Christmas is a lot of pressure. We build it up into this ultra-cheery holiday where we are supposed to buy the perfect presents and have perfect decorations in our perfect homes with our perfect families. But that fairy tale scenario is reality for maybe five people on the planet. Going home for the holidays can be stressful. Being alone on Christmas can be even worse. Finding the money to make the holiday everything you want it to be for your family is often difficult.
In a lot of ways, the true meaning of Christmas is that life is complicated, and sometimes you have to fight for the bright spots, but that makes them all the more beautiful.
That’s why I’ve always loved and admired It’s a Wonderful Life, and the way it unflinchingly tells the story of a man leading a life that it is times intensely frustrating and disappointing, yet he learns to celebrate the parts that bring him great joy. No life is perfect, but they’re all worth living.
All of It’s a Wonderful Life is a treasure, but undoubtedly the most powerful scene is when George Bailey, faced with the ruin of the business he has sacrificed most of his life for, gets well and truly drunk. He sits at the bar with his head in his hands, sinking deeper and deeper into despair, and the look on his face is utterly heartbreaking. I would say that its one of Jimmy Stewart’s finest moments of acting, only I’m not quite certain it was acting in the end.
This was the first film that Jimmy Stewart made after returning from active duty during World War II, and he was not in the greatest place emotionally. Indeed, he had never intended to make a movie so quickly, except that he deeply connected with the material in It’s a Wonderful Life.
The simple idea that you matter, you aren’t alone, and that you would be missed if you were gone – that’s everything. And that’s what is at the heart of this film’s enduring message. It has touched innumerable lives since being released in 1946, and its especially important at Christmas, when the forced cheer and high expectations can be overwhelming.
by Audrey Fox