Nothing, I mean nothing, brings a tear faster to my eye than the hapless, deeply conflicted and vastly complicated George Bailey played by the affable James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Each year, hubs holds my Christmas movie obsession at bay as long as possible. It’s not that he doesn’t love Christmas or all the classic films, from the beloved Bing Crosby “White Christmas” to the overplayed but still necessary “A Christmas Story.”
I love them all and to his dismay, I would watch them endlessly from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day.
My absolutely favorite being the heart-string pulling “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s a magical combination of true and inconvenient love, business struggles, family strife and a spirit-crushing war. None of the characters lie flat on the screen; they’re human and fallible, most especially our hero George.
He loses his faith in all those things that give life meaning and wishes for nothing but to end it all.
George sacrifices his great dreams and aspirations, living out his life in his small hometown playing the rock in his family, business and love life. The once starry-eyed young man grows cynical and crooked with grief over the loss of things he once yearned to attain.
The older one grows, we see more and more of ourselves in George. He represents all that promise and hope of a bright future gone real.
But for all his despondency, George’s guardian angel (the truly lovely and sweet Clarence) sees what he also has in his life: people who love him. Though he doesn’t realize it until its nearly too late, the love of people you love, to love and be loved, gives us the spiritual and emotional motives to make life worth living.
Love might not pay the bills as George might wish or send him to far away lands, but it brought him a tender and funny wife, beautiful and dear children, family and friends who dote on and accept his every flaw.
Sadly, all he sees until Clarence literally drops into his life, is what he doesn’t have and in the end, his near financial collapse isn’t vindicated. That’s what my husband hates about the film; the bad guy wins.
But that’s where I disagree. When his family, his friends come to his aid they’re repaying all that emotional and spiritual debt he gave to make their lives better while old man Potter will die a bitter and lonely curmudgeon.
The world is full of George Baileys. He gives and gives, he feels like he’s a failure because he sees all the things in the world he wants and doesn’t have. From his old and drafty house to his ratty and threadbare clothes. He feels worthless.
But we, who faithfully watch our friend rise, fall and rise again, see all the virtuous and moral gifts he provides to those around him. He’s brave, gutsy and full of fight until he nearly slips off the edge. That’s when we see that people do love and appreciate him; for the first time, he sees it too.
And he finds it in the faces of those he once viewed with scorn. He even kisses the broken knob on his staircase railing; a symbolic, heartwarming scene.
Merry Christmas, George Bailey! You are truly the richest man in town.