By Carly Armstrong
Few holiday films debut these days that make you leave the theater with a smile on your face and, better yet, a new outlook on life. Scripts seem reused, characters shallow, and the morals are always cliche. Yet Hollywood did not always churn out these easily-forgettable Christmas flicks, and the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is perhaps the most timeless testament to this argument.
However this is not a review of a movie that premiered during the last few weeks, nor even the last few decades, but it is a comment that while Jim Carrey’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Polar Express” both have their merits, sometimes the best films are still in black and white.
When “It’s a Wonderful Life” premiered in 1946, it actually lost money in the box office. It was not until the movie began to be aired on television five years later that the film became a seasonal tradition for families across the U.S.
The movie stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a small-town boy with big plans. As a child, Bailey grew up as a role-model to his peers and a promise to adults. However, through a series of hardships—his father’s death, the Great Depression, etc.—he is forced to remain at the Bailey Building and Loan business. Despite these setbacks, he eventually marries the beautiful Mary Hatch, played by Donna Reed, who had been pining for him since childhood. Nevertheless, fighting the “warped and frustrated” bank owner Potter wears Bailey down. He becomes indebted by $8,000 due to his forgetful uncle’s mistakes. The protagonist’s misfortunes lead him to question his own self-worth, which causes the angel Clarence to show Bailey what life would be like if he had never been born.
Not only has the film given us tidings of comfort and joy, but it has provided the world with unforgettable songs, scenes and characters. For instance, no one can watch that movie without having “Buffalo Bill” on a constant repeat in their heads, despite Reed and Stewarts’ tone-deaf voices. Furthermore, one of the greatest romantic interactions has come from that same scene, when Stewart offers to throw a lasso around the moon for Mary Hatch to swallow. Even characters such as Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver have inspired this similarly named-duo in another show. (Hint: Think Sesame Street).
But perhaps the biggest take-away from the film is its moral. As Clarence wisely writes in the finale, “No man is a failure who has friends.” The film redirects the essence of Christmas away from the commercialism, and even the Nativity story itself, to a broader definition about the importance of kindness and how far-reaching it truly is. Despite his small-town claustrophobia and medium-sized income, George Bailey experiences a reawakening and a realization at how rich he truly is.
More than anything, the film causes audiences to reevaluate their own wealth in those intangibles such as love and friendship. After all, if we muddle through the materialism and the cold weather, the spirit of Christmas is about just that: giving and being thankful for what we do have.