Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

Every time I make a new post, an angel gets its wings. This is a movie that's hard to talk about, in a different way than Laura was. With Laura, and likely the other film noirs I'll be going over in this blog, I don't want to divulge much because they are still surprising after being out for years. There really isn't anything surprising in It's a Wonderful Life because I was apparently the only person in the US not to see it until my 20's. Thank God for expired copyrights, eh? Without this film's copyright expiring, it would probably mostly only be known to Capra enthusiasts and Jimmy Stewart fans, as opposed to being so well known that nearly every comedy series ever has parodied it (my personal favorite, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and A Case of Spring Fever - "Merry Christmas, you wonderful old couch!"). It's not that it's a bad movie by any stretch, but it did disappoint at the box office, which led to the expired copyright, which led to it being aired as a Christmas special, which led to it becoming a classic, which led to a level of inescapable cultural osmosis. Which leads to me being somewhat tongue-tied, because you either adore this movie as a simple, classic tale of good, life-affirming values, or you loathe it as a corny can of cheesy schmaltz. For myself, I can pretty much go without the Christmas angle. To me, the really important part of the tale isn't that the climax takes place on Christmas - indeed, I think of it as really only tangentially a Christmas movie. What draws me to this movie is the fact that it's a tale of an eternal martyr, but not a gentle, good one. George Bailey is different from most martyr figures we see on screen for two major reasons: 1) He resents the hell out of it, and 2) He's a man. Usually when you get a film about one of life's tragic figures, who has their life constantly stolen in innumerable little ways until they finally snap, you get a Madame Bovary or a Bridges of Madison County. It's a woman who is a silent sufferer in the mundane inanity of it all, until she finally takes relief in an affair, after which she either kills herself or leaves her marriage. George Bailey not only complains about his fate, he spends most of the movie complaining. It's actually pretty refreshing. And unlike most martyr-men, George doesn't go rampaging through the town with an AK-47, nor is it made the fault of his wife. I can see why some people dislike this movie so much. The villain is never punished, the fact that George's wife becomes a librarian if she never meets him seems really stupid, and it can be squirm inducing to watch a generally likable guy get kicked around by life at every angle. But those are the reasons that I like it. You've probably already seen it and made up your mind, but if you haven't, I'd say give it a watch.

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