As yesterday wound down, it left behind a trail of Christmas cookie crumbs and exhausted but gleeful children clutching new toys. However, it also left behind a few disappointed readers of my site who emailed and Tweeted at me and posted on my Facebook wall that they could not believe I left out one traditionally classic holiday film-- especially when I included so many that seemed random, cheesy, or one-note. The film in question was It's A Wonderful Life, and today I am here to defend my decision.
The reason I don't like It's A Wonderful Life and therefore actively avoid it every holiday season, whether it's on television or just screening on a friend's DVD player, is because at the end, when George Bailey (James Stewart) realizes he has to go back to his life, he does it out of obligation to all of those around him. What he learns on his nocturnal journey is not that he suddenly loves his life but rather that everyone else is better off with him in their lives. It is an ego boost for him, but it is a momentary one and will probably be fleeting right after his holidays come to a close.
The film works really hard to make George Bailey seem noble in that way. His actions, as dictated by the narrative, are purely unselfish and therefore should be celebrated. And when the swell of that score wafts in, disagreeing seems downright Scroogelike! However, even George Bailey himself would probably admit that in the wake of the morning, without the glare of the lights on the tree in his eyes, he has to live and be happy with, for, and in himself before he can do any good for anyone else. Maybe those in his life wouldn't be better off without George Bailey, but what about George Bailey?? The way that movie goes, it seems like a trip to AA will be what George Bailey gets next Christmas!