If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past twenty years, chances are you’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life. Admittedly, when I think of this movie, I have purely happy thoughts based on the film’s conclusion. At the heart of it, the message is bleak for the majority of the film. I sense the theme was for postwar audiences, to remind them life is truly wonderful, despite the many hardships families faced on the home front and warfront. But why does the film still resonate with audiences today? Why is the film so well-known and welcomed onto television screens and movie screens almost seventy years later?
I had the pleasure of speaking to Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey in the film) for my classic film podcast, and she summed it up clearly. Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? We all feel taken for granted and have small moments where we wonder how the people we know and love would manage in the world without us. The truth is, they could, but not in the way we would hope — not when we understand the core of their personalities, their goals, and dreams. And when we realize our mere presence effects the outcome of a person’s life, even moreso than our daily efforts, I think the message of love reigns supreme. I feel the best scene to display the core of It’s a Wonderful Life happens between George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) as their feelings stir up tension in our own hearts for their relationship to succeed. Take a look at the famous telephone scene:
Unfortunately, Clarence (aka movie magic) cannot suspend us in time and space to show us what truly matters in our lives. In some ways, I believe the Christmas season is a time of evaluation — as Grimes put it, the reminder of faith, family, friends and the strength we find in each of them. To be rich in friends and rich in love trumps the failing economy, terrorism, global warming, and the world going to Hell in a hand basket. If we choose to die emotionally and toss in the towel, it affects those around us and, essentially, we begin to take our own gift of life for granted. The title of the film is ironic but deeply seated in the narrative as George Bailey helps an angel get his wings and remembers the love in his heart for Mary and little Zuzu. It is a wonderful life.
If you have the time and would like to hear Karolyn Grimes’ memories from the making of the film (and the next film I will be discussing The Bishop’s Wife), give it a listen… yes, she says her iconic line from the film
Until next time…