“What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.” – George Bailey
Everyone who has seen it knows that this film is pretty bleak in parts – I’ve lost count the number of times someone, and I’m including myself in this, has pointed out matter-of-factly that It’s A Wonderful Life ‘is ACTUALLY a really dark film’ as if it’s some sort of revelation – but the fact is that this story of lost opportunities, financial worry and attempted suicide is too easily written off thanks to people who think it’s cool, subversive and anti-establishment to view it in these terms alone.
And, yes, I know I’m starting off MY spiel with this same interpretation. But the point is that it’s just the nasty sellotape-encrusted wrapping that hides the triumphant message of love, friendship and togetherness that closes up my throat and brings tears of utter joy to my eyes every December since first seeing it. So much so, in fact, that one of my yearly festive rituals includes going to the Glasgow Film Theatre and watching it with a whole audience of like-minded souls.
“I swear, Clarence! The fish was *this* big!”
Sure, the child-actors may make you cringe a wee bit, but you can’t argue that James Stewart gives a frankly magnificent performance – one which earned him an Oscar nomination alongside Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Henry V 1947 – which stretches from the knockabout comedy of Harry’s graduation party and the walk home with his future wife, to the private anguish of a man feeling he’s worth more dead than alive. This range is, I think, is what ultimately sells the story to us; you can only appreciate the glorious finale of the film after you’ve plumbed its very depths.
The point of this story is, yes, life is going to have its disappointments, but it’s the people who you share this life with and the impact you make on them that makes it all worth living. Even though I have found myself walking through the Pottersville that is Glasgow City Centre of a Saturday night, I remember that there are some truly awesome people in my life, which wouldn’t be the same without them. And isn’t that the sort of thing Christmas should be all about?
Now, excuse me while I stuff my face with chocolate and rip open the toys I’ll only play with once…