Most movie directors focus on the here and now: sales, accolades, celebrity status and few on the quality of their films. Among the famous, the ones whose names occur in film histories, praised and repraised, only one, to my knowledge, did not focus on the here and now. He focused on God’s eternal love as expressed in the lives of fallen and often comic men and women–and an occasional angel. That director was Frank Capra. And the Capra movie that has most completely opened the film goer’s vista to the impact of the holy is It’s a Wonderful Life. Fine films have been made of the life of St. Francis, John Vianney, John Bosco, Sts. Theresa of Avila and Lisieux, even of St. John of the Cross. These were all holy men and women whose lives lift our own eyes to see more and more deeply into tragedy and pain and the way God uses those to show us his love. Unfortunately, we fallen humans undergo a kind of momentary blindness when the word “saint” is invoked. We remove our own life from the picture and consider the flesh and blood person, the saint, as a divine aberration. Not so with It’s a Wonderful Life.
Capra shows us in this increasingly popular film that most of us fail to see the good we do, the good we are, the good we spread, day by day, week by week, whether at the grocery store or the pharmacy or the ball game. George Baily has forgotten that fact, or more precisely, he never knew it. For he has tried his whole life to get away from the place where he was doing such good, unknowingly. Not until his world falls apart and he reaches the point of suicide that he is shown what he has done to lift up and encourage all his neighbors and friends who live in the world into which he was born. Clarence Odbody, inept and but loveable angel, is given the difficult task of revealing this to George. Naturally, the medicine must be bitter. Poor George grows increasingly desperate, the more he realizes what wickedness was done in his precious Bedford Falls because he wasn’t there to stop it. Eventually, he sees the light and wants to live, indeed, he is desperate to live, and he embraces the restoration of his own failed world with the gusto of a man whose life has been spared. What would it take to make me grateful for my usually late mailman, for my surly check out girl at the grocery, for my worn to a nub pickleball shoes, for my towel rack, like George’s wooden knob atop the banister, a rack forever clattering to our tile floor when I dare to weigh it down with a damp towel?