Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Living Wonderfully

If you were to sample 1,000 people who have watched and enjoyed movies for years and chose them to pick 10 that are close to their heart, I'm confident that Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" would be on a majority.  Why is that?  Watching it, as I always do, right before Christmas, it's not particularly the cheerful movie the people like to think it is.  George Bailey's life, as wonderful as it ends up being, is assaulted continuously by the complications of the supposedly elegant American dream.  Here's what I've come up with though:

I don't think there is a movie that ultimately explodes with as much joy and exuberance for the happiness and perplexity of life.  The last ten minutes are so unashamedly sentimental and happy they're liable to turn a tear from the most cynical soul, and I think it's James Stewart's smiling face with his ideal family surrounding him that sticks with most people.

But in the strong analysis of the film I've read, it's just as interesting from an economic side.  The contrast between Potter and Bailey, while at its base is very archetypal, seems to embody so many of the ideas and discourses within the struggle for stability, especially the way it reverberates the Depression and WWII.

I think why it stands tall, not just as a Christmas film but as an American film, is because of how it magnifies what we think of as "the American character."  George Bailey gives his life for his family, he works hard, he falls in love, and yet he thinks his life is worthless.  We see, and he ultimately sees, that despite hardships it is his unwavering virtue that helps him survive.

This Christmas, with an economic recession on the tips of everyone's tongues and in the back of all presents, "It's a Wonderful Life" contains a poignant message for our times: it's NOT about the money, it's about who we are and how we live with what we have.

1 comment:

Ben Ries said...

I really need to come to your blog more often! This is really good writing, especially your Benjamin Button review. As much as I love It's a Wonderful Life, I would not rate it as one of my all-time favorites (say, a 9 out of 10). Stewart is brilliant but I have some qualms with it's moral message. It's just too obvious, so much so that it loses a lot of its profundity. I mean, of course the world's a worse place without kind, self-sacrificing, noble George Bailey. But it's still a joy to watch it every year.