Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Darker Message in It's a Wonderful Life

And so, as John Lennon sang, this is Christmas. In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey wished he had never been born, and, presto, just like that he was visited by an angel named Clarence who not only saved him from suicide but took him through a tour of life as it would have been without him.

* The pharmacist at the drug store where a teenaged George worked is a broken down alcoholic, despised by the town for having accidentally filled a prescription with poison because George wasn’t there to stop him.

* His brother was dead because George couldn’t save him from a sledding accident.

* And the love of George’s life is - God forbid! - a librarian which was synonymous at the time (1946) with spinsterhood.

Yes, George Bailey’s life had been wonderful, after all. His life had touched so many others, and to think he had wished that he had never been born.

Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, an Oscar contender for best picture that year, had been forgotten until the 1980s when its public domain status meant that any TV station with access to a print could show it without charge. Suddenly, it was everywhere and its ubiquity helped make it a lot of people’s favorite Christmas movie. (The music score was still copyrighted, however, and after some legal maneuvering, the film was rescued from the public domain in the ‘90s and now airs exclusively on NBC.)

Beloved though it may be, It’s a Wonderful Life is bullshit. If George Bailey had not been born, perhaps his brother would not have been out sledding and not have needed rescuing. Many things would have changed, not just the events depicted.

It’s a Wonderful Life was meant to be uplifting, but its message could be interpreted in less hopeful ways if you want to make the effort. There have been times in my life when I wished that I had never been born, but no angels descended from heaven to show me that my life had value. Maybe there are no angels. If I’m wrong about that, my lack of celestial visits could mean something worse: I am not worth saving.

I’m aware that this is less a comment on the film than an expression of my own cynicism. It's not that I'm a pessimist for whom the glass is always half empty, never half full. I see my glass as full. Indeed, it’s overflowing. It’s just that someone is always pissing in it.

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


No comments:

Post a Comment