It's a Wonderful Life, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
American Culture

It's A Wonderful Life
This material courtesy of Jon Schuller

he 1946 Frank Capra film It's A Wonderful Life is a post-World War II classic that gives us a glimpse into the Depression-era life of a small, upstate New York town, its citizens, and one man in particular, George Bailey, played by James Stewart. From childhood dreams and dramas we watch George as he keeps thinking about all the faraway places heís going to visit Ė and somehow never does. The real world keeps intruding on his dreams of travel to exotic locales.

The Bailey Building & Loan is his Fatherís business until Dad dies and George inherits it. Not exactly what he was planning for his future. No. Heís going to see the world. Look at the size of that suitcase he just bought. He dreams what Americans all dream. Reality does intrude, sooner rather than later.

This is not necessarily the American Everyman story but it has its roots in the iconic American Dream story so well known. Everyone wants the good things in life while daily working diligently to earn money and provide for our families. With differences of geography and time itís what every immigrant has wanted who comes to the United States. George Bailey, like all of us, is affected by forces outside of his world that sooner or later visit Bedford Falls, his friends, his family and himself.

This movie could easily be remade today because America is once again affected by those large, impersonal forces at work outside and inside our country. Everyone is acting and thinking differently, our dreams are on hold, our plans delayed. George Bailey thinks the world would have been better off without him: Heís a failure, everything heís tried and dreamed of is gone. He has disappointed his wife and children, and his friends.

Clarence, the Angel-In-Training, is assigned to George and gives him a dark, brooding, cinema-noir view of Bedford Falls as Pottersville; old man Potter owns everything, everyone; Ma Bailey, suddenly a nasty widow with a scary boardinghouse; no one, absolutely no one, knows George Bailey; Mary (his wife) never married, is now a lonely librarian-spinster. Capra turns a seemingly predictable tale into an eerie Halloween story that can scare adults. As George descends into this darkness we must follow him. Everyoneís had these moments occasionally ourselves. Everything worked for is apparently gone in an instant: Lose your job, lose your house, lose your self-confidence and self-esteem. The American Dream turns nightmarishly real and is played over and over on the nightly news. Sometimes they forget that American coins have two sides.

The cast of characters may bring A Christmas Carol to mind. George Bailey and his struggling family look a lot like Bob Cratchett and his family. Mr. Potter could be no one but Scrooge before his visitations. Clarence Oddbody represents the ghosts who visit and transform the story. Maybe this is a stretch but you get the picture. It is never too late to fix whatís been broken. At the very least, letís all try to fix it.

All people are valuable even when no one can see beyond our present pain and drama. George Bailey never stopped to look at what heíd really done for friends and strangers because he was too busy helping them when they were in trouble. Is that an American trait reflected so well in this movie? Think and help others first before we help ourselves? Is 2011 so different from 1930? The similarities are striking. Look around and see how many people have been influenced in your life; how many positive things have been done without thinking about consequences or benefits to yourself. How long have you known your friends, helping them, comforting them, standing by them?

Frank Capra created a microcosm of a troubled country on film. But it did have a happy ending. One man, surrounded by friends and family, realizes how much heís given and how much heís received. As Iíve said before all of us can use some everyday heroes today. All of us, in our own unique way, are everyday heroes Ė even if no one knows it. Take this advice: donít wait for the holidays to watch this movie. It just might make you feel good in March or August too.

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