nearly thirty years after it was created in 1946. Interestingly enough, upon its release, the film wasn’t met with such distinction as it is today: it failed to break even in its gross production and only won one Academy Award as opposed to the four awards its rival The Best Year of Our Lives won. In fact, only after it entered the public domain and began airing on TV did the movie gain fame, and the Award it received was neither for the Best Actor nor Picture but the technical achievement of simulating fake snow!
The film features James Stewart as George Bailey along with co-star Donna Reed as his wife Mary, both of whom were established actors in their day. Set in Bedford Falls, New York, the movie begins by showing a perspective of heaven where an angel, in an answer to prayers offered up, is commissioned to save the man George Bailey who considers ending his life on Christmas Eve. Before being sent to earth, the angel, whose name is Clarence, is shown flashbacks of George’s life to understand his character and what led him up to that point. As a boy, George is depicted as a kindhearted, caring boy. Even as a young child while working at the local drugstore, he prevents the bereaved druggist, Mr. Gowers, from giving a prescription that he had unknowingly poisoned. After being harshly slapped for not delivering it to the ill patient, George explains to a now sober Mr. Gowers about it being poisoned and assures the penitent druggist that he won’t tell anyone.
Such sacrificial kindheartedness in George continues in his later years. After finishing high school, he postpones going to college until Harry finishes high school in order to help his father run Bailey Brothers Building and Loan. When Harry’s high school graduation finally arrives, George, eager to “shak[e] the dust of this crummy little town,” is full of dreams to travel around the world and become a renowned architect outside of Bedford Falls. His ambitious plans, however, are soon deterred as his father suddenly dies from a stroke. Choosing to head the business rather than letting it fall into the hands of the greedy Mr. Potter, he foregoes the trip and college altogether, giving the tuition money to Harry. While the dreams George once had hadn’t vanished, he was let down once again. As he struggles to maintain his business, George weds Mary, a girl who had loved him since childhood. Yet, even after the happy couple married with magnificent plans for the future, they still faced troubles with the bank including near bankruptcy. As time passes, his business becomes increasingly successful and earns the favor of many citizens—except for Mr. Potter, who vies to take possession of Building and Loan.
In 1945, Christmas Eve arrives, and things couldn’t go better for George: he has a beautiful family, a grand house, a thriving company, and a World War II hero for a brother. Yet George’s ill fate strikes again as the company’s eight thousand dollar profits are lost, and knowing that it could mean the end of his business, George vents his frustration on his family and begins to contemplate suicide. It is here that the beginning scene converges with the present action, and his guardian angel Clarence shows George Bailey a life if he had never been born: a condemned Mr. Gowers, an immoral community controlled by Mr. Potter, and most poignantly for George, an old, unwed Mary. The agony caused by such sights drives him to beg for his old life, and it is a reinvigorated George, full of zest for life, who forgets his pecuniary crisis and, in a heartwarming finale, embraces his family to celebrate the most memorable Christmas of their lives.
George’s life undoubtedly demonstrates the uncertainty of one’s life and how no matter what someone may plan, it can be easily thwarted; though George was full of ambition and carefully laid out his future, factors he never could have accounted for ended up dictating the direction of his life. Surely the pandemic has already etched such a principle into our minds, and perhaps so great an adversary as this imparts a sense of hopelessness or intense frustration. But It’s a Wonderful Life, megaphoning the importance of one soul, pushes us to look at the what-ifs of having no life at all and, accordingly, how much we are currently given. The life we now have, though possibly full of anti-climactic frustrations, is still much more wonderful than no life or the lives others would’ve had without us!
For many, this Christmas may seem to be one of the most anti-climactic Christmases ever experienced before. Yet this Christmas classic drives us to examine how much we’ve already received, not only this past year or the year before that, but over two thousand years ago when God gave His Son for all humanity. This fact alone should show us indeed what a wonderful life we have now and also in the years to come.
Wallpaper Cave. (n.d.). It’s a Wonderful Life Wallpaper [Digital image]. Retrieved 2020, from https://wallpapercave.com/wp/wp2317287.jpg
How It’s a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition. (2018, November 30). Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/90135/how-its-wonderful-life-went-box-office-dud-accidental-christmas-tradition
It’s a Wonderful Life. (2020, November 28). Retrieved November 28, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It’s_a_Wonderful_Life