When I think the pinnacle of what it means to be American and what it means to be alive, I think of It's a Wonderful Life. The movie sadly gets sacked into the description of a Christmas film because it just so happens to take place during the holiday. This film is actually a treatise on existence. It shows the power to rise above and find meaning in life even when the chips are down. It addresses some dark issues like suicide, financial failure, marriages that seem ideal but turn into something more standard and less magical. However, that's life and as the title aptly puts it, it sure is wonderful. Nothing is perfect. This film still stands the test of time and it stands as one of the very first movies that I appreciated as a young child and grew to admire its message and meaning even more as a young adult. It will be a film I pass to my children and one that I hope continues down the chain to anyone.
When I think of the amount of people who deem their lives not worth living, I almost always think that they should have seen It's a Wonderful Life. No matter how hard it gets, there are things in life that should be able to overshadow the things in life that are just plain hard. The story of people trying to get by during the harshest of economic times, The Great Depression, resonates awkwardly loud in this country now more than ever since it's initial release. People are loosing their homes and their families are splitting and money is disappearing and jobs are gone. Everything that George Bailey found hard to cope with in the film are just as relevant to your average working class American citizen once again. This scene alone is something that could be in our close future.
And who better to portray that role of the everyman than the incomparable James Stewart. It's his usual role, especially in Capra films, but it's still one that never gets old. His presence and his mannerisms, the twinkle in his eye and the cracking in his voice when his emotions well up just hits right on the money. With James Stewart, Frank Capra found a recipe for brilliance, especially in It's a Wonderful Life. I've yet to see another pairing of directorial vision and acting prowess as powerful as this. Many come very close, but this really hits home.
My family did have a tradition to watch this during the holiday season. Again, it isn't fair to say it's a Christmas movie, but the spirit of the season is ultimately tied to it. The scenes that resonate most with me, besides the above clip, is the scene in the bar when George doesn't exists anymore and he sees all those close to him that have slipped into depression, alcoholism and who else that he would have never touched just not existing at all. The romanticism as well, like the scene with the famous "throw a lasso around the moon" line just melts my heart with sheerest joy. It's the kind of romanticism that I love. Head over heels romance, much in the vein of my short lived posts entitled "Romantic Rights." Check those out here , and here to get an idea of what I find romantic. This little scene fits right in there with those as some of the most romantic and amazing scenes in cinema.
Phenomenal cinema transcends generations. It transcends genders. It comes off of the screen and pops with life. Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart make this happen. The entire story comes to life. Donna Reed has men swooning left and right, at least this man. From a young age, I have loved this movie and it is one film that I will never tire of.
1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore
2. Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson
3. Jurassic Park (1993) dr. Steven Speilberg
4. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) dr. Frank Capra
Up Next: Trust (1990) dr. Hal Hartley