Shortly before Christmas last year I dropped by my parents’ house and caught my Dad watching the last half hour of It’s a Wonderful Life. As we watched the peak of George’s crisis we got into a conversation about what we would do if either one of us were George Bailey.
What a great question!
After all, who doesn’t want to live in Bedford Falls and be married to Donna Reed?
George Bailey had a wonderful life but he did some screwy things.
Start right at the beginning of the movie, when he notices Mr. Gower made a mistake with the medicine. Not knowing what to do he seeks out his father and ends up walking in on an argument his father is having with Mr. Potter.
George gets offended by what Potter was saying and goes after him, even going so far as pushing Mr. Potter. I would have done more than that. I would have beaten Potter over the head with his cane.
George shows later he’s got that in him.
In the scene where Bedford Falls turns into Pottersville he sucker punches Bert the cop. George gets up with that look of Bruce Willis in his eye. But, this film was made in the 1940s and we never get to see vengeance fulfilled.
George bemoans his lot in life but, truth be told, he misses a lot of opportunity.
When he meets Violet on the street and she looks up at him with those dreamy eyes I practically scream at the TV. “C’mon, George! Wake up!”
He’s too chicken to actually take her up to the falls but when Grandma Walton asks for only $17.50 on the day of the bank run he plants a wet one on her like she’s the belle of the ball.
George in his soul is his mother’s son: he’s decent, obedient, humble and honorable. He’s also soft, chicken, lonely and confused. Even with his kids.
Just before he flips out we see him in a scene where he goes up to see the ill Zuzu. There he deftly does what all fathers do, he comforts and inspires. Sneaking the rose petals into his pocket as he pretends to glue them back on shows a genius all fathers possess.
Then a few minutes later he yells at Janey to stop playing the piano in a moment of cruelty that still shocks me to witness.
Which are you, George? Genius or goon?
George he saves his softest stuff for the bad guy, Henry F. Potter.
When Potter tries to offer George a job, Bailey isn’t having it. I love it when he shakes hands with Potter George looks down at his hand like he’s touch a pile of poo. As he wipes his hand on his suit, he tells Potter what he thinks:
Well, that’s was pretty good.
But it was hardly satisfactory for my taste. Me? I would have taken the offer and then destroyed Potter from the inside. But that kind of thing is hard to capture on film.
Yes, from bailing on his honeymoon to save the Building and Loan to tossing Mary back her robe, there is a lot I would have done different than George Bailey.
But I’m not George Bailey. None of us are. And all of us are.
And that’s because, at the end of the day, the lessons from George Bailey are not really about what he did or didn’t do. It stems more from his decency and his compassion and his desire to just be happy.
What George ultimately learned was that by losing himself he found himself. What a wonderful message for Christmas.
Submitted by Will F. Paul