It’s easy to look back now and say that defeating fascism was worth it.
December 2, 2015 9:24 PM   Subscribe

"Capra knew that the only way to earn an ending this happy would be to send the audience through utter, bleak horror, so everything before George gets to live again is shot to maximize the sense of his confinement, before breaking loose into rapture. It’s the story arc the country itself had just lived through for the four years prior." It’s A Wonderful Life shows the unending cost of being good - Todd VanDerWerff, The A.V. Club
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (97 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
[Note: It's A Wonderful Life also on FanFare.]
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:25 PM on December 2, 2015


"To be Old Man Potter in It's a Wonderful Life, Lionel Barrymore inverted his own Vanderhoff character in You Can't Take it With You. Where old Mr. Vanderhoff is good and gracious for the joy of it, Old-Man Potter is nasty for its own sake. Prior Capra villains had purpose, whether money, power or a new order. Potter is evil with no goal or reason for being that way. Political and financial empire-building are subsumed into greed, ill will and blind destructiveness."

Walter Brennan was a sky wizard.
posted by clavdivs at 9:36 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The article is interesting and I get what he's saying talking about the portrayal of altruism. But Old Man Potter wasn't driving the town into the ground with sub-prime mortgages that lacked legit lending standards JUST SAYING.

Also I hate that the movie is about George having a BIG FAT GIANT SULK about choices he made all by himself when he had alternatives available, he's such a freaking man-baby.

I honestly do not understand why people like this movie; I find it both maudlin and horrifying. "Oh, I guess I pick my shitty life that I'm super-resentful about if the alternative is being dead, it is a marginal improvement upon non-existence." And then right back to the sub-prime lending! Do these writers even underwrite, bro?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:47 PM on December 2, 2015 [23 favorites]


Where most other classic Christmas films are steeped in warmth and nostalgia—see also: A Christmas Story—Wonderful Life is steeped in melancholy for a world that was and an uncertainty about what life had become

Actually I think being steeped in melancholy, sickening nostalgia, coldness, and ugliness is what most "Christmas Classics" have in common. A Christmas Story included, holy shit is that movie unpleasant. They make you sit through an hour and a half of pure terror and misery and then everything is somehow fine at the end and it's Christmas. See also Charlie Brown. See also The Nutcracker. See also Christmas Carol (except Muppets). See also Home Alone. I can't think of any other Christmas movies. Even Rudolph. I guess people enjoy the catharthis but I only remember the unpleasant parts.
posted by bleep at 9:50 PM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


(When other people are watching and enjoying it, I just go read a book in the other room because I'm not a Grinch, I just find the movie totally incomprehensible. I only share my loathing when people are analyzing it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:50 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I honestly do not understand why people like this movie; I find it both maudlin and horrifying. "Oh, I guess I pick my shitty life that I'm super-resentful about if the alternative is being dead, it is a marginal improvement upon non-existence."

You must positively loathe A Christmas Carol then.
posted by blucevalo at 9:52 PM on December 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


But Old Man Potter wasn't driving the town into the ground with sub-prime mortgages that lacked legit lending standards JUST SAYING.

Potter was a slumlord. That word -- slum -- is specifically in the screenplay.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:06 PM on December 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


Actually I think being steeped in melancholy, sickening nostalgia, coldness, and ugliness is what most "Christmas Classics" have in common.
Existential Dread and then Jesus.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:19 PM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Can we agree that the Beavis and Butt-head parody is pretty great though?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:20 PM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I choose to believe that, while Pottersville!Mary is supposed to be deeply unhappy without George in her life, she still is a fundamentally decent and civic-minded person, which is why she's a librarian instead of a waitress at Nick's or something.
posted by Small Dollar at 10:34 PM on December 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


The comments linked to this funny article:
First, we see young George and his friends playing in the snow. It’s that fun pastime known as “sliding down a hill on a shovel”. Or as they call it these days, “a concussion waiting to happen”.

Sure enough, George’s younger brother Harry nearly drowns in a frozen lake. George rescues him, but ends up losing his hearing in one ear.

This is the best thing that happens to George in the entire film.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:41 PM on December 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


It's a trade off, the U.K. Gets the spooky ghost Chrismakes full of anicent mystery and dread and we get the existential despair Christmases about the void of meaning and the uncaring universe.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 PM on December 2, 2015 [15 favorites]


It's more bearable if you realize that George has been appointed by God to be literally the only force that can fend off evil in Bedford Falls because he's the only one that can stand against Potter(sville).

Seriously, I don't so much like watching the second half (oh, the horror, she became A LIBRARIAN!), but the first half is a guy who wants to get the hell out of town and God straight up won't let him...but at least he can find some happiness while he's stuck being the only roadblock against evil.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:26 PM on December 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


I can't possibly be the first person to say this, but Eyes Wide Shut is basically set in Pottersville.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:27 PM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


For Christmas tradition wise, I prefer listening to Dylan Thomas recite his poem A Child's Christmas in Wales.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:36 AM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yes, IaEL is basically just crude anti-librarian propaganda. And you tell people this, and they look at you as if you are crazy. I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:39 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Did the article link to the thesis that after George jumps off the bridge, the rest of the movie is a variation on "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" story where George imagines everyone being thankful for his sacrifices while he's simultaneously drowning and freezing to death?

(Credit for that goes to John Rogers, I think.)
posted by aureliobuendia at 2:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I can't possibly be the first person to say this, but Eyes Wide Shut is basically set in Pottersville.

Also a Christmas movie!
posted by rhizome at 3:19 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Defeating fascism was worth it. There I said it, and it was easy.
posted by fairmettle at 3:23 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, IaEL is basically just crude anti-librarian propaganda. And you tell people this, and they look at you as if you are crazy. I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

The weirdest thing about It's a Wonderful Life is that the other 11 months of the year, we're expected to believe that Mr. Potter is the hero of the story.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

Perhaps it's post-Hays hinting at something else?
posted by drezdn at 4:50 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

Perhaps it's post-Hays hinting at something else?


Lipstick librarians?
posted by aureliobuendia at 4:54 AM on December 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wish I had a librarian friend just so I could watch this with them and see their reaction to the film's central horrific reveal.
posted by Enemy of Joy at 4:58 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ghostride the Whip: Can we agree that the Beavis and Butt-head parody is pretty great though?

Ebeneezer Screw and Bob Scratchit still slay me nearly twenty years later.
posted by dr_dank at 4:58 AM on December 3, 2015


"Oh, I guess I pick my shitty life that I'm super-resentful about if the alternative is being dead, it is a marginal improvement upon non-existence."

I guess the point of the article is that what George actually says to himself is "Oh, I guess I pick my shitty life that I'm super-resentful about if the alternative is everyone I care about being miserable."

I didn't exactly get what the article was trying to say until I put it together with your comment, Eyebrows. But I think it's trying to say what you're trying to say. "The ending seems happy, but it isn't really that happy. Nothing has changed."

George's life is still going to be miserable (yes, due to his own choices.) The only thing he has to be happy about is the fact that at least the choices that made him miserable have made everyone else less miserable. And why should that make him happy? (Because his genes better are preserved through a living brother and a brood of children?)

In the end he personally gets no reward for his altruistic choices. All the rewards go to other people. But for some reason which is sort of hard to understand... That still is a happy ending for George? Weird. Altruism is weird.

(For further meditations on the topic of "altruism is weird", I recommend Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" and, with a very different tone, Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind.")

(And as to the question of "sub-prime" lending at Bailey building and loan, I recommend this Slacktivist post.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:02 AM on December 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

Perhaps it's post-Hays hinting at something else?

Lipstick librarians?


Which, of course, brings to mind this classic Toast article.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:12 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

No, the "horror" is that she's a childless spinster, which is what they communicate with "Librarian" (aka A Woman With A Career).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 5:15 AM on December 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


A *dowdy* woman with a career. I think Party Girl may have been the film that redeemed the popular image of librarians.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:19 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I want more Christmas movies where a clever and devoted lady librarian saves the day
posted by clockzero at 5:22 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


The difference with A Christmas Carol is that I'm not supposed to sympathize with Scrooge, while I am supposed to sympathize with George, and I just spend the whole movie wanting to SLAP him, the big whiney man-baby.

(And yeah, I TOTALLY felt like Mary got the better deal when she was the spinster librarian which I know is modern eyes but STILL. Yes, dude, your wife is better off when she's not spending all her time dealing with an irresponsible man-baby, and now you're either going to jump off a bridge and ruin her life or go home and whine about shit and make her miserable for twenty more years, GREAT JOB.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I mean, really, the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

No, the "horror" is that she's a childless spinster, which is what they communicate with "Librarian" (aka A Woman With A Career).


The horror of Mary is that she's alone and unconnected.

I think it's a mistake to see It's a Wonderful Life as being about George's sacrifice. It's about George's despair and the answer to it.

George's life before he ends up on the bridge ready to commit suicide is actually pretty good. When Uncle Billy loses the money, George is threatened with the loss of everything he cares about. He despairs because he is under the illusion that losing his own life is losing everything and that his "sacrifice" will have been for nothing.

Clarence shows him that he is connected to the people around him in ways he doesn't see and even if George Bailey loses everything and goes to jail his sacrifices (his choices really) have still been essential to the happiness of the people he loves. His connection to the happiness of others is the antidote to his despair. When George turns away from the water he still believes that he's going to lose it all and it is, in the face of his new understanding, nonetheless OK.

We are connected to the happiness of the people around us in ways that we do not see. That's a powerful and important message, I think.
posted by kaymac at 5:47 AM on December 3, 2015 [72 favorites]


I think the world would be a different place today if the original ending was never cut from the film.
posted by any major dude at 5:48 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


In the end he personally gets no reward for his altruistic choices. All the rewards go to other people. But for some reason which is sort of hard to understand... That still is a happy ending for George? Weird. Altruism is weird.

The whole point of altruism is that you're not doing an ROI analysis, you're helping others because it's the right thing to do. If you're calculating what you get out of it, it's not altruism. "Greater love hath no one than this," "the virtuous person desires virtue" and all that.

George's "man-baby" resentment isn't that he made choices to help other people, it's that his luck was bad enough that literally every time he wanted to take a major step to improve his own life, someone stepped up with a legitimately greater need that he couldn't in good conscience refuse.

He's not even resentful towards them. Remember, they all want George to leave and better himself. But then Stuff Happens and George is left holding the bag, because the alternative is looking his loved ones in the eye and telling them "screw you, I get mine now". It's life (and maybe God, though he doesn't call him out that I remember), and possibly even his own conscience that George is pissed at.

Most dramas start with the protagonist having a question to be answered. Most of the best ones resolve not with an answer to that question, but with the protagonist figuring out that they've been asking the wrong question all along. George starts out asking how he can have a thrilling and adventuresome life in which he Builds Big Things and Leaves His Mark on the World. The story teaches him that the heart of what he really wanted was simply to matter, to be important to people, to die assured that his life was not wasted but truly lived. He learned that there was a far more meaningful and lasting (if less sexy) way to do that than to build bridges and travel to Bora Bora.

The size of the ripple effect of George's actions is of course bordering on absurd, but that's just to underscore the butterfly effect. (It doesn't excuse the sexism re: women becoming librarians and prostitutes without George to save them, of course.) It's also Hollywood schmaltz, which Capra was unparalleled at selling.

I'm not at all trying to be snarky when I voice my surprise at seeing that this site of all places on the internet is struggling so much with the understanding concept of altruism. Or perhaps it's more fair to say that whether or not you understand this movie is an excellent litmus test for whether or not you have yourself survived a mid-life crisis.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:49 AM on December 3, 2015 [64 favorites]


seemingly everybody who’s written about Wonderful Life in the period after its resurgence in the ’70s (when it fell into the public domain and started popping up every Christmas on dozens of channels) has noted that the film is far darker than its reputation

Yes. Previously on MeFi, we've had some great discussions of this film: Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life, and "Oh Yeah, Another big red-letter day for the Baileys!" One reason this film stands up so well is that it is complex, dark, detailed, and offers multiple layers of interpretation.

This writer is pretty hung up on Mary and why she never married. My personal interpretation of the script is that it's pretty clear why Mary's single: she pines away for Sam Wainwright, who strings her along with calls from New York and occasional visits while he messes around with more, uh, relaxed ladies, until she's missed her peak marriage years.
posted by Miko at 6:00 AM on December 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm not at all trying to be snarky when I voice my surprise at seeing that this site of all places on the internet is struggling so much with the understanding concept of altruism.

There have been a lot of discussions on this site about how extreme altruism can be unhealthy and destructive for a person. And there is a lot of uncritical glorification of that type of altruism in older (and especially religiously-tinted) movies like this.

I, for one, am solidly in the camp that no one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep other people warm.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:01 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Why is everyone saying that George's life is miserable? The whole point of the movie is that George has a great life, just not the one he imagined when he was a kid. He wanted to run off and build great things, but every time he moved towards that someone he loved needed help so he put off his own plans to help his friends and family and town. Every other day of his life he knows he's got it good. Look at all the scenes where he's just chatting and laughing with the Building and Loan employees, or his parents or Bert and Ernie. He's a happy guy!

The movie is about his crisis of faith at a moment when everything he's built is about to be destroyed. He's been saying that he'll go build skyscrapers tomorrow and now he's realizing he never will. He's about to be ruined and he's angry that he sacrificed his own dreams and ultimately got nothing. His life is not miserable, there's just a moment when in his despair and fear some smoldering disappointment about a goal he never achieved comes to the surface, and uncharitably colors his view of his life.

That's the thing at the end. The only thing that changed is that George now sees that he has built great things. If he hadn't jumped off the bridge, people still would have shown up with the money to party and help him out. The movie is about a good man who overlooks how good his life is because he's comparing it to the plans he had as a child.
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 6:04 AM on December 3, 2015 [36 favorites]


the crowning horror of the Pottersverse is that Maryis a librarian!?!

Perhaps it's post-Hays hinting at something else?


No -the reason it's horrifying is that she has a career at all, and has to, because she doesn't have a family of her own. The core of the horror and sadness is that she doesn't have a family of her own. This was the post-WWII years, when marriage rates for never-before-married single women were at an all-time high, and the cultural assumption (along with plenty of targeted propaganda) was that the domestic sphere was where women wanted to be, and should be, after they had spent the war years carrying the national economy on their backs. A lot of the film is about the bonds of family and the meaning that comes from relationships - the horror is not that Mary's a librarian - she could have almost any career for an educated woman at the time, teacher, nurse, secretary - it's that she's alone.

for some reason which is sort of hard to understand... That still is a happy ending for George?

Is it really so hard to understand the difficulties and satisfactions of love for others? Evolutionary or not, they are very real to most people.

whether or not you understand this movie is an excellent litmus test for whether or not you have yourself survived a mid-life crisis.

Well put.
posted by Miko at 6:10 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


I, for one, am solidly in the camp that no one is obligated to set themselves on fire to keep other people warm.

I agree with that, but to me that's an uncharitable read of this story and George's life. As The Man from Lardfork points out, George was surrounded by wonderful things his entire life but mostly missed out on them because he could only see one specific acceptable path for his own life. George's life was hard, but not miserable. George was miserable because his life didn't match his boyhood fantasies.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Struggling so much with the understanding concept of altruism.

Altruism is something that everyone (hopefully) has felt, but who can say they really understand it?

If called upon to explain why people sacrifice themselves for others, and why they should... we mostly resort to God (the explanation for everything we can't understand) or to "evolutionary psychology" (a bunch of speculative Just So stories which can be crafted to explain any human behavior and its opposite, pretty much.)

Moral philosophy and moral psychology have made a lot of progress on identifying what exactly our natural altruistic impulses call upon us to do (sacrifice ourselves for family and people we know and members of our "tribe") and where they break down (strangers and people who look different...) and how we should behave if we want to satisfy not only our altruistic impulses but our intellectual desire to be consistent in our beliefs rather than being hypocrites (The Golden Rule... Rawls' "original position" and Kant's "categorical imperitive"... The endless discussion of the necessity for both "rights" which cannot be compromised and utilitarian calculations about the well-being of the group as a whole, and how these can conflict with each other...)

But for all that progress, and on-going effort... The underlying mystery is still there. Yes, we know people are driven to sacrifice themselves for others. Yes, we have all (hopefully) felt that impulse.

But if you are the type of person who finds themselves constantly worrying about how much you are supposed to sacrifice, and for whom, the type who is always wondering "What is enough? Am I doing enough?" ... and you start digging into moral philosophy, looking for answers... You'll eventually find yourself wondering where those drives and impulses come from in the first place. That's when you have to fall back on God or evolutionary psychology. And maybe you find one or the other or both of those answers satisfying or maybe you don't, but either way, the fact that those are the answers you have to choose from is a sign that the mystery you are dealing with is a deep one.

I think the author of the essay linked in the OP is saying that "It's a Wonderful Life" does a pretty good job of raising this question, once you start thinking about why exactly George is so happy, at the end.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:36 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I once found myself in an elevator with a bunch of inebriated lady librarians at a hotel where a librarian's convention was being held.

"My cheeks get red when I drink," said one.

Another flashed a wicked smile, gave her a hard slap on the behind, and said: "THEY SURE DO!"

That was the day I lost my innocence.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:42 AM on December 3, 2015 [34 favorites]


The Man from Lardfork: "Why is everyone saying that George's life is miserable?"

George's life is FINE; it's George who's miserable, and it ticks me off because he made these choices and now is determined to make everyone else miserable by sitting around feeling resentful like a big giant man-baby instead of acting like a damn-ass adult with a modicum of self-knowledge.

middleclasstool: "I'm not at all trying to be snarky when I voice my surprise at seeing that this site of all places on the internet is struggling so much with the understanding concept of altruism."

I don't struggle with altruism; I struggle with this particular movie, which really rubs me the wrong way (and I certainly don't consider a heartwarming Christmas movie -- it's an existential horror show along the lines of Camus). I think I find it bullshitty in the same way I found The Last Temptation of Christ bullshitty -- when Christ is on the cross being tempted by little-girl Satan, she shows him his life if he gets down off the cross and he gets to LIVE OUT THE WHOLE DARN THING and go through the entire emotional experience and see how it all works out and ONLY AFTER THAT does he get to pick if he wants to be crucified or not. But it seems like a giant fucking cop-out (and part of this is the film medium) because the movie presents it as him experiencing the emotional and experiential satisfactions of his whole life if he chooses to be a man and go marry a succession of women and live a regular life. It's like he doesn't have to CHOOSE (and this is partly because the movie presents it realistically rather than as a dream sequence) -- he gets to EXPERIENCE BOTH THINGS FULLY and it felt like such bullshit because the movie was about Christ making a choice to be Christ, but THERE'S NO CHOICE INVOLVED, he gets to experience all of life A before hitting rewind and having life B. Wonderful Life bothers me in much the same way; George has his revelations handed to him on a silver platter. What choices does he have to make? What faith does he have to show? He gets to see both versions of the movie of his life. It's not a revelation about altruism; it's a cheat.

Plus "middle-aged man resents wife and children for all the privileged choices that he made that prevented him from growing up to be James Bond or Indiana Jones" is an eyeroll-inducing plot anyway.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:48 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


she pines away for Sam Wainwright, who strings her along with calls from New York and occasional visits while he messes around with more, uh, relaxed ladies, until she's missed her peak marriage years.

Aw hell no. She never wanted Sam. In the alternate timeline, she told him no and decided Single Librarian was better than him. Mary's character gets short shrift in the script because it was the 40s, but you could easily write a modern script where she stepped up as an activist do-gooder who was a thorn in Potter's side, who helped the orphans and out-of-work showgirls and protested environmental degradation and so on. She says that she loves Bedford Falls, and she's the one who comes up with the idea of using honeymoon money to stop a run on the bank. There's clearly potential for her character to be more dynamic. But again: it was the 40s. Being a saintly mom/wife was the best a woman could hope for in the movies.

Plus "middle-aged man resents wife and children for all the privileged choices that he made that prevented him from growing up to be James Bond or Indiana Jones" is an eyeroll-inducing plot anyway.

So I love this movie, but part of the reason I love it is that George is such an awful character when he loses it (and sometimes before). My husband and I think the best line is "Why did we have to have so many kids??" and laugh our asses off every time. Dude, you were friends with the pharmacist, he owed you everything, I'm sure he could get you some rubbers if you asked.

I mean, that whole fight in the kitchen, where his wife is getting pissed at him and he is being a raging asshole and the kids are whining and dinner is cooking--that's so recognizable. When you realize you are the adult and there's no escape and you are about to lose your shit and not sure whether to fight it.
posted by emjaybee at 7:03 AM on December 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


I only saw It's a Wonderful Life for the first time two years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Sure, it's regressive in a way that 1940s films regularly were and it's schmaltzy (and has become byword for schmaltz), but it has a hard edge that I found refreshing, because Christmas is not just a time for gentleness and delight, but for hard remembrances and sorrows. What makes Christmas ultimately triumphant though is that these sorrows and pains and losses mean something, especially to those around us. That if there's a time that we willingly undergo pain for others and are glad of it, it's Christmas time.

And I think the film portrays that perfectly. Yes, George breaks down and acts uncharitably, but who hasn't collapsed in despair, and yes, self-pity, when that great obstacle in our lives get thrown at us. At those times, we often look inward and see only our own pain, our own resentment, our own desires, and we wonder why we suffer for any other person on this earth when we ourselves are so miserable. Of course, the answer to that is that we did those things and made those choices because we wanted to. Once we leave that self-pity and despair, we see that those pains are pains chosen and that we would not have it any other way for by those pains, we have lived true to the person that we want to be.

George's despair is understandable (who here has not had that One Really Bad Day™), but his realization is that he was happy making every choice that put others in front of himself. Any inconvenience that he might have suffered (and I agree that it's mostly boyish fantasies that he puts away) is a bargain for the amount of good and happiness he's caused in the lives around him, and his life as well. He runs off, ready to go to jail not being resigned to his fate but taking joy that his fate is a happy one, that he hasn't put off his dreams in living the life before him but gladly embraced his life and every choice in it. George is happy when he's acting altruistically, far happier than if he was Mr. Potter.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:03 AM on December 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


It's not just about altruism - most of his choices revolve around family. Uncle, brother, wife, etc. It's about fulfilling duty and obligation to family. He's miserable because of a tremendous lack of perspective which the angel Clarence (great name btw) gives him. He has a wonderful life, he just needed to be liberated from his self centered point of view. A great movie with a great message, schmaltz and all
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:20 AM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think this focus on Geoge being a "whiny manchild" is really missing the point. George's big tantrum comes as he thinks his bank is going under and he's going to jail for a long time. He wouldn't be in this situation if he hadn't made all those sacrifices and given up his dreams. And now his sacrifices all seem in vain. Who wouldn't have a very vocal panic and anger towards everyone involved ? At least for a moment.

And that's a beautiful thing about the film. It's such a human reaction. It's perfectly natural to harbor regrets about the paths not traveled. And it's possible to care deeply for people while resenting the burdens they place on you. Stewart did a great job portraying someone struggling to balance these conflicting feelings and do the right thing in the end.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:30 AM on December 3, 2015 [27 favorites]


I've had the thought It's a Wonderful Life was somehow similar to and yet very different from A Matter of Life and Death, and they both came out in 1946.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:40 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I'm not at all trying to be snarky when I voice my surprise at seeing that this site of all places on the internet is struggling so much with the understanding concept of altruism"
...We did just have a thread that was all about the virtues of stealing from shops.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:48 AM on December 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: “Plus 'middle-aged man resents wife and children for all the privileged choices that he made that prevented him from growing up to be James Bond or Indiana Jones' is an eyeroll-inducing plot anyway.”

Eyeroll-inducing it may be, but it's very real for plenty of human beings – not just men, it's probably worth pointing out.
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Then there's the Married With Children homage/parody "It's a Bundyful Life" (synopsis, YouTube), with Sam Kinison as the angel, where Al wishes he was never born and discovers everyone's life is better without him and resents it so much he decides to return to make everyone's life miserable.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:16 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


kaymac: We are connected to the happiness of the people around us in ways that we do not see. That's a powerful and important message, I think.

That's why I still tear up at the end of this movie every time I watch it, and why I watch it every December.

I think that a lot of us have dreams -- a.k.a. "want to be an architect" -- but Things Don't Always Work out, and it's natural to react to this with frustration. (Ask any new parent about how their life changes when they take on the responsibility for a child, just as George does as he adds one thing after another to his plate.) But when George thinks that his frustration will also be a waste, he despairs.

The message of "despair not, your life has value to so many other people, and here they are" refutes the despair by showing George that his life is amazing. Ultimately he does build important things (notably, a town that is not Pottersville), and his dreams do come true, just in ways he didn't understand before.

This message of connectedness gives me hope, Eyebrows, and I would have thought that it would resonate with a person who believes in community like you do. (No criticism, just an observation from the peanut gallery!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:21 AM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


(Jinx, Man From Lard Fork!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2015


It's life (and maybe God, though he doesn't call him out that I remember)

George does tell Clarence that he prayed to god and got a sock in the jaw, but if memory serves me correctly that's about it.

When George turns away from the water he still believes that he's going to lose it all and it is, in the face of his new understanding, nonetheless OK.

Yes, exactly. The townspeople rallying to George's aid comes close on the heels of George's epiphany, but he's giddy with joy -- going so far as to wish Mr. Potter a merry Xmas! -- not because his trouble are over, but because he has them -- and all the love of the town that knows him -- along with it.

About Mary, I see that it's sexist to imagine her as a lonely spinster without George in her life, but the horror for George is that she doesn't know him at all. All through the Pottersville arc, he keeps muttering that his friends must be playing some kind of trick on him, but despite all the misery surrounding him, George doesn't lose it until Mary screams at him.

That's when he runs back to the bridge and begs for his old life back. And when he bursts into his house, he's happy to see the sherriff and bank examiner (a sour man who will yet go on to throw a couple of bucks of his own into the collection basket and join a room full of strangers in song, such is the force of George's goodness!), but he almost doesn't see them -- the only one he seeks is Mary.
posted by Gelatin at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Eyeroll-inducing it may be, but it's very real for plenty of human beings – not just men, it's probably worth pointing out.

Metafilter would normally be the last place you'd hear people saying "You don't want a management job in the financial sector and a big house with heterosexual marriage and a bunch of kids? What's wrong with you? How childish and selfish of you to have other dreams!"

Sure, George ends up with a life that a lot of people do want, but it wasn't the life he wanted. His sacrifices were real sacrifices, though in the end he feels those sacrifices were worthwile.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:22 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's why I still tear up at the end of this movie every time I watch it, and why I watch it every December.

I teared up just remembering it as I wrote my previous comment!
posted by Gelatin at 8:23 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I teared up just reading this quote from the Fanfare thread: "Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Get me back! Get me back, I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids! Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. I want to live again. Please, God, let me live again."
posted by entropicamericana at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Jimmy Stewart movies are some of the best and most realistic mainstream movies about mental illness. His characters are typically unstable, and not in the usual cartoon madness sort of way.

George Bailey isn't a man-baby, he's depressed. Seriously, suicidally depressed. This is realistically depicted; depression often comes with unappealing self-obsession and self-pity. He survives because people love him, and he loves them. His future life isn't going to be easy but he ends the movie thinking it will be good. A Christmas miracle!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


The horror is not that Mary's a librarian, but that she's unmarried.

In fact, there is no substantiating evidence that she is a librarian. All we know is that George roughs up Clarence until he grudgingly admits that she's closing up the library. Closing up the library. Yes, it is possible that she is or was a librarian, but she could very well be running the library and just finished up a board meeting. Heck, she's doing well enough to afford the glasses that she needed in Bedford falls, but couldn't afford because of George's meager income which was spent on his kids.

Just saying.
posted by plinth at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a story about someone deciding not to commit suicide -- that's the power of it.

He goes through a lot with a pretty good attitude -- war, the depression, some disappointments -- and all the time he's telling himself "well, this is temporary. this will pass. things will get better. we'll get a real honeymoon someday."

And then. When Mr. Potter says "You're worth more dead than alive, George," that's when it hits him. It's not going to turn around. Suicide is a totally rational choice. Like, you could plug numbers into a spreadsheet rational.

Suicide is in the top 10 causes of death in the US today, and this movie was made coming off of the depression when I bet suicide was in a lot of people's minds. The tearjerker for me is that what saves him is he just can't help himself helping another person. Clarence knew he wasn't going to let him drown. And that community is what saves him.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:40 AM on December 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


When I found out that Jimmy Stewart's personal politics were way over toward the Potter end of the spectrum (if not beyond), I felt much more comfortable about the almost unendurable fingernails-on-a-blackboard sensations this movie induced in me the only time I watched it.
posted by jamjam at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd like to point out that none of George's "sub-prime loans" were bad loans. What causes his suicidal crisis in the movie is that through equal parts incompetence (on Uncle Billy's part for losing the deposit money to be made to Potter's bank) and sheer evilness (on Potter's part, who, rather than acknowledge that he is in fact in possession of the lost money, hides his posession of it and takes advantage of that to call the Baily Savings & Loan loan due, knowing they don't have the cash on hand to cover it).

The only emotionally unsatisfying thing about the ending of IaWL is that Potter never gets his comeuppance, which is why I consider the classic SNL IaWL alternate ending skit where Phil Hartman's Uncle Billy suddenly realizes that Potter has the lost money and Dana Carvey's George leads a lynch mob to beat Potter to death the true ending to the film.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:04 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, you're right. George has a good life, and he is being a "whiny baby" by not recognizing it. You're meant to see that, because the audience has more information and perspective than the character. George's character arc throughout the movie is coming to realize what the audience already knows.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


Ooooh, vibrotronica, I like that.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows, my husband felt the same way about the movie that you do. As a young man who dreamed of leaving his small town and making it big, the idea of being trapped there hit every single one of his Oh God No buttons. He hated it with a passion.

But he's more on the post-Clarence-George section of his life now, in that he did leave the town, but came back to a neighboring town of his own free will, and built a life that wasn't what he envisioned at 20 but isn't a shitshow either. I don't know exactly what he thinks of the movie now, but since he is also a huge Jimmy Stewart fan, we can watch it without too much pain.

Also he does an amazing Stewart impersonation and likes to say extremely inappropriate things in his Stewart voice, it's like an X-rated Mystery Science Theater sort of commentary, which is why we can only watch it when the kid is asleep.
posted by emjaybee at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually I think being steeped in melancholy, sickening nostalgia, coldness, and ugliness is what most "Christmas Classics" have in common.

What is Christmas itself if not this?
posted by cmoj at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


koeselitz: "Eyeroll-inducing it may be, but it's very real for plenty of human beings – not just men, it's probably worth pointing out."

Oh sure, I'm a middle-aged Midwestern housewife, I know "road not taken" angst like whoa. Which is maybe part of why he irritates me so much -- it's like, "OVARY UP AND DEAL WITH IT, DUDE." Be a little less self-centered. Recognize you made choices. When people talk about it being a midlife crisis movie, it actually kind-of irritates me more, because it feels like such a privilege of maleness to have a nervous breakdown over not growing up to be James Bond instead of coming to terms with it without a giant attention-seeking meltdown, the way women mostly have to. It's not so much that he has angst -- I am sympathetic to his angst -- but that it's such theatrical, self-centered, self-aggrandizing angst that demands attention and validation that it's just -- ugh.

wenestvedt: "This message of connectedness gives me hope, Eyebrows, and I would have thought that it would resonate with a person who believes in community like you do. (No criticism, just an observation from the peanut gallery!)"

I know, every now and then a universally-beloved bit of culture just strikes me the REALLY wrong way, and this is one of them. I just can't get the "right" message from this movie. (I also thought "March of the Penguins" was such a fucking horror show I had to leave the theater, WHY AM I PAYING MONEY TO WATCH PENGUINS DIE HORRIBLY AND SLOWLY?) Like I said, when my family wants to watch Wonderful Life, I just go to quietly read my book in the other room because I know it means a lot to a lot of people and I'm not like "It is bad and you should feel bad for liking it." I just personally find it a pretty horrifying movie and the message other people get from it is NOT WHAT I GET.

I totally recognize that on this issue I'm basically Barney in How I Met You Mother and cheering for Billy Zabka as the hero of The Karate Kid. This is just not a movie that I "get" the way other people get it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:17 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only emotionally unsatisfying thing about the ending of IaWL is that Potter never gets his comeuppance

His goals -- as we see in George's vision of another life -- have been thwarted again and again and again by the old savings and loan. He wants to remake the town after his own fashion, and fails. Never a gambling den on the downtown strip for him; never a proud 'Pottersvile' sign to grace the skyline. His decision to keep the deposit money secret is his last grasping attempt at keeping his dream alive; it fails. His comeuppance is the film's ending party: he is within the community but outside it, alone but in company. He ends the film as George feels before he meets Clarence. That is his comeuppance.
posted by cjelli at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Eyebrows, you do you: you've got Good People credit to spare. :7)

(I also shuddered throughout that penguin movie. What a waste of cute.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:43 AM on December 3, 2015


All hail Pottersville! (Gary Kamiya, Salon, 2001)
Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life (Wendell Jamieson, New York Times, 2008)
"It's a Wonderful Life": The most terrifying movie ever (Rich Cohen, Salon, 2010)
It's a Destructive Life (Patrick J. Deneen, First Things, 2012)
posted by non canadian guy at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The One Where Old Yeller Dies (Friends, 1996)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:51 AM on December 3, 2015


PHOEBE: Hey. Oh thanks for the great movie tip.
MONICA: Did you like it?
PHOEBE: Oh yeah. You know, I don't know if I was happier when um George Bailey destroyed the family business or um, Donna Reed cried, or when the mean pharmacist made his ear bleed.
MONICA: Alright, I'll give you the ear thing but don't you think the ending was pretty wonderful?
PHOEBE: I didn't watch the ending, I was too depressed. It just kept getting worse and worse, it should have been called, "It's a sucky life and just when you think it can't suck any more it does."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:57 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


You're meant to see that, because the audience has more information and perspective than the character. George's character arc throughout the movie is coming to realize what the audience already knows.

"You see, George? You really had a wonderful life."

His goals -- as we see in George's vision of another life -- have been thwarted again and again and again by the old savings and loan. He wants to remake the town after his own fashion, and fails.

Indeed. George almost has it earlier in the film, but he's so busy being self-righteous (which is why Potter takes such glee in rubbing George's nose in it when the latter comes begging for help) he fails to notice it.

"You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!"

...and George, with Clarence's help, proves it. Which is why Potter is all but absent from the end of the movie -- George's victory is Potter's defeat. (Even Potter's final curse proves false -- he predicts George will spend the New Year in jail; the sherrif's contribution to the basket is the ripped-up arrest warrant.)
posted by Gelatin at 9:58 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The point about the "horror" of Mary being an unmarried librarian ... it's valid, but you're all missing a greater point in the narrative. You're bringing too much of yourself into this.

Her occupation and marriage status is totally beside the point.

George despairs at seeing this because he realizes his choice of suicide is selfish, not just because he's had an unknown impact on others' lives. It's because Mary loves him and he sees that his selfish act will hurt her. Her, specifically. In a profound way.

This is not just a vision of Mary having never met George.

This is also a vision of what will happen after George is gone. Mary will be alone. Unloved. George is damning her to the same despair he feels -- that we are all alone and nobody cares.

This is the most personal stab in George's heart. The nightmarish Potterville is nothing compared to this. This is what finally makes him scream for release from his personal hell. He's hurting the one person he truly loves.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:20 AM on December 3, 2015 [15 favorites]



I still don't enjoy watching this movie much, but it's sure been interesting reading all the (mostly) thoughtful perspectives here.

Thanks for posting, JCiFA, and if you're inclined to continue the "Post-WWII Hollywood Views of Librarians as Professional Women" series over on Fanfare, allow me to suggest you do Desk Set (1957) next-ish.

Katherine Hepburn is head research librarian at Huge Broadcasting Network, Spencer Tracy is the nerdy outside "efficiency expert" brought in to install -- horrors! -- an 'electronic brain'. No pity for Hepburn as a 'spinster librarian' here, she's at the top of her game. But can Tracy's "EMIAC" do the job better? Hepburn is John Henry with an MLS.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


it feels like such a privilege of maleness to have a nervous breakdown over not growing up to be James Bond instead of coming to terms with it without a giant attention-seeking meltdown, the way women mostly have to. It's not so much that he has angst -- I am sympathetic to his angst -- but that it's such theatrical, self-centered, self-aggrandizing angst that demands attention and validation that it's just -- ugh.

Oh absolutely. Women make that kind of sacrifice every damn day and seldom get movies about it.
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


My husband and I think the best line is "Why did we have to have so many kids??"

Mine is when he calls the teacher to holler at her for sending Zuzu home without a coat, and the teacher puts her husband on, and George says, "Oh this is Mr. Welch is it? Now I'll tell you what I REALLY think of your wife."
posted by Miko at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wish I had a librarian friend just so I could watch this with them and see their reaction to the film's central horrific reveal.

In my case, imagine a middle-aged man barking "HA!" loud enough to rattle the china in the cabinet, and you've got it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:43 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only emotionally unsatisfying thing about the ending of IaWL is that Potter never gets his comeuppance

More than that, did Potter go on to win at a societal level - Reaganism, Thatcherism, neo-liberalism, globalisation - such that we as the viewer have had our world perspectives shaped such that we can no longer sympathise with George, and see him as a whiny baby?
posted by biffa at 12:22 PM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Free idea for a McSweeney's piece:
"It's a little-known fact that, during pre-production, many prominent Hollywood writers were called in to consult on the script for It's a Wonderful Life. We've recently unearthed a copy of the manuscript that belonged to Ayn Rand, complete with all of her handwritten revisions and margin notes."
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's worth noting that 1946 did see the release of the best film ever made. Its technically better than IaWF, its wittier, its more romantic and its more human. If it doesn't make you shed a tear you are a monster, but it will feel a lot worthier. A Matter of Life and Death (Stairway to Heaven to American cousins). You could have the DVD in your hand for $9/£6 by Monday.
posted by biffa at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh sure, I'm a middle-aged Midwestern housewife, I know "road not taken" angst like whoa. Which is maybe part of why he irritates me so much -- it's like, "OVARY UP AND DEAL WITH IT, DUDE." Be a little less self-centered. Recognize you made choices. When people talk about it being a midlife crisis movie, it actually kind-of irritates me more, because it feels like such a privilege of maleness to have a nervous breakdown over not growing up to be James Bond instead of coming to terms with it without a giant attention-seeking meltdown, the way women mostly have to. It's not so much that he has angst -- I am sympathetic to his angst -- but that it's such theatrical, self-centered, self-aggrandizing angst that demands attention and validation that it's just -- ugh.

OK, OK - I get that some people don't get certain popular entertainments for their own reasons, but two points, here:

1) In the end, he does deal with it. Help from his "guardian angel" and all, but still.

2) More importantly, George's nervous breakdown is not the result of his "not growing up to be James Bond." It is the result of a specific crisis situation which threatens to undermine everything he has built and screw over everyone he loves. Yes, the whole thing is exacerbated by his feelings of inadequacy and his unfulfilled dreams. But someone literally tells him he is worth more dead than alive - and, technically, monetarily speaking, in that moment it's true.

If George were just going through his life, and then all of a sudden decided to throw a temper tantrum and jump off a bridge because he could never be a bigshot architect, I'd see your point. But that's not what happens. Until the moment when Potter steals that money, threatening to undo everything he's worked for and impoverish his family, George does not have nervous breakdowns. His angst is normal, mostly in the background, and does not get in the way of his ability to be a functioning adult, until it looks like everything is about to unravel.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:05 PM on December 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


People, do the math:

1. Eyebrows is Leslie Knope

2. Leslie Knope hates all librarians

ERGO, Eyebrows is not going to be persuaded that a plot where a woman becomes a librarian doesn't come from the pits of hell.

:)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:35 PM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Potter never gets his comeuppance

Oddly enough, they filmed a sequence wherein Uncle Billy's Crow attacks Potter. That got left on the cutting room floor for just reason.

Also, the winter scenes were shot in the middle of summer with a brand-new recipe for fake snow.

The trees in downtown were transplanted on set, filmed for the summer scenes then mercilessly defoliated and killed for the winter ones.
posted by plinth at 2:17 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think people are taking the wrong reading from Mary being a librarian. It's not 'Horrors, she's an unmarried spinster". Look at her demeanor, her script. The horror is that the Pottersville version of Mary is joyless. She's grim, mean without imagination. It's a different stereotype of Librarians that's being played up.

And that's where the horror is meant to be. Not in that she is childless, or single, or a professional woman. But that the unspoken, unshown events of the Pottersville timeline have transformed her personality and outlook from a vivacious, playful woman who gleefully explores haunted houses to being a scowling, beleaguered woman who has no patience or curiosity for anything outside of the routine.

Also, the Pottersville Mary is terrified, even before she spots George. She's petrified to even be out on the streets of Pottersville, disheveled stranger or no. The subtext is that Pottersville is not a safe place for women, even 'old maids' like Mary. This is also supported by the rough treatment experienced by Violet in Pottersville.

Also, Eyebrows McGee, if it helps, you can think of the whole 'Pottersville/Clarence' sequence to be an extended episode of drunken hallucination. There's nothing in the film to support that any of George Bailey's experiences during his dark night of the soul was anything more than an alchohol-fueled psychotic episode.

So consider that: a man becomes reconciled to going to prison for a crime he didn't commit, losing everything that he loves due to the evil of another man, and re-establishes his love of life and his gratitude for all that he has had within the course of a few short hours. There's a little histronics in the interlude, but it's not that much. He's facing the same crisis as the protagonist in Spike Lee's The 25th Hour.

I wish I could 'ovary up' or 'man up' to a crisis of George's proportions as rapidly and quietly as he manages.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 2:52 PM on December 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


If I wasn't watching the live-action Wiz tonight I'd be cranking this movie up instead.
posted by emjaybee at 3:17 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Needs more Fezziwig.
posted by clavdivs at 3:56 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just want to point out that the best version of Gaslight came out in 1944, and it is fully capable of portraying unmarried women as fully functional human beings (and takes a pretty dim view of marriage overall, honestly). I don't give films passes for being ridiculous about women needing to get married and do the gender-thing since watching that film.

Unmarried Librarian would be a great song title for my imaginary lesbian post-punk band, by the way.
posted by zinful at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh absolutely. Women make that kind of sacrifice every damn day and seldom get movies about it.

For me, the Christmas movie about terrible sacrifices and burdens unfairly placed on women, who struggle along nonetheless as unsung heros holding everything together for everyone else, without reward, is "Love Actually"

But Metafilter dislikes that Christmas movie too.

Maybe we just hate Christmas. Bah humbug :)
posted by anonymisc at 6:03 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


I vaguely remember liking Love Actually, but I get really, really sappy when I drink.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:07 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Like, that scene on the Simpsons where Krusty and his father reconcile? I tear up every time. Drunk? I'm just bawlin'.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:08 PM on December 3, 2015


It just occurred to me that the Mary plotline makes a lot more sense if you imagine the story is about what would have happened if George managed to commit suicide that night. Because if George drowned that night, she would have had an absolutely miserable existence. If he'd never been born, she would have met & married somebody else.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:01 PM on December 3, 2015


she would have met & married somebody else.

Nah, I'm stickin' by my "jilted by Sam Wainwright" theory.
posted by Miko at 7:24 PM on December 3, 2015


I always confused this movie with imade for each other which is also a parade of horribles with Jimmy Stewart. Neither ones are movies I'd suggest watching to cheer oneself up.
posted by Carillon at 9:37 PM on December 3, 2015


Metafilter: "Where’s that money you silly stupid old fool? Where’s that money?"
posted by Chitownfats at 11:39 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


This movie is important for not being a typical uplifting Christmas movie, but thought of that way based on a notion of altruism, or perhaps related to the parallels with Dicken's and various predecessors on previewing time as what might have been. It is historically important that the Christmas season festival and its hundreds of influences all converge on the solstice that awaits the return of the sun, as humans reach a low point of despair and desperation, though consciously ignored in the tradition. Capra's despair goes further and hatches a separate big idea with its Plato's Cave analog, where George is allowed to see the "reality" of things, or the fact that everyone he cares about is in the clutches of doom without his selfless duty and leadership (seemingly altruistic because he was reluctant to do any of it in the first place). This theme was only recently remade in The Matrix series, where the parallels with the internet and the specter of human-bots made it timely. The bottom line in existential and noir movies is that we don't get to choose our fate, but in a few, we might get to choose our side in the struggle if we care enough.
posted by Brian B. at 9:45 AM on December 5, 2015


George's life is FINE; it's George who's miserable, and it ticks me off because he made these choices and now is determined to make everyone else miserable by sitting around feeling resentful like a big giant man-baby instead of acting like a damn-ass adult with a modicum of self-knowledge.

"Why are you so depressed? You have everything you need! Stop being depressed, man-baby!"

I mean, does it ever help to brow-beat someone who is depressed?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I am perversely curious as to what a modern remake of this movie would look like.
posted by bgal81 at 9:26 AM on December 8, 2015


I'd guess "bad, like most remakes."
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older Enough   |   In a few days this post may be illegal. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments