December 24, 2006

Am I the only one who thinks It’s a Wonderful Life is a heartbreaking tragedy of the highest order? George Bailey spends his whole life dreaming of getting the hell out of Bedford Falls but sacrificing himself again and again and again for the sake of his friends and his family, even as he watches his dreams slip further and more irrevocably away every day. And at the end, in return for having given up everything he’s ever wanted, he gets a hatful of change!

I somehow managed to avoid seeing this movie until I was in grad school, when a professor assigned it for a class on story structure. By the end I was sobbing with despair in my apartment and, quite literally, throwing things at the television. The class on It’s a Wonderful Life came a few days later; after ten minutes I couldn’t take it anymore and left the room. I have been very careful ever since not to be anywhere near a television on which it’s being broadcast.

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8 Responses to Am I the only one who thinks It’s a Wonderful Life is a heartbreaking

  1. matt says:

    You aren’t the only one. For an alternative view, I highly recommend David Thomson’s brilliant novel of film noir, Suspects.

  2. Todd says:

    I totally agree. I think he would have been better off never having been alive at all; however, as the show demonstrates, the rest of the town woulda been screwed.

  3. Lauren says:

    …so, I suppose I shouldn’t ask you for your thoughts on Casablanca, then.

  4. Andy says:

    Well, it’s a Christmas movie from the 1930s, so you can’t really *fault* it for having a Christian ethos. And from that perspective, no, it’s pretty much right on: money and personal ambitions should matter less to us than friends and family and community; doing what is right is often very difficult; suicide and despair are short-sighted and selfish; forgiveness and compassion are essential components of a healthy society, etc. You’re RIGHT to have a despairing reaction to this film: the title is wholly ironic. Even in the “real” Bedford Falls, Mr. Gower loses his son in the war, George loses his hearing in one ear, George’s father dies suddenly (wrecking his plans) and Mr. Potter’s in a wheelchair. There is heartbreak and tragedy and pain everywhere in this “wonderful life.” And yet these are the elements and circumstances that cause us to go deeper, to ask “why” and “how” and search for answers and meaning. Where would the art world be if people were never unhappy? Would you be able to have sympathy for others if you’d never had pain of your own? And let’s not forget, from this perspective “The End” is only tbe beginning.

  5. I love “It’s a Wonderful Life” but hate the fact that I cry like a little school girl everytime I watch it.

  6. Rob says:

    I’m with you — I can’t staaaaand how much of a doormat George Bailey is. Of course, I am one of the heretics who actually prefers the 70s Marlo Thomas gender-reversed remake (with Cloris Leachman as ‘Clara’ the angel) — one, because it’s an hour shorter, and two, because they capture the frustration of Mary Bailey as the capable eldest daughter of the family who sacrifices for everyone else, always putting herself last. Orson Welles plays Potter in that version — I know everyone despises it, but I can’t help liking it.

    I also hated bumbling Uncle Willy, who gets George into his predicament in the first place.

  7. David says:

    Wow. I never cared for the syrupy sentiment, but it didn’t make me howl with rage. And doesn’t George get the money back from Potter at the end as well? I’ve never actually sat through the whole thing.

  8. Blobby says:

    I’m sure I’m going to say something horrible to most people: I don’t like Jimmy Stewart.

    I’ve watched part of “It’s a Wonderful Life” but couldn’t sit through it due to him. I even struggle through the Hitchcock films with him in it.

    There – i said it!


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