CHRISTMAS MOVIE COUNTDOWN #4: It’s A Wonderful Life

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The Christmas movie countdown is our way of sharing the movies that get us in the festive mood, every day until xmas (kinda like an advent calender, minus the chocolate, sorry)

It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t a film I immediately fell in love with, however it is one which has made me cry and laugh repeatedly and one which continues to grow on me.

The movie, based on Philip Van Doren Sterns’ short story “The Greatest Gift” follows George Bailey (played by James Stewart) through his life to a point where he is standing on a bridge at Christmas ready to take his own life. George is portrayed as a selfless character throughout, making sacrifices for everyone around him – particularly a younger brother Harry, even when he is let down by him. One scene which has stuck with me is just after the opening credits, when a 12 year-old George jumps into icy water to save Harry, in the process permanently losing the hearing in his left ear. George is a dreamer and right from the outset it is clear he wants to leave his “godforsaken town” and travel the world. Predictably, nothing goes right for him and he is doomed through his own noble nature, opting to keep open his father’s family bank, therefore losing his university place to Harry, rather than let it fall into the hands of the film’s antagonist, Mr Potter.

The film is an antonym of Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’, showing not simply the joys of Christmas, but the effect one man can have on all the lives around him. It is an uplifting (clichéd but true!) view on a dead-end capitalist town – reflecting mainstream America in the 1940s.

DOES IT PASS THE BECHDEL TEST?

Sadly, IAWL doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, perhaps due to the era it is set in. Its aspirations and ideals are far more relevant to that time, although George’s wife, Mary Bailey (played by Donna Reed – her debut film) is undoubtedly a strong female character, emotionally and physically. With a sequel starring Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu in the original) set to be released in 2015, we can hope for a more relevant and fair depiction of women in today’s society. This doesn’t stop the film being a Christmas must-see; with 5 Oscar nominations and 6 other awards including Golden Globe (best motion picture director in 1947), it is definitely on December’s watch list.

Its bitter-sweet and ambiguous ending makes it stand out from other Christmas films, as it is not entirely feel-good, though I think the realistic view makes it all that bit better. That’s not to say it isn’t festive; one of the end lines is Harry Bailey celebrating his older brother “the richest man in town” amongst the entire town and his family, followed, inevitably, by Auld Lang Syne.

By Josie

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