So it is Christmas Eve 2011 and I just finished my much anticipated big screen viewing and annual tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life. If you haven’t seen it theatre-style on the big screen I highly recommend it. Viewing it in the theater (a packed one at that) caused me to reflect on why it is that we had all journeyed out to see a movie which most of us had seen numerous times and that was ironically being shown on television at the same time. As the lights came up at the conclusion, men and women alike were seen and heard shedding tears and clapping(as if it were a new movie), it dawned on me that this movie shares a unique place in American, and even international Christmas traditions.
In 1946 the movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring James Stewart and Donna Reed premiered in New York receiving mixed reviews and failing to reach its break-even point financially. Perhaps this is fitting given the movie has now been ranked as the American Film Institute’s Most Inspiring Movie and has become a Christmas season staple seen by generations the world over, and shown consistently in primetime each year on television. How exactly does a black and white movie that predates television itself continuously find its way into our collective holiday movie psyche each year?
I must confess that I am a little biased as It’s A Wonderful Life is not only my favorite Christmas movie, but my favorite movie of all time. That being said, here are a few reasons why I believe the movie continues to remain a Christmas tradition for so many:
1) It is still relevant. For a movie filmed during the Herbert Hoover administration that features two-piece telephones and record players, we can relate to the movie now more than ever. Watching the movie one is struck by the cords of economic unrest and foreclosures as a result of the Great Depression, as well as a nation at war. (WWII) Changes in technology have yet to alleviate the need for basic human needs and desires; economic security and general happiness and well-being.
2) It tells our story. Almost everyone can relate to having hopes and dreams which are either delayed or are unrealized, often in sacrifice of the betterment of our families, friends, or due to circumstance. George’s frustration and failure to leave Bedford Falls to see the world and fulfill his dreams resonates with many of us who are still longing to do the same in one way or another but have not been able to due to our responsibilities. There is a George Bailey in all of us.
3) It represents ideals. From love and faith, to family, to entrepreneurship to homeownership and patriotism the movie captures quintessential and timeless notions of who we are as Americans in this small town atmosphere of Bedford Falls. These universal ideals and many more found in the film resonate across decades gone by and strike a positive chord with us today.
4) It emphasizes life. Perhaps the most compelling theme in the movie and that with which it concludes, is the notion that despite life’s challenges, despite our personal troubles and failures a life well lived is not wasted regardless of one’s affluence or lack of it. Our net worth should never be confused with our self-worth, something Potter underestimates where George is concerned. A wonderful life is one which invests into the lives of others, our family and friends, and one which demonstrates that when we fall; they can and will be there to pick us up.
These themes and many more represent why even at 65, It’s A Wonderful Life keeps making a welcome repeat performance during one of the most cherished times of the year.
What is your favorite part about the movie?