Movies reflect the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Here is what our community says about a classic Christmas film.
This post is part of our “Movies and Manhood” series that gives some of our regular writers an opportunity to share their views on how movies have impacted their thinking about men’s roles today. Our objective is to find the intersection between these films and the themes and topics we address here at The Good Men Project. Be sure to check out our other posts here.
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of Christmas movies that are so deeply entrenched in the public mind that it becomes sort of a shorthand for certain characters or situations. Old Man Potter, George Bailey, and the fantasy of seeing what your life would be like if you’d never been born are such familiar ideas that perhaps they’ve lost part of their power.
But It’s a Wonderful Life, despite being pegged as a sentimental class of a bygone era, still holds a great deal of power. Let’s see what a few of our GMP writers have to say about this classic Christmas film. You can check out their comments after the clip.
Here are the GMP Perspectives:
Who is George Bailey? Is he the product of his choices and ambitions, triumphs and losses, emotions and actions? The lesson his guardian angel seems to be teaching him is that his deliberate efforts matter less than the magnified impact of his mere presence: everything hinges on if he had never been born, rather than if he had acted differently or made other choices at any of a variety of seemingly critical moments in his life. Is this a subtext for men being objects and placeholders in their own lives?
When contemplating suicide, the more instructive story would seem to be a preview of what the world would be like after such a decision, rather than a glimpse back at how the world would have fared without George Bailey entirely. Does the world need George Bailey—or does it merely need someone to round out the picture? When the community rallies together to bail him out, are they saving the Bailey family, or just their bank? Ultimately, is being a man a role—or is it a comprehensive identity? George has a role to play—but his identity, it seems, isn’t up to him.
Edgar Wilson, The Good Men Project Author
I cry every time I watch this movie. Every time, without fail. George Bailey was embodied to perfection by Jimmy Stewart. As an everyman who only wanted the best for everyone, I connected so closely to him. I’ve felt over the years the feelings of failure, even recently where my own failings had me thinking I may need my own Clarence the Angel.
George wants, or thinks he does, so many things in life that he can’t have. When the chips are down and the adversity is at it’s worst, he despairs and believes he has more value as an insurance policy rather than as a human being.
When I see the impact he has in the lives of those townsfolk—from Ernie the cab driver’s life in a Pottersville hovel, helping avoid Mr. Gowers downfall, to Nick and Mr. Martini’s painful exchange—I recognize the power that relationships have.
At the end of my life I want to look back and see the same thing that George Bailey saw: to have made an impact in the lives of others.
Let’s make sure we help lots of angels get their wings.
Sean Ackerman, The Good Men Project Author
It’s A Wonderful Life premiered right after World War II, meaning a good portion of its male audience had just returned from the service with the memories of death and destruction still fresh in their minds. The movie serves as both an escape from those difficult memories and a reminder to be grateful for what we have. That’s a theme I’m sure was not lost on these veterans.
Gail Hoffer-Loibl, The Good Men Project Author
I have ambivalent feelings about this movie. My father was George Bailey but was never redeemed. In the aftermath of World War I my father returned home from service intending on going to pharmacy graduate school. His father (my grandfather) had a heart attack and my Dad had to abandon his plans to run the family pharmacy while his younger brother went to graduate school, and ultimately to a distinguished career. My father was filled with resentment and anger that poisoned our family. We could have used a miracle.
Spencer Dryden, The Good Men Project Author
It’s a Wonderful Life is hands-down my favorite movie of all time.
I have distinct memories of watching the movie as a kid, curled up on my Dad’s big leather recliner. It always aired on Christmas Eve, and even as a kid I was drawn to the story of George Bailey, although I couldn’t really explain why. I just knew there was something special about it.
As an adult, I came to appreciate It’s a Wonderful Life in new ways. One Christmas a few years ago—I was in my late 30’s at the time—I was watching the movie. It was late at night and the rest of my family had gone to bed. All of a sudden I began to cry. I realized that in many ways, I was just like George Bailey.
Through most of my 30’s I felt like a failure. I had big dreams and aspirations, and none of them had come to pass. I felt so successful in my 20’s, but in my 30’s, approaching middle age, I felt like I had let everyone down. And as I sat there on my living room floor watching It’s a Wonderful Life, I understood what George Bailey must have felt like. A man can only carry so many shattered dreams and dashed expectations before he wonders whether this world would be better off without him.
Life has changed and I no longer feel like the George Bailey that wanted to jump off the bridge into the icy depths of oblivion. I’m much more like the George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life—one whose had his share of failure but is hopeful because he’s part of a community that cares for him and is quick to help when needed.
And just like George Bailey, I realize that no man can truly be a failure if he has friends.
Kent Sanders, Editor at The Good Men Project
Photo: Liberty Films
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