‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ goes beyond the expectations of a Christmas movie


Luke Chval

There’s a reason why films often opt to deal with despair, misfortune and unavoidable circumstance. Feel-good movies are too kitschy, too void of meaningful human emotion, and most annoyingly, too artificial. Conflict drives a storyline, and unfortunately, most studios haven’t figured out how to find the perfect balance.
As I grew up with the remote controlled by my older, avid cinephile brother, I’ve seen quite a fair share of classic, superlatively ranked productions and their messages. I empathized with the cynicism of Rick Blaine in Casablanca, and the internal moral conflict of Michael Corleone in The Godfather.
However, no film, from any time period, has elicited such a great a personal reaction, as the Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life.
The cast starts out with James Stewart, ranked third on the American Film Institute’s Best Actors list, as ambitious and kind-hearted

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 small town banker George Bailey. Opposite him is the female lead of Mary Bailey, George’s wife, played by Donna Reed. These two coexist perfectly, fulfilling any expectations of acting.
The storyline follows the life of George Bailey, an adventurous person who from the youngest age valued above anything his morality, instilled in him by his father’s benevolent and charitable method of running a savings and loan bank of the small Bedford Falls town.
Bailey spends his first four years out of high school saving so that he can attend college, aspiring to leave Bedford Falls forever to travel Europe and become an urban planner. Right before he leaves however, his father dies of a stroke and he is forced to run the bank due to conniving and wealthy board member Henry Potter, who plans to close the loan association so that citizens are forced to live in his highly profitable slums.
Bailey, too selfless to allow the town to crumble under the heel of Potter, agrees to run the bank, giving his college money to his younger brother Harry with the understanding that Harry will take care of the bank after he graduates.
Bailey is forced to continue working for the bank, while he marries Mary (Reed), a comforting and devoted wife. The town of Bedford Falls prospers under Bailey’s generous loan rates, even building a community of decent homes with the name “Bailey Park”. Bailey constantly becomes aggravated with his inability to travel or afford extravagance because of his generous business method, while Mary is indifferent to the pursuit of wealth.
As Bailey’s uncle and business partner inadvertently misplaces 8,000 dollars needed for the bank’s account into the hands of Potter, Bailey searches frantically for the money in vain, while Potter calls for the police to arrest Bailey for fraud.
In heavy despair, Bailey goes home on Christmas Eve, disheartened by the knowledge that his life is now meaningless, he berates his children and wife before leaving the house, contemplating suicide on a nearby bridge overlooking an icy river.
Clarence Odbody, an angel sent down to save Bailey, appears and jumps into the river, as the only way Bailey can be saved is by an opportunity to save someone else. Bailey jumps in and “saves” Clarence, while Clarence tries to make Bailey see the meaning of his life.
Bailey wishes that he hadn’t been born, prompting Clarence to take him through an alternate world of Bedford Falls, where his friends are mean, his wife is a lonely woman, and his brother died in an accident at the age of nine because Bailey had not been there to save him, and Potter’s slums force the town into rough submission of poverty.
Bailey finally realizes that his ambition and passion for luxury and travel being a shortcoming does not define his success or failure, rather that his life has affected so many others and bettered the town.
The citizens of Bedford Falls proceed to donate the money required to settle the bank’s accounts, while the bank examiner tears the arrest warrant, George Bailey finally receives contentment in his life.
This movie perfectly demonstrates the best example in cinema history of an equal balance between optimistic and realistic. The film easily reaches all with real hard hitting life troubles, while providing an upbeat message that one can actually take seriously, making it an essential Christmas production.
This the the twelfth installment of a 12  part series. Various staff writers have picked their favorite Christmas movies and reviewed them. Check out the other movies of Christmas here!  
[youtube url=”http://youtu.be/KZ_OZpb0wIA”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93ASUImTedo[/youtube] By Luke Chval