It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

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His fisherman's tale got more elaborate each time he told it.
His fisherman’s tale got more elaborate each time he told it.

Twitter Plot Summary: A man who just wants to get out of town finds himself trapped by circumstance.

1. Talking stars? Say what?
2. George Bailey. Never gonna get out, is he?
3. Ahh, Clarence.
4. How things change without George Bailey around.
5. So much money and good will!

I often think of myself as an unemotional type, rarely emoting and even more rarely allowing external factors to influence my emotional state. Then shortly before Christmas I went to a special screening of It’s A Wonderful Life (yes, it’s taken me a while to write this review) for my first viewing of the film at the excellent Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Suffice to say, as the final credits rolled I was on the verge of welling up. Curse you, Franz Kapka.

George Bailey has always been a man wanting to explore the world and escape from the small town of Bedford Falls that has fallen under the auspices of nasty bank manager Mr Potter. Unfortunately for George, despite his intentions to get out of the town once and for all he finds himself there for years – marrying his sweetheart, raising a family, and running the family loan business following the death of his father. Ultimately he finds himself atop a bridge, ready to throw himself into the freezing water below, when he is stopped by Clarence, his guardian angel, and shown exactly what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he’d never been there.

I enjoyed the film for its simple portrayal of how the smallest of decisions can have the largest of consequences for the better. By scrolling back through George’s life and highlighting important decisions he made and highlighting exactly where the town would be if he’d never existed, it’s a great piece of feel-good storytelling. You may feel as though you haven’t achieved anything, yet everything you do ultimately leads somewhere. I’m even okay with the guardian angel angle despite my atheistic nature. Amazingly, I don’t have an overwhelming desire to criticise religious angles in films, especially when they’re presented in as joyous a manner as this. Clarence is loveable and his quest to get his wings is surprisingly touching. I also defy anybody to not have a lump in their throat by the final scene – even thinking about it now some 3 months after watching it is getting me all emotional. Call yourself a man. Pah.

"Kids? You're all adopted."
“Kids? You’re all adopted.”

Performances are typical for the era – slightly staid and overtly dramatic, larger than life as if projecting to the back of a theatre rather than making any attempt at realistic delivery – to complain about this however would be unduly harsh as that was just how the system was set up at that time. Despite this it still works for a modern audience, the small town existence given a touch of the unreal, a touch of the fantastic if you will. It says a lot when the town of Bedford Falls features prominently in the first Red Dwarf novel, a simulacrum in that instance for Dave Lister in the game Better Than Life. It’s idealistic, always snowing, and full of genuinely friendly people – I’d genuinely like to see that out in the real world.

Suffice to say, It’s A Wonderful Life is a life-affirming, bonafide classic. Yes, it’s saccharine and is hardly an accurate representation of real life, but to complain about that would be missing the point entirely. If you ever need your spirits lifting, or you need affirmation about the purpose of existence, or you just want to see an excellent Christmas movie, then this is the film for you.

Score: 5/5

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