Friday, December 24, 2010
Christmarathon Day 24: It's a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life isn't just my favorite Christmas movie, but a strong contender for my all time favorite movie over all. It contains the absolute best performance by my absolute favorite actor Jimmy Stewart, and it tells a story so powerful and heartfelt that it makes me cry every time I watch, no matter what. I'd rank this movie right up there with Field of Dreams as the most likely to make even the most stone cold man break down in tears. George Bailey is too honorable and admirable to really be considered an "every man," but he's definitely the man that every man wishes he could be.
They later remade this movie and reversed the genders by having the main character be a woman played by Marlo Thomas. "It Happened One Christmas" was a fine film that used to play all the time when I was a kid, but if you haven't seen it by now, you probably never will. It happened to be made right as the original was being rediscovered by a new, perhaps more mature audience who could more related to the dark, honest story presented in the film, so the remake all but vanished. And that's fine, since the original is an absolutely perfect film that never should've been remade in the first place. It's just... special. Bailey's pain as he watches his hopes and dreams fade away is something any person who's ever been lonely or learned for more can relate to. And his joy at the end as he realizes how loved and alive he really is is something that anybody who's ever been loved or happy can relate to as well. It's the kind of film that makes you cry at one moment because you're sad, and the next moment because you're happy.
I have never seen a better moment in a film than the scene where George Bailey is on the bridge near the end of It's a Wonderful Life. I've never seen anything that was better written, better directed, or better acted. I have watched this movie dozens upon dozens of times over the course of my life and it never fails to bring me to tears. I have watched this film during moments of my life when I was happy, during times when I was sad, and even during some times when I was just as close to standing on my own bridge. If there has ever been a moment in film that has more honestly captured a moment in the life of every man who has ever been alive, I sure haven't seen it.
George Bailey isn't the greatest hero in movie history because he decided to save Clarence instead of taking his own life, and he certainly isn't a hero because he set aside his own hopes and dreams in order to serve the town of Bedford Falls. George Bailey is a hero because even though he never became the man that he wanted to be, he learned to embrace the fact that he became the man that the people he loved needed him to be. His wasn't a wonderful life because his dreams came true or because he was loved or even because he was happy, but because his life did matter, and because the people around him were all the better because of what he did.
And if you can watch this movie and not break down, well, you must be named Potter.