When I was invited by The Classic Movie Muse to join their It’s a Wonderful Life Blogathon, I had no idea what to write about. Because there are so many moving parts to this seventy-five-year-old film, it was kind of overwhelming to choose just one aspect. But then I remembered an editorial written by fellow blogger, J-Dub. On his blog, Dubsism, he has a series called ‘Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate’. The first entry was about It’s a Wonderful Life. In his editorial, J-Dub explains, without the sugar-coating, bells, or whistles, why he does’t like the Christmas classic. While I respect J-Dub’s opinion, I personally disagree with him. These differing viewpoints inspired me to write my editorial, where I defend It’s a Wonderful Life. Like I have said in previous editorials, my article is not meant to be mean-spirited or negative. It is only meant to express my opinion and present a different view to the subject of It’s a Wonderful Life. If you are interested in reading J-Dub’s article, you can visit his blog at dubsism.com.
Debunking the “Lie” of It’s a Wonderful Life
Throughout the editorial, ‘Movies Everybody Loves That I Hate’: Episode 1 – “It’s A Wonderful Life”, J-Dub claims the film is a lie. He believes the film is not only filled with nihilism, but that Pottersville is wrongfully villainized. J-Dub also says the film tells the viewer they are among “jerks who will crush our dreams for no other reason so they can suck the life out of us”. This statement relates to J-Dub’s belief that everyone in George’s life is trying to hold him back. For this part of the editorial, I’m going to discuss three points. The first point is about Pottersville. While the glitzy sparkle of the “dream town” may give the appearance of a successful paradise, it’s what the city represents that is important.
When George first visits Pottersville, he is unfamiliar with his surroundings. Beloved locals have drastically changed, but so have its citizens. One of these citizens is Nick, a bartender who works at Martini’s Bar. In the “dream town”, Nick owns the bar. With this ownership comes a mean attitude. He not only treats George and Clarence horribly, he also embarrasses Mr. Gower. The pharmacist in this “dream town” is now an ostracized criminal who is known for poisoning a patient. This leads me to my second point. The idea of success is not a bad one. However, it has the ability to change people for the worse. Pottersville is also the complete opposite of Bedford Falls, with Bedford Falls representing familiarity. Why do so many movie studios and companies choose to revisit well known franchises and IPs? It’s because they can, sometimes, capitalize on a fandom’s familiarity with certain characters and stories. Familiarity can also be experienced during the Christmas/holiday season, as people may choose to gather with those they are familiar with or carry on familiar traditions. Therefore, Bedford Falls’ representation of familiarity debunks J-Dub’s claim of the film containing nihilism.
My third point involves the people in George’s life. Earlier in this part of my argument, I mentioned how J-Dub feels the characters surrounding George are holding him back. But when you pay attention to what these same characters are saying and doing, this is not the case. Let me bring up Mary as just one example. Ever since they were children, Mary knew George wanted to travel the world. That was the plan after they got married. But when the Bailey Building & Loan was in financial trouble due to the Great Depression, those plans quickly changed. After seeing George desperately trying to help his clients, it was Mary’s idea to use their honeymoon money to pay these clients. To make up for the financial sacrifice, Mary organizes a honeymoon dinner at the infamous Sycamore House. The living room in this house is decorated with posters of faraway lands. Music fills the room to help elaborate the immersion of travel. Throughout the scene, Bert and Ernie can be seen assisting Mary in her plan of giving George a thoughtful alternative. If she was truly a “millstone” around George’s neck, why would Mary bother helping George save the Building & Loan on more than one occasion? Why would she plan the honeymoon dinner on the same day as the aforementioned crisis? Heck, why would Mary take the time to pray for George at the beginning of the movie? Personally, I think Mary serves as George’s reminder of what really matters the most.
George is the “Every Person”, Not a Criminal
A point J-Dub stresses in his editorial is how George Bailey is a criminal. This is because he sees the protagonist as “a predatory lender” by “economically enslaving a large part of the town’s population by saddling them with debt they can never pay”. There are instances throughout the movie where Bailey’s Building & Loan is struggling to get by. Potter has explained the operations of “Bailey Park”, where the homes are lower in initial value. But these things are not done to cheat the system or live above the law. As the audience can see even from George’s younger years, the folks at Bailey’s Building & Loan simply care about people.
When the viewer is first introduced to George’s father, he is conducting a meeting with Potter. In this meeting, Potter claims the establishment’s payments are late. While this statement is true, Mr. Bailey tells Potter he is waiting payment from his clients, as he extended their deadline in order to prevent them from losing their homes. As George grows up and eventually takes over the Building & Loan, he chooses to follow in his father’s footsteps by putting the customer first. The purpose of “Bailey Park” was to provide their customers with the option of owning a house, instead of renting one through Potter. Even when Uncle Billy loses the $8,000 the Building & Loan needs to stay afloat, the situation is nothing more than an accident. Though Potter does threaten to have George arrested for the missing $8,000, he does this because he thinks his plan will help him finally achieve the Building & Loan, the same establishment he has always wanted to own. As George’s father said about Potter, “He hates anybody that has what he can’t have”.
George Bailey is one of the most beloved characters in not only the realm of Christmas movies, but within the world of cinema. Like I said in the title of my second argument, George is the “every person”, which makes him a memorable and likable character. Throughout the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, George experiences his ups and downs. He can become so frustrated, he destroys the architectural corner of his living room. But there are moments where he places others before himself, with George helping Violet start a new chapter in her life by giving her money as one example. Even though George’s life plays out differently from those in the audience, it does contain a sense of relatability. While working in the drug store one day, George is mistreated by Mr. Gower. The pharmacist physically hurts and yells at George for not delivering a bundle of pills. During this ordeal, George stands up to his employer, explaining how the pharmacist mistakenly placed poison in the pill capsules. This mistake was caused by Mr. Gower’s consuming grief, due to his son, Robert, dying of Influenza. Everyone has experienced a time in their life when bravery was needed. Because bravery can look different for each individual, the audience may see George’s decision as a huge step in his story. They may also see it as “something big, something important”.
Standing Up for Clarence
Another aspect of disagreement between J-Dub and I is Clarence the Angel. J-Dub is not a fan of this character. He claims Clarence uses “predatory skills” to give George a false narrative by “misrepresenting reality in order to make an exceptionally nihilistic point”. Even as the film begins, the script makes it pretty clear Clarence really wants to earn his wings. But if you’ve been waiting over 200 years to get what you wanted, you’d make sure you did your job as best you could. Plus, with Clarence having the “heart of a child”, he wants to find the best in George’s character. While Clarence accepts his mission with awaiting wings in mind, he is not selfish. At the end of the film, Clarence gives George his copy of Tom Sawyer. Also, when George makes his ultimate wish of having never been born, Clarence gives George what he wants. But this granted wish is used as a teachable moment; showing how getting what you want doesn’t always mean getting it the way you want.
The “dream world” Clarence creates was never meant to be literal or mess up time. Instead, this exaggerated alternate universe was simply a visual example of a very important point. After being kicked out of Nick’s Bar in the “dream world”, Clarence tells George “Each man’s life touches so many other lives”. Even though this can be said about any other character in this film, George is the one who needed to hear it the most. At that point in the story, George is filled with fear, insecurities, and self-doubt. In fact, one of George’s reasons for considering suicide was Potter’s harsh claim that George is “worth more dead than alive”. If it’s anybody giving a false narrative, it’s Potter. With that said, Clarence tries to expose Potter’s lies throughout his mission.
George Plays His Part
In his editorial, J-Dub claims George “runs into a gigantic example of “crab in the bucket” syndrome”. This connects to his previously stated belief that the people in George’s life are holding him back. Toward the beginning of the film, George told his father he wanted to do “something big, something important”. That’s why he had dreams of going to college to become an architect. George’s father reminds him how working at the Building & Loan is important, as they are helping people acquire a home. As the story plays out, George’s father is proven right. Another way Mr. Bailey is proven right is during World War II. Everyone in Bedford Falls does their part to help the war effort. One of George’s responsibilities is hosting various drives, such as a scrap metal drive. Even though this seems like a small role in the grand scheme of things, it is “something big, something important”. United States history will tell you every aspect of the war effort provided a huge help in winning World War II. This includes things like scrap metal drives, as the metal was used to create weapons and machinery for the U.S. troops. Having those materials available was not only “big”, but “important” as well. George’s role may not have been glamourous like Potter’s life or news worthy like Harry’s military achievements. But to everyone who was helped by George, his role made a tremendous difference.
Though this editorial was submitted to celebrate the 75th anniversary of It’s a Wonderful Life, it was written to present a different opinion from that of a fellow blogger. J-Dub is not wrong for disliking this film and I’m not correct for defending it. What I’m emphasizing is how subjective film is. Both J-Dub and I approached the same movie. We each wrote an editorial, presenting the material in two differing ways. This provides more content for the reader and an opportunity to keep the conversation going. Maybe this is why It’s a Wonderful Life has been well-regarded for so long. Remember when I said how there are so many moving parts to this film? Well, I’m starting to realize that’s the beauty of it. No matter which aspect of the story you choose, there’s a conversation waiting to be spoken. With that said, I hope you check out J-Dub’s editorial. He put as much work into his as I did into mine. When it comes to blogathons, that’s what it’s really all about.
Have fun at the anniversary!