Frank Capra’s fantasy drama from 1946 It’s a Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas film. Showing it on television at Christmas time is not only a long-standing American tradition, but it has spread to many other countries, such as to Finland.
Last weekend I had a chance to see the theater version of it at the Theatrikos Theater where it was recreated as a radio-play from the 40s. The theater had a fascinating setup, which moved me the same way as the film version – crying at the happy ending when the town-people sang Auld Lang Sine after the main character, George’s return to town from his suicide walk.
In case you don’t know the story, it has three main characters: George, a small town family man who defends the ordinary citizen mainly against Potter, an arch-capitalist who owns most of the town. The third character is Clarence, an angel-in-training, who wants to earn his wings.
On Christmas Eve George has been driven to suicide because a large sum of George’s company money has disappeared on the way to the bank. The truth is that Potter has seen a chance to steal the money. In his desperation George goes to Potter to ask for a loan to recover the loss. Potter refuses to grant the loan, teasing George – whose life insurance amount is much smaller than the amount he wants to borrow- saying “you are worth more money dead than alive”, after which Potter calls the police to arrest George for fraud.
However, George is not arrested. Instead he goes to a bar, gets drunk and becomes increasingly more miserable. After leaving the bar he decides to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge into a river.
That’s where his guardian angel Clarence interferes by jumping into the river and letting George save his life. George shares his misery with Clarence saying that he wishes he had never been born. This gives Clarence a chance to show George an alternative reality, where George sees how life would have been in the city, had he not existed.
Among the things he sees, is that his little brother would have drowned because George would not have saved him from the icy lake; his children would never have had a chance to be born; the ordinary town citizens would have been living at Potter’s mercy, not owning their houses but paying high rents for shacks owned by Potter.
Realizing that he had had a positive impact on many people’s lives, George begs Clarence to have his old life back. His wish is granted. By saving George’s life Clarence earns his wings and everybody is happy, except for Potter maybe.
My wish for everybody is to take some time to reflect over their lives during the Christmas vacation and hopefully come to the same conclusion as the movie that solidarity and feeling of community are values that sustain life. With Clarence’s words: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole doesn’t he?”.