There aren’t many films that transcend their art and time and generations. A box-office disappointment when released, It’s A Wonderful Life
was so forgotten its copyright lapsed causing it to be looped endlessly on small independent television stations everywhere desperate for free programming. Inevitably this forgotten classic was rediscovered by a new generation. A generation under siege by a film industry that now scoffs at such simplistic ideas as reminding us of the rich benefits that can be reaped by our own simple human decency.
Fifteen-years ago it was all the rage to worship It’s A Wonderful Life
, and then the inevitable backlash began by the contrary-is-cool crowd and those offended by spiritualism and sentiment. Whatever. All I know is that after dozens of viewings each new one is like the first and without fail the story stays with me for days.
And who are we to argue with time? Like Beethoven and Sinatra, the story of a good man blinded by disappointment, driven to suicide, and saved by God's grace will live for as long as there’s a civilization. Because the message is about the simplest and yet most important of things -- it’s about why when things are at their worst that’s the most important time to step outside the hurly burly of life’s setbacks and inventory our blessings.
It’s A Wonderful Life
is about perspective.
George Bailey wants to shake the dust of Bedford Falls off his shoes and stake a place in the world in order to validate his existence through the building of bridges and monuments. Constantly thwarted by his own decency and love for a beauty who looks just like Donna Reed, he never goes anywhere, and instead grudgingly spends his life engaged in a bitter war of attrition with Old Man Potter to keep a crummy old savings and loan afloat. So blinded is George Bailey by life’s misfortunes, he never notices the monuments he’s erected inside those around him through the trust and dignity and friendship he offers in the small homes he builds. And that blindness nearly costs him his life.
Imagine a man like George Bailey; a man with a town full of faithful friends eager to show their gratitude for his lifetime of decency and generosity of spirit… Imagine how blind he must be to think he has nowhere to turn other than to the bottom of that cold black river.
You can watch the film and marvel in its perfect script, unrivaled series of iconic scenes, and the towering performance given by Mr. Stewart… And you can watch the final scene set in a modest living room filled with family and loved ones and realize, just like George finally does, that it’s all up to us, that a chance at a wonderful life is almost always within our own grasp.
George Bailey’s dark and desperate path to that realization is a reminder that our own blessings are not found in the world or given to us by others, but rather in who we are and what we’re capable of as God’s creatures. Everything that matters and that is beautiful in life costs nothing more than what we’re born with: our ability to be decent and gracious and kind to one another.
There’s nothing wrong with building monuments and bridges and having goals and ambition, but what does any of that matter if you can’t fill a living room with family and loved ones?
God sent Clarence to give George a long slow look around, and in that respect It’s A Wonderful Life
is our own guardian angel... Making it the greatest Christmas movie of all time by a pretty wide margin.
Read the full countdown here.