The headline on a critique in today’s New York Times says it all: “Wonderful? Sorry, George, It’s a Pitiful, Dreadful Life.” Nothing more clearly illustrates the paper’s hatred of normalcy than its revisionist perspective on “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The moral of the 1946 Capra classic — life has meaning. Even if we don’t achieve our dreams, even if our existence is seemingly hum-drum, those who lead good lives will never know how much good they’ve done.
George Bailey does, by glimpsing what his world would look like if he’d never been born. He discovers (to paraphrase the film) that every life touches so many other lives — and, if it’s not there, it leaves a terrible void. This hopeful message is why the film has charmed audiences for over 60 years.
Wendell Jamieson, author of The Times’ diatribe, hates nearly everything about the film. George Bailey is pathetic for sacrificing his dreams for the greater good of his family, friends and the depositors of the Bailey Savings and Loan. Jamieson finds the film’s nostalgic vision of small town life embodied in Bedford Falls boring and stultifying.
He much prefers Pottersville in the alternate reality. “The women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night.”
Yes, and George’s wife is a mousey, spinster librarian; his mother is a bitter, dried-up hag who runs a dilapidated boarding house; brother Harry died as a child because George wasn’t there to save him (consequently, all the men on Harry’s ship died because he wasn’t there to save them); Uncle Billy loses his marbles when the Saving and Loan closes its doors, and so on.
Jamieson’s piece reflects The Times’ worldview — individuals should live primarily for themselves; self-sacrifice is stupid; fast women, gambling and loud music are fun; and life is ultimately meaningless.
People who are world-wise are attracted to one type of cinema; those who are world-weary are drawn to the opposite. One is tempted to describe The New York Times as the Grinch who trashed a Christmas classic. But it probably likes the Grinch too.