Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Not All That Wonderful A Life

If you have a Grinchy little streak of cynicism, read this article from today's New York Times:

Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

It's also about a banking crisis prompted by seeming fraud, and very real negligence:
And what about that banking issue? When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).

But isn’t George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?

I checked my theory with Frank J. Clark, the district attorney for Erie County upstate, where, as far as I can tell, the fictional Bedford Falls is set. He thought it over, and then agreed: George would still face prosecution and possible prison time.

“In terms of the theft, sure, you take the money and put it back, you still committed the larceny,” he said. “By giving the money back, you have mitigated in large measure what the sentence might be, but you are still technically guilty of the offense.”

The movie's two scenarios of life in Bedford Falls are meant to show that it's a much better place to live due to George's presence there. But maybe that wouldn't be the case long term. The supposedly nightmarish George-was-never-born Pottersville can be seen as a vibrant, active town with bright lights and lots of people driving an entertainment-based economy:
Not only is Pottersville cooler and more fun than Bedford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring manufacturing to Bedford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Wonderful Life” manufacturing in upstate New York has suffered terribly.

On the other hand, Pottersville, with its nightclubs and gambling halls, would almost certainly be in much better financial shape today. It might well be thriving.

Wow, pretty harsh. I'm sure most people would still prefer to focus on the movie's warm-hearted message about valuing family and friendship!


Anonymous said...

I too had a couple of disturbing thoughts running through my head while watching "It's A Wonderful Life" last night. I used to be able to watch this movie and interpret it the way it was meant to be interpreted. But, it seems as though I have lost my innocence and ability to enjoy this movie for some of the very reasons discussed here.

Anonymous said...

I love this movie and watch it every Christmas Eve with my family. You are way too hard on poor Goerge. He did not commit any crime. The money was lost by his uncle, not "taken." So it's still a wonderful life after all!

Nothing fancy to think of .. said...

Never seen it, Don't ever plan on seeing it. I am not a fan of those kinds of movies. No action, no comedy, no entertainment. To me, that is why I devote time to watching something, to be entertained. The Christmas tradition in our house is a double shot with "A Christmas Story" (As it is filmed not far from where I live, and it is like that where I live), and "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation". Those movies make me laugh all the way through them no matter how many times I see them.

As for the article. Let the author criticize. It is their right and nothing should be so sacred that it cannot stand up to debate.

However - this is a movie, entertainment (well supposed to be). The purpose of it is to let the viewer see a story and forget their life for a couple hours (if it is on TV - with several 100 commercials). It was not designed to be a doctrine for the human condition. That would go through scholastic review etc. before the hollywood types got a hold of it.

Just my humble opinion.

msfrugal said...

--It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Huh. I don't remember that part.

Anonymous said...

@ msfrugal:

George and Mary buy the abandoned house and spend the duration of the movie fixing it up - the forever-loose newel post has a comedic role :)

I have to say, I have always found this movie terribly discouraging. George's enormous potential and talents, his dreams and his goals are sacrificed throughout the movie. The model of the bridge on the dining room table in later scenes is one poignant example. You can see George's horizons narrowing as his dreams slip away in Jimmy Stewart's eyes as the movie progresses.

I understand the message of the greater good, and the primary importance of family and friends over material things, but somehow... I find George's suffering terribly unjust, in this universe... :S

Not Donna

Gord said...

Perhaps the greatest compliment to "It's a Wonderful Life" is that Hollywood hasn't dared to try a remake as far as I know. That's respect!

Chiot's Run said...

I have never seen that movie, or Rudolph either. Can't say that I ever will. I'll stick to the vintage Bond Mr Chiots and I always watch on Christmas day.

Anonymous said...

I live in CT, so i am familiar with Bedford Falls, NY. It is in Westchester County, about a half hour from the Tappan Zee Bridge.