If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life (or IaWL), I’m sure you’ve seen at least one holiday TV episode mimicking it’s storyline (however poorly). A hopeless hero(ine) gets a glimpse of what the world would be like if (s)he didn’t exist. You want to know why it’s copied so much? It’s because IaWL is the greatest (holiday?) film ever made. Here’s why:
1. The movie opens on three talking stars (yes, the ones in the sky).
Each star represents an angel, and as they talk their lights flicker. The scene is brilliant in its offbeat weirdness. Most directors probably would have just staged actors on a bed of clouds, or in an office with “Angels” written on the doorway, but Frank Capra decided “Stars talking? What?” If stars can talk, anything is possible.” The smallest star is Clarence. He doesn’t have his wings, yet. You’ll see him later.
2. “George Bailey, I’m gonna love you ‘til the day I die.”
Who’s George Bailey? Why he’s the hero of this tale. This line comes from his eventual sweetheart, Mary Hatch, when they’re children, but it also expresses how the viewer feels about him. Just minutes before, we saw George save his brother from a frozen river. He’s a no-nonsense kid with big dreams, and we want him to achieve every one of them. That’s pretty good considering he’s been on the screen all of five minutes. It’s probably because he’s more than a character he’s a representation of youthful exuberance. Which bring me to my next point. When he grows up, the all-American Jimmy Stewart plays him, and who doesn’t love Jimmy?
3. Think it’s too sappy for you?
It’s not. In fact, for an uplifting film, it teeters awfully close to a tragedy. Your emotions are going to be on a roller coaster ride until the final scene. I’ve watched it a dozen times and it still makes me laugh, and cry, and then laugh again. “What’s so tragic?” you ask. You know those dreams I mentioned earlier? They don’t work out the way George plans, and he’s left with the challenge of saying goodbye to what he wants, so he can appreciate what he has. I think that’s something we all should do from time to time.
4. At its heart, this is a story about appreciating family, friends, and community.
Like L. Frank Baum wrote in The Wizard of Oz, '”A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.” What makes this saying so great is that it should be obvious, but instead goes overlooked. Technology has made it easier for everyone to foster one-way, and highly edited, conversations. On the surface, it seems nice, because it prevents things from getting too messy. One never has to worry about being candid, or vulnerable. What’s often overlooked is the fact that life is supposed to be messy. That’s part of what makes it great.
5. Zuzu’s Petals.
You’ll see. Enjoy!