47 Great Movie Moments #5 – It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Directed by:  Frank Capra

Idealistic George Bailey spends a lifetime of sacrificing his personal dreams for the sake of others in his community.  When circumstances drive him to the brink of despair, a junior Angel is sent from heaven to help him see that the work of his life has not been in vain.

The Set-up

Things have gone from bad to worse for George Bailey, with financial problems leading to breakdown in family and also trouble with the law.  When he contemplates suicide, an angel-in-training named Clarence takes the unusual tack to putting himself in great danger in order to inspire George to save him, thus keeping him from taking his own life.  George is then granted the wish of seeing a world in which he had never existed.  Needless to say, it’s a disaster.  Without his presence, multiple people have lost their purpose, their self-respect and their lives.  When George realizes that he’s cursed his wife to an empty life, and his children to non-existence, he finally realizes how much he had to live for. But in his desperation to connect with his wife (who doesn’t know him), he terrifies her and incurs the wrath of the police and townsfolk in the dark reality he’s trapped in.  He runs away from the angry crowd into the wintry night…

The Moment

George returns to the bridge where he first met Clarence, where he nearly took his own life.  He cries out to Clarence, asking him to help him:  “Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence!  Get me back! Get me back, I don’t care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids!”  The shouts shift into entreaties:  “Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again.” And then finally, we are left with the quiet prayer of a man with nothing else. “Please, God, let me live again.”  Just then, the snow (the absence of which had been an indicator of the change in reality) starts falling again.

The moment, and indeed the whole movie, is melodramatic and perhaps a bit “corny”, but the storytelling is so earnest, and Jimmy Stewart’s performance as George Bailey so committed and heartfelt, it’s impossible to not be swept along. The black & white cinematography is quite beautiful as well–accept no substitutes!

The Payoff

Bert the cop shows up, and George prepares for a fight to start up again before he realizes that Bert knows who he is…he’s back in his proper life.  Overwhelmed with joy, George returns to his family and friends…only to discover that the town that he has sacrificed so much for has rallied around him in his hour of need.  The ultimate victory is achieved not so much by punishing evil, but simply by the regular folks standing together in unity and generosity.  It’s genuinely a great movie.

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