It's a Wonderful Life

Late last night, I told myself that I would celebrate being done with my English senior seminar paper presentation by watching a movie, and I selected It’s a Wonderful Life. While I watched it, I was multi-tasking, and when I say multi-tasking, I mean I was sleeping at the same time. Actually, I did that on purpose, because I seriously needed to be asleep just then. Needless to say, I wasn’t very aware of the movie. (Because I was distracted by my dream in which people kept randomly sticking knives into my car tires, and also, there was a gas station in my little sisters’ bedroom, which would have been very convenient if I could drive, but I couldn’t, because my tires were full of holes, although they were magically fixed a couple times. I have weird dreams.) I’ve seen that movie many times, though, so my inattentiveness to it this time doesn’t prevent me from having things to say about it.

In case anyone reading this isn’t familiar with the movie, I’ll give a quick summary of the plot. On Christmas Eve, presumably in 1946 because that’s when the movie was filmed, a man named George Bailey is considering suicide. An angel named Clarence is assigned to come to help him through his time of trouble. The majority of the movie is the story of George’s life, which Clarence watches before coming to George’s rescue. We see George as a twelve-year-old boy who works in a drugstore, as a young adult who has to give up his plans to travel and to go to college when his father suddenly dies, and as a somewhat less young adult who still works at his father’s Building and Loan and suddenly finds himself in trouble for the loss of money that his Uncle Billy misplaced that morning. He’s just about to jump off of a bridge when Clarence the angel

This one facial expression in particular always really scared me for some reason.

This one facial expression in particular always really scared me for some reason.

interrupts him. While talking to Clarence, George says that he wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence gives him a view of what the world around him would be like if he didn’t exist. What follows is a scene that terrified me when I was little, which shows George running frantically around town and finding out that all of the pleasant people he knows are miserable and bitter, the entire town is owned by the mercenary Mr. Potter, and it isn’t even snowing anymore. (I have never entirely understood why George Bailey’s state of existence affects the weather patterns, but it evidently does.) George changes his mind and decides that he wants to be alive again, and when he returns home, fully existent, he finds that his friends have all chipped in to raise money to help him, and then they all have a lovely Christmas party and everyone is happy.

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

One thing I did notice about it this time through is that, in the drugstore near the beginning, Mary and Violet have their hair in 1940s hairstyles, even though that scene took place in 1919. Then I noticed that there was a rotary phone on George Bailey’s father’s desk. For a moment, I felt very proud of myself for catching this anachronism, but then I looked it up, and it turns out that rotary phones came into common usage in 1914. There was in fact no anachronism committed. The moral of this story is that I should stop being a smart-aleck and accept the fact that moviemakers know what they’re doing. The other thing I learned from this was, of course, that rotary phones came into common usage in 1914, a fact which I shall add to the list of random facts that I like to keep in my brain just in case they may someday be relevant to a conversation I’m having.

If this picture has no sentimental connotations to you, then you are in the minority.

On a more serious note, as much as I like It’s a Wonderful Life, I think it’s actually a really depressing movie. The central message is that life is worthwhile because individual people have a positive impact on the world around them, but George Bailey isn’t a good example of that because his life is more influential than most peoples’ lives. I mean, he saved two people’s lives when he was a twelve-year old kid, he single-handedly kept the Building and Loan running and thereby provided affordable housing for a significant portion of the population of his town, and, even though we actually don’t see much of his children in the movie, we see enough of them that we find his family likable and that popular culture associates that specific part of the movie with “The Christmas Spirit”. And he seems to be friends with everyone in town except for Mr. Potter and his daughter’s teacher’s husband. Even though he’s lived in the same place for his entire life, George Bailey has done a lot of important things and had a beneficial impact on a lot of people’s lives. His life really is pretty wonderful, despite the events of that one Christmas Eve. (In fact, that crisis only lasts for a few hours; everything’s fine that morning and everything’s fine again by that night.) Most of us can’t say the same things about our own lives. I bet that if I could see what things would be like if I’d never been born, the world would basically look no different than it does now. I’ve never saved anyone’s life, I don’t run a business that is vital to the prosperity of my town, and I highly doubt that my existence has any impact on the personalities of the people around me, or the weather. (If it did, that would actually be a good reason for me to stop existing, ‘cause I know my sister really wants it to snow this week, and it sure isn’t snowing now.) In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have dance rehearsals, dance performances, and two finals between now and Monday, I could probably suddenly disappear without anybody even noticing for a few days, even if my existence wasn’t erased from the past like George Bailey’s was.

If this is all it takes to make your life wonderful again, then you've got things pretty good. Although it sure would help. Just sayin'.

If this is all it takes to make your life wonderful again, then you’ve got things pretty good. Although it sure would help. Just sayin’.

So, yeah. When I watch that movie, instead of thinking how wonderful it is that everyone’s life is special, I think how sad it is that my life isn’t special like George Bailey’s is. And instead of being happy for him that all his problems were solved when his friends gave him all their money, I am sad that in real life, even little problems take more than a fairly obvious plot twist to solve. And I feel no sympathy for someone who wants to commit suicide because of one bad day, when most people in the world have had a lot more than one bad day in their lives.

Oh, what holiday cheer.