A classic of all Christmas classics, It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra celebrates its 75th anniversary today. Similar with most things that are centered around Christmas, Capra’s Christmas classic is heavy with Christian allegories and reminiscent of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Starring James Stewart as the compassionate and heart-of-gold George Bailey and Donna Reed as his loving and steadfast wife, Mary, let’s take an in-depth look as to what makes It’s a Wonderful Life so wonderful.
Released on December 20, 1946, It’s a Wonderful Life, unfortunately, wasn’t well received by movie-goers at the time due to competition. However, Capra’s film stood the test of time and entered many people’s list of timeless film classics that endures to the present. What makes It’s a Wonderful Life so wonderful and a well-loved classic is its refusal to feed into our cynical side and to instead allow us to love the sappy moments of life.
A quick synopsis of the film, It’s a Wonderful Life follows the life of George Bailey as a young boy all the way to his adult life. What I love in particular about this film is the way Capra chooses to begin the story in media res—George is contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve 1945. Indeed, a little morbid for a Christmas classic but it all makes sense eventually. Because of this, the heavens, literally, interfere. Clarence, not-yet-an-angel, is assigned to be George’s guardian angel in order to gain his wings. This begins the core of the film’s material.
Alongside Clarence, we the audience take a look at George’s life from the age of 11 to the present where he is contemplating jumping off a bridge. We see how compassionate and self-sacrificing that George has been all his life. Born in a small town called Bedford Falls, George had always wanted to leave in order to explore the world and see his passions come to life. However, every time he makes a decision to leave, an event occurs that tugs at his obligations to stay and to see that those he loves at home are well.
Things do look up for George: he falls passionatley in love with Mary and marries her; he inherits his father’s small, family business and stands up to the evil, capitalistic Mr. Henry Potter; and makes a warm life and family at Bedford Falls despite never getting the opportunity to explore his dreams. When we see him on Christmas Eve 1945, we see a George lost and desperate because of manipulation on Potter’s part.
But through Clarence’s intervention, George is able to see that his life matters. Despite hardships, things will figure themselves out if we ask for help. At the end of the movie, we see George surrounded by his family, friends, and the townspeople; when they hear he is in trouble, they all gathered together to help him. His compassionate and giving nature rang with the people that he helped and when it was him that was in dire need of help, they were at his side in an instance.
In the end, It’s a Wonderful Life is about life and community and the way we treat ourselves and others. It’s about the interpersonal relationships that we get into and how we choose to contribute to our communities. Capra’s Christmas classic strikes at our hearts, especially this time of the year, and reminds us that life may be difficult and confusing, but at the end of the day, our lives are valid. It’s the most beautiful part of the movie that we should hold dear.