Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Problem with "It's a Wonderful Life"

It may come as a surprise to some of you who know me that last year when I watched "It's a Wonderful Life" for the first time, I enjoyed it.  This year I got to see a one man play of it, and enjoyed that far more.  Despite the movie's unabashed and blunt religious tones (And why shouldn't it be?  People have the right to make Christianity based films.  We should be able to make films about any kind of people with any religious beliefs and overtones we want to.) I believe that many of the film's core messages about how to treat people and what's important in life ring true for nearly everyone.

My problem also isn't with the idealized figure of George Bailey.  Sure, until things go south for him, he seems almost like a saint- but that exaggeration helps the story.  My problem is Mary.  Mary performs the single most selfish act I can think of.

Let me explain in detail.  Remember when George and Mary as young people stop infront of the house that one day became theirs?  At this point, we know they're already in love, but we also knwo George is about to go off into the world and make all his wild dreams come true- which is what he wishes for when he throws the stone to break a window of the house.  He tells Mary about his hat full of wishes and just after that, she herself makes a wish and breaks a window of the house.  Later, when the Stock Market crashes before they can leave for their honey moon and Mary buys the old house and tells George that them living in the house was her wish I light up with rage.

How is it that Mary gets away with wishing the exact opposite of what the man she supposedly loves wishes for himself?  She gets everything she wants at the cost of George's original hopes and desires for his life and not once is that presented as a shamefull thing.  Well it is shameful.  Is it really Mary's fault what happens to George? No, of course not, but she sure knows how to capitalize on his misfortune of never getting out of Bedford Falls to see the world like he wanted to. 

The definition of love and working relationships for me has always included wanting to help the other person achieve the things they desire out of life- or at least being able to wish well to someone you love whose dreams really don't have room for you.  Mary's love is that kind of, "I want him trapped in my idea of a happy home," kind of love.  And the fact that the film never treats Mary as any less moral than George gives that clear old-timey message about fuck wanting a life of wonder or travel, settling down and procreating is the only real goal in life- which is annoying and way outdated, despite it's failure to die completely.  But for me the greater annoyance is that in a movie about selfless actions leading to good things in the lives of others as well as yourself, the most selfish character (I am here using selfish as something very different from greed- greed being the flaw of the film's antagonist whilst I see Mary as the most selfish.) never sees any negative consequences of her selfishness.

Yet, as I mentioned at the begining of this post, I do indeed actually enjoy "It's a Wonderful Life," and I really respect it as a classic film, not just as far as Christmas films go, but as a film that is also well shot, well acted and clearly shows the tremedous amout of work put into it.  There are plent of things done right on the technical end that make the film well worth watching- even during the portions push some of my buttons.  Not to mention that even this Pagan feels the feel-goodyness of the ending, and really, that's what people seem to want out of Chistmas films.

Now, I'm off to see if I can re-find my copy of "Eight Crazy Nights" because it's the next of my holiday traditions to check off. (My apologies to any Jewish freinds who don't find that movie funny- I'm willing to let you tell me off for it if you want.)


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