In defense of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
I shout it from the rooftops every year, and every year there’s a Debbie Downer that feels the need to fight me. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the best Christmas movie there ever was.
The rest of this column will include spoiler alerts, so if you haven’t seen it yet, come back after you do.
Have you ever wondered what your little corner of the world would be like … without you? If you had never been born? Your spouse, friends and community would never have been enriched by your existence. Your children wouldn’t even exist. Is there a possibility that just because you’re alive, people you’ve never even met are better for it?
That’s the thing that I think many of us tend to wonder from time to time, if ever we start to feel insignificant or like our contributions don’t matter. When you think about the fact that there are more than 7 billion people on Earth, and Earth is only one tiny part of the universe, and you have probably 100 years or less to make an impact in the vast history of earth that extends back thousands of years and extends into the future an unknown amount of time — well, it’s easy to feel small.
That’s exactly what happened to George Bailey on one terrible Christmas Eve. His plans for his life had been derailed by his father’s death and having to take over the family business. He never got to travel the world with that big suitcase. His business struggled, and when his uncle misplaces $8,000 of the business’s money, he thinks the world is over. He lashes out at his wife, his kids and even his daughter’s teacher. He gets drunk at a bar, the teacher’s husband punches him, and he goes out and rams his car into a tree. Distraught by the events of the day, he stumbles onto a snowy bridge and considers taking his own life.
That’s when his guardian angel, Clarence, saves him and grants him his wish — he’s never been born. That’s when he truly sees how much his has been a wonderful life and how much his life has positively affected not only his family and his community, but many people he will never even meet.
It’s something I often wonder about but, of course, real people who aren’t in movies can’t see what life would be like had they never been born. As Clarence tells George, “You’ve been given a great gift.”
At the end of the movie, Clarence having restored everything to its natural state, George’s community comes through for him and his business.
Most of the objection I hear to “It’s a Wonderful Life” is that it’s a depressing movie, because George never got to travel the world as a young man and gets stuck in crummy old Bedford Falls his entire life. I often wonder if those people actually watched to the end, because if they did, they missed the most important point of the movie.
We can all have a great contribution right where we are, and we don’t have to travel the world to affect it in a positive way. As a young boy, George took an action that later saved an entire transport of soldiers in World War II. (If you don’t know how that connection happened, you haven’t seen the movie.)
Besides, we never see what happens in George Bailey’s life after that fateful Christmas Eve. It was a turning point for him, after all. Perhaps he and his wife get to travel later on in life? I’d like to think so.
The next time you start to think that you don’t matter, just take a look around and imagine how things would be different. Yours really is a wonderful life.