Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is, for many, the quintessential American movie, and the perfect holiday film. “Of all the 80 films I’ve made, it’s my favorite,” Jimmy Stewart often said about the movie. And it is our family’s favorite!! If you have never seen the movie, I whole-heartedly suggest you watch it this Christmas and let it become a part of your Christmas traditions.
At the end of 1945, Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart had both just returned from World War II — and both returned sobered, with a darker view of humanity. Searching for a project to re-establish himself in Hollywood, Capra formed his own production company and optioned a property entitled “The Greatest Gift”: a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, originally written on a Christmas card. This went through multiple rewrites before it became It’s a Wonderful Life.
Just like the main character George Bailey began his life, Capra began the project with the highest of hopes. He had every expectation that the film would be a popular success, and perhaps even sweep the Oscars. But disappointment began the day of its release as generally favorable reviews were not enough to encourage more than mediocre box office returns. And of its five Oscar nominations, it won none, losing the ‘Big Three’— best picture, actor and director — to William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, a film which seemed to capture the spirit of post-war America more closely with its realism than Capra had managed with his fantasy. Capra was crushed.
Yet over the years people continued writing to him about the movie, emphasizing how much it had touched them. Capra wrote in his biography, “I woke up one Christmas morning, and the whole world was watching It’s A Wonderful Life.” Just as George Bailey’s local community came to his rescue when they discovered he was in trouble, so did the community of America rally around the movie, elevating Capra’s forgotten classic to its current status as part of our Christmas ritual.
George Bailey with his frustrations in aspirations to have more, to do more, and to be somebody, is a mirror of Americans, as we all strive to better our lot. However, even living the most idealist American dream life can somehow leave us unsatisfied. Over half a century later, George Bailey has become a legendary character in 20th century American culture. Through our identification with him and his trials, we can see a reflection of our own wonderful, horrible lives — and maybe gain some insight into true values.
So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?
When you watch the movie, realize that only Jesus can make it a wonderful life. John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
Also, just as the movie showed how George Bailey touched so many lives, you were placed here by a sovereign God to touch lives that only you can touch. Always keep in mind that others are observing and being affected by your life.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
Hebrews 13:2 Don’t forget to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
Also worth noting is the fact that George’s prayer in It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the only realistic prayers ever put on film. He’s a man desperate for divine help. “Dear Father in heaven… I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way.” Isaiah 30:19 God hears us when we cry.