It’s A Wonderful Life: The Truest of Christmas Films

Oh dear, a few of my pieces have been described as “rants”, so I’ll warn you all that this little essay is akin to me incoherently raving before I punch someone in a pub fight.

First of all, there are many very good, highly enjoyable Christmas movies out there (and a ton of awful ones), and some of them I consider a must-see during the festive season: Elf, The Grinch, The Santa Clause etc. I always get incredibly excited when Christmas gets close and I love discussing what my favourite Christmas things are like songs and movies. I mentioned the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, one of my favourite films in general let alone a Christmas must-see, and one of my co-workers replied with a short story about how they had tried to watch it but “it wasn’t very Christmassy”. Yes, they just said that the greatest Christmas movie of all time wasn’t “very Christmassy”. Gob-smacked.

Well done Hollywood. You seem to have succeeded in convincing people that Christmas is your fake-ass, lame, materialistic and brattish holiday you depict in your movies. FUCK YOU! I mean, yes, so many of these films are great entertainment, but if we think about it; do they really portray the true meaning of Christmas? In my opinion, all Christmas movies in comparison to “It’s a Wonderful Life” look like the cold dead corpses of Father Christmas that have been rolled in glitter*. Most of the messages and morals are puddle deep like “Oh no, something’s wrong and Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents this year” or “Oh no, the perfect Christmas I planned has gone wrong and now I look a fool in front of my mother-in-law”. I mean many of them do promote family and all that but they all seem to be a vehicle in the promotion of a cheap commercial for materialistic Christmas. For example, in Elf, the biggest message I got from that is that Zooey Deschanel will sing in public if she really has to. I’m sure The Grinch had some important message about tolerance and acceptance, but I was too distracted by the guy who kissed a dog on the arse. The Santa Clause was full of adults who stopped believing in Santa because they didn’t get a certain present from the big man himself. MAYBE YOU DIDN’T DESERVE IT HMMMM!? I once saw Deck the Halls which was a vile experience through and through, down to when the fathers ended up cat-calling his own daughters. Don’t even get me started on Jack Gooding’s entries for Christmas movies this year.

In comparison “It’s a Wonderful Life” lacks all the materialism and consumerism but is instead a celebration of small town values such as honesty, integrity and kindness. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “anti-capitalist” but it definitely denounces the unchecked pursuit for more money that leads to horrifically unequal distribution of wealth:

“Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”.

If you actually cast your minds to the Nativity, the main message is “Peace and Goodwill to all men on Earth” which is what the true spirit of Christmas is all about. The story of George Bailey embodies this message and spirit – he is a man who constantly puts himself last, takes up major responsibility upon himself even though they dash his dreams against the rocks, simply to protect those around him from the evil of an avarice old man. After his father’s death, he takes up the Building Loan company that was left which he despises but knows prevents the complete monopolisation of Bedford Falls by the greedy, grasping Potter. He ends up giving his University place to his brother, even though he has dreamed of becoming an architect since he was a young boy and ends up stuck in the dead-end of his little hometown. He makes a family with Mary who adores him and adores their home-town which he hates so. Even as war breaks out he watches as all of his peers become war heroes as he is stuck back home due to an injury he got in childhood when he saved his little brother’s life. Finally, his acts of selflessness simply become too much: on Christmas Eve money from the Building Loan is lost in an accident causing an imbalance in the books which, at the least, could land George in debtors’ prison. His shame and despair drives him to the decision to take his own life. However, George’s kind actions throughout his life have touched many of the town-people’s lives who all pray for him on that fateful night. Their prayers are heard and answered by the arrival of an apprentice angel who tries to convince George that suicide isn’t the answer to his troubles. He shows what Bedford Falls is like if he was never born: now called Potterville, a place of debauchery and misery with all his loved ones now twisted embittered versions of themselves. George ends up begging for his life to be returned to him and despite his dire situation, he welcomes back his life with pure joy and jubilation. To put it short: he is redeemed.

You may say that the idea of a guardian from heaven coming down to save you is a stupid message to give as it teaches the audience nothing but to rely on divine intervention during Christmas. Yeah, Clarence is the answer to the prayers but George’s family and the people of Bedford Falls answer their own prayers, pouring in their savings to prevent the Building and Loan from going under, and throughout his life George’s generous actions were probably often the answer to his friends’ prayers. That’s the point of Christmas – bad things happen to people, and as Christmas is supposed to be a joyous celebration, we should make an extra effort to help those down-trodden and unable to celebrate to share what we have so that everyone can be joyful. Such acts don’t only redeem those we help but redeem those who carry them out too and Christmas is a celebration of the hope of redemption, and that no one person is truly insignificant.

So, take your excess of presents, your competitiveness in who has the best decorations, and your movies that fill your mind with materialistic fluff. If you want a film to really bring the message of Christmas home, you know which to choose. It’s a good little reminder of the small sacrifices we can make in life for all of those around us.

Kicks your Christmas tree over on the way out.

*Except “A Muppet Christmas Carol” and “The Snowman”, those films are perfection.

Katie Doyle
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Katie Doyle

Hey, just a massive nerd for movies and especially sci-fi as I enjoy a good existential crisis leaving the cinema. I have great a great adoration for the classics as I'm a bit pretentious (silent and black & white for the win)
Katie Doyle
Hit me up
  • Katie Anna-Louise Doyle

    The older i get the more i cry at this movie