Friday, January 1, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

TOP 100 FILMS: #9

The life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is a tale of missed opportunities, sacrifice, and missed dreams, all of which culminate on Christmas Eve, as the company he's spent his entire life trying to save faces its likely doom.

I can think of no film I would enjoy reviewing as my first review of 2010 as much as one of my all time favorites in It's a Wonderful Life. A powerful tale of a man who gives all of himself for the betterment of others, and the trials this has caused throughout his life. Loosing his hearing partially as a child rescuing his brother, his hopes of traveling the world lost the needs of the family, a life spent in absent of his dreams. If there's one thing It's a Wonderful Life teaches us, is that it's never easy being the guy everyone needs you to be. George Bailey is just that man. He's the life and soul of a town, fighting back cheap expansion from rich business owners, and giving a new shot at life to everyone who needs it.

To many George Bailey will seem cheesy, his actions cliche, and predictable, but to the film he's anything but. He's the man willing to take the blows. You can see it in his face, each sacrifice hits him a little lower, a little harder. He's the beacon by which all people should strive to be, and yet it's a beacon few can bear to stand. Bailey, for all his strengths, suffers from the inability to see his own worth in the world. To see how much more painful life would be for those around him without him. If anything Bailey is soul of the town he's raised in. If he leaves the town dies, if he dies, the town dies, he's a representation of every man, woman, and child. He's not given the right to self-indulge, for the town can't self-indulge.

Even when he succumbs to his personal feelings, marrying the longtime sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), they both become patrons of the town. The best of us are not the rich, the war heroes, nor the celebrities. Not the athletes, nor the politicians. It's the quiet sacrificers for the betterment of others. These individuals who give up the things they want the most in life, because they recognize the need for putting others before themselves. You see George Bailey is not a man, not in the least. George Bailey is a superhero.

You may laugh, but it's true. Sure he doesn't fly, have cool gadgets, or shoot webs. Bailey's superpower is far more subtle, more unique: he has the amazing power to give. Bailey gives up everything, all he ever dreamed of (notions of which are echoed throughout superhero mythology), just to help a local man get a new house. And of course like all superheroes it takes a great loss for him to realize just how important that is. The world doesn't need superman, spiderman, or any other _____man to be a better place, it doesn't need a symbol throughout the world. You can keep your superheroes, leave them in their colorful font, what this world really needs is just a little bit more people like George Bailey. Now that would be a wonderful thing after all.

You may call his life cheesy, corny, or any other synonym you will, but in the end It's a Wonderful Life is about the world's first true superhero, the only kind it ever needs, the real, human, kind.

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