AFInity: It's a Wonderful Life
By Kim Hollis
December 24, 2009
Anyone who really believes that It's a Wonderful Life is all about unbridled optimism probably needs to give the film a second look. Yes, there's a message in the movie about accepting your life as it is, and an understanding that every person has a profound effect on the life of all the people they touch. But I find that the film has a bit of a grim outlook on how things can spiral out of control and also about certain elements of humanity in general.
For those unfamiliar with the movie, I'm going to go ahead and tread into spoiler territory for much of this review. I presume that even those who haven't seen the film are pretty familiar with where the story goes anyway.
Throughout the entire film, we're effectively subjected to the notion that George Bailey wants to escape Bedford Falls. Beginning with his youth, we see his ambitions to explore the corners of the world, along with his determination that nothing should get in his way. And yet, nothing goes as planned. Just as he's about to strike out for college, George's father has a stroke and dies, leaving him the only worthy person to take over management of the family's business, a Building and Loan (quaint, right?). His intent is to do the job for a few years - long enough for his brother to finish college and then return and take over so that George can accomplish his own dreams. But then, the younger Bailey gets married and is offered a job in research, and George once again sacrifices himself for the sake of his family. It continues on and on and on until we finally come to the fateful night when George's drunk uncle, Billy, loses an $8,000 deposit and puts George at risk of going to jail. Distraught, he goes home and yells at his wife and children before leaving the house in despair, crashing his car, and climbing on a bridge with the intent to jump off. Thanks to insurance money, he'd be worth more dead than alive.
It takes an act by an angel named Clarence to show George just how different his family, friends, and home town would be if he'd never been born. George's brother would have died as a child, his mother would be the lonely owner of a boarding house, his uncle would be in an insane asylum, friends would be miserable and the town itself would have been taken over by the evil banker Potter (to the point that Bedford Falls is known as Potterville in the non-George Bailey universe). By the time George is returned to the world as it is, everything seems hunky-dory. The entire town turns out to help him with the lost money, giving their own hard-earned cash to help him out of the sticky situation. Everyone sings "Auld Lang Syne", George's daughter Zuzu points out that every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings, and we all (presumably) live happily ever after.