AFInity: It's a Wonderful Life
By Kim Hollis
December 24, 2009
And you know, while it's all really nice to see the town of Bedford Falls respond to the man who's been so critical to making all of their lives better in such a positive manner, I can't help but think it's all a just a little bit oppressive. I mean, after seeing the things George dreamed for, Clarence's presentation of a Bedford Falls where George never existed shows that he bears a gigantic load of responsibility on his shoulders. Once the crisis of the missing money has passed, what weight must he bear next? We'll never know, but looking at the dark circles under George's eyes as he holds Zuzu, smiles at his wife and congratulates Clarence for his new wings makes me a little melancholy. Here's a protagonist who has done everything right, but in the end his reward is to be shown that his life as he knows it is wonderful, after all. It is, but I still want more for George Bailey. In my mind, he and his family eventually get to go on some wonderful adventures together in distant lands all over the world.
I think it's probably a credit to James Stewart that I'm so wrapped up in his character. His performance is very believable, from the highs to the lows. George isn't always a paragon of virtue and he isn't even always very nice. I think we can all see a little of ourselves in him because of that, and this is part of the magic of It's a Wonderful Life.
As far as the quality of the film itself, I find it to be very well acted, with tight, consistent storytelling. Some of the players are mere caricatures - think Uncle Billy or Mr. Potter - but for the most part, we can see Bedford Falls as a place anyone might call home.
There's one other piece of cynicism in It's a Wonderful Life that I feel compelled to remark upon. The movie has a notable antagonist in Henry F. Potter - in fact, he's so worthy that the AFI ranked him at #6 on their list of villains. He commits an absolutely unforgiveable, despicable act (on top of all his other unforgiveable, despicable acts) when he steals the $8,000 that could have led to George being imprisoned and the Building and Loan going out of business. In most movies, the writer/director/test audiences would have felt it necessary to give Potter a comeuppance by punishing him. In It's a Wonderful Life, his crime goes undiscovered. Capra isn't really telling us that the good guy always wins. Instead, I think we're reminded that what we have every day with friends and family is worth celebrating in its own right. And what better time than Christmas, while we're gathered with these people, to remember this?
Merry Christmas, everyone. (And if you don't celebrate Christmas, Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or whichever celebration you may choose to partake in.)
Kim's AFInity Project Big Board