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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Another view of "It's a Wonderful Life"

I thought I was the only one who just didn't buy into the happy, ever after of the Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. The perennial favorite supposedly tells the moral of the wealth of friendship, which is all fine and good. However, there were elements of the tale that just nagged at me, and it seems Wendell Jamieson of the New York Times agrees with me. Here's a perspective that people seem to overlook when watching the movie's warm and fuzzy coda where all of George Bailey's family and friends gather around him after bailing him out of his financial difficulties: this is a man who has sacrificed himself totally, including his dreams and desires to get out of Bedford Falls, become a world-class architect and travel the world. And how, in the end, can that be a good thing? To subsume one's self so totally is in effect a nightmare. As Jamieson puts it:

"It's a Wonderful Life" is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Jamieson also smashes the illusion of one person being so pivotal to so many lives that those lives would be upended if that man were never born.

Now as for that famous alternate-reality sequence: This is supposedly what the town would turn out to be if not for George. I interpret it instead as showing the true characters of these individuals, their venal internal selves stripped bare. The flirty Violet (played by a supersexy Gloria Grahame, who would soon become a timeless film noir femme fatale) is a dime dancer and maybe a prostitute; Ernie the cabbie’s blank face speaks true misery as George enters his taxi; Bert the cop is a trigger-happy madman, violating every rule in the patrol guide when he opens fire on the fleeing, yet unarmed, George, forcing revelers to cower on the pavement.

I agree that if one person is the only barrier between you and madness or criminality or a life of banality, then there is something inherently wrong with you whether that person is in your life or not. Because if that person were to die or leave, you'd be f*cked.

Jamieson also notes as did Salon writer Gary Kamiya in 2001 that Pottersville just seems a more fun, livelier place to be than the stultifying, Rockwellian Bedford Falls.

Now I'm sure there are many who would disagree with this more dystopian perspective, but it's just another view, one that questions the oft held belief that friends and family are all you need. Sometimes folks, you do need a bit more - like self-actualization.

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Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 12/20/2008 09:03:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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