It’s a wonderful…film!


Herbert Dorfman

During the holiday season, I always enjoy a Christmas classic. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is among my favorites, a timeless film that describes what it means to live and love in this confusing world.

During this upcoming season of carols and lights, watching holiday movies is central to the Christmas experience. I decided to begin my binge of Christmas films with arguably one of the best ones out there: “It’s a Wonderful Life”, directed by Frank Capra.

This movie had always been known to me, a classic, a winner of countless awards. Yet I neglected to realize how truly timeless this 1946 film really is until watching it in its entirety this past weekend. The messages incorporated into this film are truly something that can be appreciated and enjoyed for generations to come, rewatched and beloved by many an audience. As I begin to share my initial thoughts about “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I invite you to step with me into the world of George Bailey himself, into the world of Capra’s making.

To George Bailey, the world was once a place of wonder. It was once an extension of his dreams, a physical manifestation of his longing to explore. However, life, as it does, gets in the way. Adulthood looms over him, as do stressors and responsibilities. He watches his colleagues, family, and friends all achieve the things he once longed for: adventure, freedom, and happiness. One night, George Bailey finds himself too incredibly burdened to carry on, and finds himself at the bridge across town, debating whether to jump off.

We are soon introduced to Bailey’s guardian angel, a man by the name of Clarence. He has the unique ability to display to Bailey what his town would look like without him in it, without the effects of the countless lives he has touched. George Bailey eventually comes to the realization that the lives of others around him are better with him in it, and makes the conscious decision to live and endure through this life we call wonderful.

This film. It is such a testament to what fundamentally every person endures at some point in their life: feelings of despair and genuine uselessness. Feeling as if your life doesn’t amount to anything; feeling as if everything you’ve worked for doesn’t matter. Life has no meaning, and people have no value. Joy has no place.
The way Frank Capra displays these themes throughout the movie within the character of George Bailey is stunning. George is central to the function of his town, of the people and things within it. He is constantly selfless in every situation, never stopping once to think of himself in the process. Yet he neglects to truly see himself. He neglects the capacity to step outside of his body and see the change that he has made for his community, the people he has inspired and countless lives he has touched. He is blind to the impact he has on the lives of others, just as we are so often blind to the ways we touch the lives of our family and our friends.

When George is standing before that bridge, it is so moving. In this moment he is so inexplicably human, so raw and vulnerable and real. He wears the blindfold he creates for himself and stumbles through life with no vision. He sees the achievements of others and deems himself unworthy, undeserving. Yet the small actions that he completes every day make a bigger impact than he could ever fathom. James Stewart, the actor who plays George Bailey, is beyond excellent in this sense. He brings to the screen a character that not only the audience can relate to, but one who transcends the movie itself. A part of George Bailey lives within each of us, in the most guarded parts of our hearts and minds.

This is what makes “It’s a Wonderful Life” stand the test of time. A film so ahead of its era in composition, in characters and screenwriting. The inscription that Clarence writes to George in his book in the final scene of the movie is incredibly moving: ‘Remember, no man is a failure who has friends’. Heartbreak divides us. Debt divides us. Failure divides us. Yet true friends are the constants that will always stand the test of time, through snow and hail and rain and any storm that may fall upon our horizon. If we hold onto our friends, just as George Bailey holds onto his, we will never be alone. We will never amount to nothing. For friends are people, known to George Bailey by the end of this film, who love and support unconditionally. And what more may we ask of this confusing, beautiful, wonderful life?

So this holiday season, please consider watching this beautiful film. I strongly believe that it does change the way you view the world, and the people within it. It is a movie that will remain in my heart forever.