Synopsis: Voted the #1 Most Inspiring Film Of All Time by AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers, It’s A Wonderful Life has had just that. With the endearing message that “no one is a failure who as friends,” Frank Capra’s heartwarming masterpiece continues to endure, and after over 60 years this beloved classic still remains as powerful and moving as the day it was made.
Some days it’s easy to forget that it’s a wonderful life. We can get disenchanted, angry, frustrated, jealous, envious, disappointed, sad, depressed or even plain old disconnected.
Sometimes we fail to see the good in anyone, including ourselves. It can take the wonder out of life. And yet, rarely is everything all bad: there’s usually something to look forward to if we look hard enough or allow ourselves to see at all.
George Bailey is a man who has spent his whole life dreaming grand dreams that he would never achieve. Despite all his other achievements, and all that his life is filled with, he feels incomplete because he would much rather be elsewhere.
And yet, he soldiers on with a spirit that precious few can boast of. He gives with all of his heart, forgives others’ foibles, tries his hardest to provide and make the world better for his family, friends and community.
Only because he can – and because he cares.
But what happens to such a man when, despite all he’s done, he finds himself backed in a corner, feeling alone – all due to unfair turns of events and/or the cruelty of others? What does a trapped man such as this do when he sees his whole world crashing down before his eyes?
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ explores these questions by going through George Bailey’s life and showing us what has led him to this juncture. The device for doing so is second class angel Clarence, who is charged by God with restoring George’s faith on this Christmas eve.
I’ve only seen a few Frank Capra films (‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’, ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’), but they’ve all charmed me with their heart and warmth; there’s a deep appreciation of humanity in his films that I find inspirational.
In ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, I love the message that everyone’s got his/her place in the world and that we touch others every day with small (as well as big) gestures, that if we are taken out of the equation it would make a significant difference – that we are important in the lives of others.
It echoes a song called ‘Il changeait la vie”, by Jean-Jacques Goldman – my favourite lyricist. The song also speaks of how even the seemingly smallest amongst us can change the lives of others if we pour our love, our pain, our souls into what we do. We actually can move the world in our own unique way.
It’s all rather quaint and saccharine, but the message is heart-warming nonetheless. And it sure would be nice if we could nurture these types of sentiments more, to live in George’s Bedford Falls instead of Pottersville – something I seem to be seeing more of with each passing year.
I found it extremely sad to see this man get anchored away from his dreams. I couldn’t help but imagine that it must have been extremely frustrating, if not disheartening, for him. I could understand how he got to the point that no amount of spirit and vision could buoy him any longer.
But, because of how the man he had been until then, I couldn’t help but want him to be restored and for him to be saved; fires such as those are too precious to let them fade away. And, while I knew it was only a film, I wished that I could have done something to help him.
Clarence was destined to be there, thankfully. However, by the time that George meets him, he’d become so stupid it’s maddening – despite all that Clarence showed him, he simply could not understand what was going on. It was frustrating to watch him be an @$$ for as long as he does in this sequence.
He eventually caught on, but this cinematic tool was hardly realistic – I’m sure that there could have been another way to make him (and, consequently, us) see just how important he had been to the people around him. Perhaps the filmmakers were concerned that it would look like a knock-off of ‘A Christmas Carol’ if they played it too straight, by simply showing him around. But making a fool of George was too undignified.
Stewart brought a lot to the character, but he tends to get a little hammy in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I’m sure that I had conveniently forgotten this detail because I love this film too much, but it was hardly an award-winning performance – even though he imbued the character with a warmth and delight that very few could have matched.
Robert J. Anderson played the character as a young boy and he made such an impression on me that even Stewart couldn’t match him. He brought George to life with such intelligence and real emotion. I would love to see his other performances, to see how he holds up. I’m quite surprised, based on this role, that he didn’t become a huge star (he did, however, play in another Christmas classic, ‘The Bishop’s Wife’).
All the child actors were terrific, actually – which is surprising given the era. I was really impressed with George’s kids as well as young George. The adult actors, however, were for the most part too theatrical for my tastes. But it wasn’t all bad – it was entirely bearable, and they served the picture well enough.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ may strike disgust in the hearts of cynical people, but it’s a genuine classic for a reason: it plays into the wish that many of us have: that we can all make a difference and be significant even if we don’t end up changing the world wholesale. By believing that we can change the world around us, even if it’s by snowball effect, we can feel essential.