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It's a Wonderful Life

“It’s a Wonderful Life”: Christmas and the blessings of life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole doesn’t he?”

- Clarence, “It’s a Wonderful Life”

With a bleeding lip and a broken spirit, George Bailey stares longingly at the tossing and turning of the waves. The frigid wind bites his face as suicidal thoughts creep into his head.

Bailey steadies himself on the edge of the bridge. His eyes widen. He looks to his left, and then to his right. Preparing to jump, a single thought enters his mind…

“I wish I had never been born.”

No good deed goes unpunished. You hold a door open for someone, and you get the next one slammed in your face. You take over the family business to make a difference in others’ lives, and your Uncle Billy misplaces an $8,000 deposit that sends your business into bankruptcy.

Regardless of how small or large the good deed, gratitude for it can be hard to come by. Those trying to do good eventually get burned out, feeling that no one appreciates or cares about them; that the world would be no different had they never been in it.

From the start of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we see the kind heart of its protagonist George Bailey (James Stewart). At the age of 12, he saves his brother Harry from the icy waters of a frozen pond, causing Bailey to permanently lose hearing in one of his ears. Rarely does he put himself first, and this is evident in his actions throughout the film.

After tragedy strikes his family, Bailey gives up his life dream to stay behind and run his father’s company in Bedford Falls, New York, to ensure that it stays out of the greedy clutches of banker Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).

Bailey makes several sacrifices throughout the film; often oblivious to the lasting impact these choices have on the lives of others in Bedford Falls. Twice he gives up the opportunity of a college education. Instead of going on his honeymoon with his wife, he stays behind after their wedding to keep his Building and Loan Company afloat. He even turns down a sizable job offer from Mr. Potter himself to uphold his values.

And yet, despite all of this, one mistake by his uncle leads to a moment of panic and despair for Bailey. Facing bankruptcy and imprisonment, that terrible thought first surfaces…

“I wish I had never been born.”

James Stewart brings warmth and humanity to the character of George Bailey. He steals every scene he is in, and each word, facial expression and movement of Stewart contributes to the timeless message of the story.

Frank Capra’s vision and direction drive the actors’ performances. Despite it being in black and white, the quality and special effects hold up surprisingly well to this day. The film even won an Academy Award for developing a new method of simulating falling snow on a motion picture set.

It received five other nominations from the Academy, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It has had an impact on today’s entertainment as well, with popular TV shows such as “The Fairly Odd Parents” creating episodes based on the film’s third act.

“I wish I had never been born.”

As this thought rings out in Bailey’s head, he rears back, ready to leap into the waters below. The splash he hears is not his own, however. Another man jumped, and he is drowning.

“Help me! Help me!” the man cries.

In another selfless act, Bailey takes off his coat and dives into the water to save him. The man turns out to be Clarence – Bailey’s guardian angel sent from heaven to help Bailey realize his purpose in life.

Bailey tells Clarence that he wishes he had never been born, that everyone including his wife and kids would be better off without him. Clarence grants his wish, and right away it becomes clear that without George Bailey in their lives, the people of Bedford Falls are not the same, and their circumstances are considerably worse.

“You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” This saying can be applied to Bailey in the film and often for us in our everyday lives. Regardless of what you’re going through, your life has meaning, and you have touched others’ lives in ways that you may never know. Count your many blessings this Christmas, and when times of hardship or self-loathing arrive, remember the enduring words of Clarence, “No man is a failure who has friends.”