Saturday, December 23, 2006

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

The Real Meaning of Christmas in
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
(1946, Theatrical-Live Action, 72 min)

This is an example of the real meaning of Christmas being made implicit, without any mention of Jesus. It is the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) who wants to leave the small town where he grew up, get a college education, and travel the world on great adventures. His father Peter Bailey (Samuel S. Hinds) is the president of a small mortgage and loan company. Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) wants to buy out Bailey's loan company and control it to the detriment of the entire town.

Each time George tries to leave town and pursue his adventurous dream, something happens to threaten the town or his dad's business, and good-hearted George sticks around to help out. Even his honeymoon with Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) is vetoed with a run on the bank and their loan company at the start of the Great Depression. To save the business, Mary offers up the $2,000 George has saved for their honeymoon, and George carefully gives it away as loans to save the company and the townspeople's homes.

But, Potter mercilessly keeps after George for control of the loan company. When one of George's partners looses $8,000 of the company's assets (into the sneaky hands of Potter) George falls into his own personal depression. He comes to think that life would be better if he had never been born, and tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.

But God has other plans for George Bailey and sends Clarence (Henry Travers)—an angel, hoping to earn his wings—to rescue George and lead him out of his depression. Clarence lights on the idea of showing George what life would be like in the town if George had not been around. It's a fallback to Dickens' Christmas Carol and the three spirits who take Scourge on a similar journey. But here, rather than showing George what actually happened in the past (as in Dickens' tale) Clarence shows George what would have happened had George never been born.

The consequences would have been catastrophic with death, disease, corruption, and poverty the result. Clarence's what-would-have-been tour reveals to George and to the audience, that personal sacrifice for the greater good (which is what George's life had been about (a plot that is the opposite of Scrooge's tale) mattered a great deal, even if George didn't see it. George Bailey's lifetime of willing sacrifice had made life wonderful for everyone, compared to what would have happened had George Bailey never been born.

The Moral premise of this story can be stated like this:

Selfish hording leads to a miserable life; but
Sacrificial giving leads to a wonderful life.

How does that related to the real meaning of Christmas? In this way: The real purpose (or meaning) of why Jesus was born, was not so we'd talk about his birth, or the Three Wise Men, but so he would serve others, and literally sacrifice his life for the good of all mankind. That is what we see so clearly in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. George Bailey's life was on of utter selfless sacrifice for the good, and temporal salvation, of others.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As your first comentor, I congragulate you on your moral premise on the show. It helped me to understand (by inference) why Michael Landon based his
show ''Highway to Heaven'' on the movie, to contribute to his moral message and profound impact. Your review just encouraged me to try & watch it sometime.

P.S: By the way, I think you've made a spelling error in the 5th paragraph on the 2nd line with the word ''grater''.