My all-time favourite film—not simply favourite Christmas film—is It is a Fantastic Life. Loads of ink has been spilled over this film, generally revering it as a cinematic masterpiece, different occasions slamming it as sentimental hogwash (to cite the film’s villainous Mr. Potter). However to me it is a poignant and surprisingly darkish examination of the challenges and blessings of life—and the way these are intimately intertwined.
My viewing expertise has modified dramatically as I’ve watched it at new phases of life. Every time appears to disclose new truths and insights—particularly now that I am a guardian and coping with the day by day joys, frustrations, and sacrifices inherent in that vocation.
The movie follows George Bailey, a small-town everyman with a lot larger ambitions, whose goals are thwarted by numerous life circumstances at each flip. On a very tense Christmas Eve, George considers suicide and is visited by his guardian angel, Clarence, who exhibits him what the world could be like if George had by no means been born, in the end convincing him of the impression he has made by means of his frustratingly odd life. of the.
I had seen snippets of this film in numerous Christmas seasons all through my childhood, however I did not sit down to look at it right through till highschool. It wasn’t till faculty that I actually embraced it. It turned aspirational for the life I finally wished for myself. Early within the film, George is filled with promise and vigor. He falls in love with Mary Hatch and goals of unique journey and a profession doing one thing “vital,” like setting up tall buildings and planning cities.
I used to be personally extra within the “odd” life that Mary craves and that George finally ends up with. I wished to search out my real-life Mary and cool down in a modest house. We would construct our lives collectively and begin a household. We’d elevate our children, and I’d develop in my profession, counting my blessings and appreciating everybody in my life. Who wants Clarence?
Because it turned out, it took me extra years than I anticipated to finally discover my very own Mary, and I used to be usually bitter all through that interval of ready for my vocation to come back to fruition. My annual viewings of the film virtually felt like they had been taunting me. What’s George so upset about? He is bought precisely what I need! When would I get my fantastic life?
One superb December, nonetheless, I used to be watching the film at a pal’s home. One other visitor was a girl I had met months earlier. A mutual curiosity was blossoming between us, and I believe I watched her greater than I watched the film that night time. Would she prefer it? Would she chortle on the proper moments?
By the following December, she was gifting me a “You Are Now in Bedford Falls” signal that will finally cling in the lounge of our house collectively. I had discovered my Mary—her identify is Theresa—and I’d absolutely not take something as a right anymore. My fantastic life was lastly coming collectively!
At numerous factors within the film, George absolutely feels the identical means. However George and Mary’s romance and life plans are frequently interrupted by circumstances past their management. On the night time they fall in love, George is pulled away by information of his father’s deadly stroke. Years later, their “simply married” bliss is interrupted instantly by a Despair-era run on the financial institution.
Theresa and I had our personal run-on-the-bank second early in our marriage, as I discovered a cancerous lump in my neck on our honeymoon. Our first 12 months of marriage was outlined by physician’s appointments, chemotherapy periods, and CT scans. This was clearly not the newlywed life we had imagined, however we weathered this storm with a Bailey-like dedication to 1 one other.
One interesting, rewatchable side of the film is its episodic nature. We get scenes from George’s childhood, younger grownup years, early household days, and the climax of the heavenly hocus pocus with Clarence on Christmas Eve. These episodes usually present George at his lowest factors of him—performing pissed off, jealous, unhappy, or merciless. However we’re solely seeing brief vignettes of his life from him, and to dismiss him as a hateful grinch could be to overlook the film’s level and its broader utility to our lives. It is a fantastic life, all proper. However life is filled with alternatives, selections, setbacks, and triumphs.
Nowhere is that this extra prevalent than within the realm of parenthood. The chaotic home church of the Bailey household is on full show all through the film. George and I each have 4 younger kids, and all the pieces in regards to the Bailey family has an air of familiarity. In just some brief scenes, It is a Fantastic Life exhibits the parental low level of overreacting to your child’s annoying tendencies with unnecessary anger, in addition to a toddler’s sickness momentarily pulling George exterior of himself, his anger, and his issues to tenderly consolation his sick daughter Zuzu at her bedside.
The film will get on the elementary problem of parenting: How will you steadiness the elevating and delight of your kids with the duties of the day by day grind and the need of attending to your individual wants with out utterly shedding your self? Generally your best blessings really feel like your greatest issues. At one level, George snaps at Mary, “You name this a contented household? Why do we now have to have all these youngsters?”
This line is a well-known inside joke in our home. As Theresa and I launched into constructing a household, we did not plan to have 4 kids in 5 years. Given the truth that my physician mentioned chemotherapy would seemingly render me sterile, it is a miracle from God and a solution to our prayers. However after I’m altering the ninth diaper of the day whereas two different youngsters wail within the background, I generally discover myself asking George’s query in all seriousness, and it is remarkably simple to take a look at the present horse of my fantastic life within the mouth.
Inevitably, I discover Zuzu’s petals in my pocket—a quiet second of enjoyable with my oldest daughter, a young hug from my 2-year-old, or the joyful sight of three youngsters working out of the storage to greet me after I get house from work. That is the life that I wished, the life I’ve been known as to, and the life that I like.
It is a Fantastic Life is a two-hour exploration of the artwork of dying to your self—and an annual reminder to me of the fruits that movement from that call. The movie echoes the timeless message of the Savior whose beginning we rejoice on this holy season: Your life is a present that’s meant to be shared within the service of others.
This text additionally seems within the December 2022 concern of US Catholic (Vol. 87, No. 12, pages 26-30). Click on right here to subscribe to the journal.
Picture: Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen