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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

How Life is So ‘Wonderful’ According To Capra

Throughout the years there have been many films that have created quite an impact but none can really compare to Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. The film isn’t really just a film. It’s more of a study in hardship, frustration, and shattered dreams that serve as a valuable life lesson through the eyes of George Bailey, a simple man at the end of his rope and his journey through an alternate vision of reality.

It’s a masterpiece and one of the most important films in our cinematic history. Not only does a film like this bear great similitude to our social climate today with people losing their jobs, mortgages in default, banks on the teeter-totter, and the poor and middle-class getting poorer while the rich get richer; but it never fails to touch us personally in themes of great relation through life as we know it. It’s A Wonderful Life shows us the value of an individual and the contribution to the greater good that he can make.

Image Credit: Tania Hussain

Image Credit: Tania Hussain

Our world has been through a lot in this last year—from mass shootings, devastating hurricanes, political uprisings, civil unrest, and it’s not easy to escape from any of it in our changing world. However, with the exception of escaping through movies—movies, in all that they are, have always been about the good in the world and how we can personally relate to its progression. Most often, they have us cheering and believing in the good of mankind. It’s A Wonderful Life, a film created back in 1946 was listed as the American Film Institute’s number one film in a list compiled by 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians selecting the black and white classic as one of the most inspiring films of all time. All within good reason too, because a film like this not only inspires us but encourages us that the good we’re doing in this world is really making a difference and that there’s great hope for all of us.

The film, which is widely hailed as the definitive Christmas movie airs every year and has become an endearing and tender tradition of yuletide cinema even though it’s interesting to mention how little of the film is actually set around Christmas. Now, if you’ve not seen the film in its entirety, you may know about it through pop culture references found in an episode of The Simpsons or in a music video from The Killers, or even from someone doing their “best” Jimmy Stewart impression. There are a lot of them out there and my best friend is no stranger to channeling his inner Jimmy from time to time and I must admit that in mid-conversation, it’s the most hilarious and abruptly welcomed interruption ever. That being said, you have to watch the film. If you’re a fan of film in general but haven’t seen this, you need to. It is one of the most perfect films and I’m going to tell you why.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a bittersweet tale of an altruistic man who continuously gives himself to his small-town, but feels so desperate in his life that he contemplates suicide. Having always wanted to leave Bedford Falls to see the world, protagonist George Bailey (James Stewart) and his good heart persuaded him to stay behind to manage the family business, sacrifice his education for his brother’s, marry his childhood love (Donna Reed), and with dedication and devotion he protects the town from the mean and black hearted Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). When George believes his life is ‘worth more dead than alive’, he prepares to jump from the town bridge but a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers), who has been watching over George all along, intervenes and shows him what life would have been like for the town of Bedford Falls had he never been born.

George Bailey (James Stewart) praying to God for help while drinking it up at Nick’s in Bedford Falls. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

There are many moments throughout the film that we feel for George as he takes on the consequences of saving his brother or helping Mr. Gower, or his bumpy courtship with Mary and taking over the family business. They seem like just events that need to take place in order for life to carry on, but they add up to a great man. Played by James Stewart, George Bailey is a modern day hero, all charming and sweet with a wide-eyed enthusiasm. He’s the guy you root for and admire because he does the right thing and he’s deeply identifiable.

But it doesn’t sound so much like a Christmas tale, does it? This film explores more of the darker themes in life and the scrupulous morals we face with sacrifices, disappointments, the pursuit of happiness, and the painstaking truth behind the American dream. However, that’s what makes this film so special and deeply appealing. It holds such resonance with what is happening today and George’s feelings are no doubt something that we all go through when life gets tough and we feel we’re to blame for certain circumstances often questioning ourselves; what would happen if I wasn’t here? Or would you be better off without me? Or could someone love you better than I can?

Mary and George Bailey embrace on their honeymoon. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

When watching the film one quickly realizes that everything happens for a reason; and that our actions or inactions have certain intended and unintended consequences. It’s a ripple effect, like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples travel out in an ever expanding ring. Through our interaction we all affect each other no matter what we think. For George to think his life is insignificant is heartbreaking because to everyone in his town, he meant something so much more and we as an audience can see it. Further just as in the film, everybody in our life has an important role to play, because we all relate to one another and this proves we’re not insignificant.

Though little of the film revolves around the holiday season,  it connects with the viewers for there are many profound themes within the story associated with what Christmas is customarily known for in the best way Capra could narrate in a film released December 20, 1946. We see the characters explore life through various themes and symbols; for instance, themes of friendship, community and belonging, love, greed, sacrifice and good nature; while symbols like the bells ringing throughout the film prove outside forces are always at work raising our awareness, and Zuzu’s petals illustrate how fragile life can be, and that the way the fever-stricken daughter shows her flower such attentiveness, we should too otherwise our life can be snatched from us in a split-second the way Clarence took away George’s.

Love is evidently one of the major themes that travel across the film. It even starts with a testament of love from the prayers of men and women all over town offered for George who himself confesses to God in his darkest hour that he’s “not a praying man” but does it in his own way, reflecting the Christmas spirit. He bares his soul and gives all of his love for others while literally becoming poor for the sake of his fellow citizens in Bedford Falls. Love isn’t lost though, as Mary Bailey played by Donna Reed shows her undying love and support to a fallen man proving how important our choice of a mate in life really is. Had she not been there for George, he might have taken another route in his life. In doing so Mary became a significant player in not just the film but in the epiphanies of love.

A lot of people pass up the film because they assume since it is black and white, that it is boring, insipid and irrelevant as well as too sentimental when really it is as dark as the gloomy winter weather. It’s a dismal realistic examination of life’s ups and downs and all of this is something Capra’s protagonist has had to endure.

Frank Capra was a brilliant director who was always bringing such warmth to his stories with a concise narrative. The way he directed these actors to create these characters time and time again, had us as an audience becoming involved in the lives of these on-screen characters. His films are extremely optimistic about mankind and though most of his characters have been tested through devastating adversities, it’s the struggle they overcome in the end that makes it such a crowd-pleaser. Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is personally my favorite in that regard.

The town of Bedford Falls helping George and his family the Bailey home. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

The film has a certain magic about it. Call it inner realization if you will, but it grows each time you watch it. While the movie remains constant over time, the interesting part is that our perception, lives and thinking changes each time we watch this memorable film over and over. It’s different also in that each time you watch it; you’re always going to take away something new that resonates on a personal level.  I’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life more times than I can count and every time I watch it, I find myself understanding another character in this film. That’s the beauty of this film—it never really ages! Sure the film is classically warm and knowing, but it’s the engaging story that takes on the human condition in all its complexities within a cleverly written screenplay, marvelous casting and sweet soundtrack.

It’s hard to believe that this film on its initial release received mixed reviews from critics who believed the film was too clean against the milieu of the realities uncovered from the war, and lost money at the box office with a release in theatres the week before Christmas of 1946 despite being nominated for five Academy Awards in 1947. It didn’t win a single Oscar; that outcome was a personal disappointment to the director and others who believed it was his best film to date. In some miraculous way history corrected this minor injustice in the form of a ripple effect. The film that meant so much to the director saw a new dawn of light nearly 30 years after its release with its copyright protection expiring due to clerical errors. This then had the film fall into the public domain, allowing television stations to air the film without royalty fees, and it was only in 1994 that NBC decided to purchase exclusivity rights to the film. Since then it’s been a timeless Christmas classic for a brand new audience year in and year out.

Regardless of whether you’ve never seen this film, or not, watch It’s A Wonderful Life this Christmas. The performances by James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore in this film are immaculate ones, and even the minor characters are played by great actors who make the film what it is today. It’s a genuinely warm and comforting film. It shouldn’t be passed over for the newer films that offer nothing so meaningful other than the production companies banking in on the commercialization of the holiday season. This is a film that should be introduced to a new audience and a new generation over and over, because it reflects who we are in this world and why we’re so important. The film is grandiose and achieves such fine symmetry between that “feel-good” factor and pathos, while being such a gorgeously constructed reminder of perseverance of the human spirit. The film leaves in us a sense of being loved and cared for by people who have faith in us and guide us through support and hope, given that we are inextricably linked to each other in the social fabric of our community.

There is a moral side to the film which is equally relevant and an important one, proving to us that what we put into our lives, we get back manifold. That’s vital to keep in mind as Capra’s message in some way is that by contributing to the greater good of mankind, we’re going to be alright at the end of it and truly content. It’s a simple lesson, but a realistic one.

It’s A Wonderful Life is now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

To drive home this moral vision, Capra illustrates at one point in the film, George Bailey looking for the answers to his dilemma as he stares at a portrait of his father hung on the wall in the office of the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan with a plaque that reads, “All you take with you is that which you’ve given away”. George then realizes what his next step should be. This plays to the optimism of a life lived efficiently and selflessly because our life isn’t measured through materialism but rather, how we utilize what’s given to us. That’s a prevalent lesson that should pervade throughout the years. As long as It’s A Wonderful Life still plays on television it will enlighten the generations to come with message of hope, optimism, love and steadfastness in order to overcome challenges that we encounter in our lives; and by working together we can make it a wonderful life for everyone.

It’s A Wonderful Life is on DVD and Blu-Ray, and can be purchased in-stores and online through Amazon, iTunes or Turner Classic Movies. NBC will be airing the film on December 24 at 8pm EST. Check your local listings for more details.

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