It's a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra

 

with James Steward as George Bailey and Henry Travers as „Guardian angel Clarence“

1946

131 minutes

 

 

What do we learn about George Bailey? 

Do-gooder. Ready to help. Diligently. Brave. 

He has been a member of the National Geographic Society since his youth. His nickname: Captain Cook (seafarer and explorer, cartographer, scientist who is up to the scurvy). 

 

George is open-minded and scientifically inquisitive. He is full of dreams that grow into the sky. 

To him, anchor chains, plain motors and train whistles are the most exciting sounds in the world.

 

He exudes desire for knowledge, adventurousness and drive for action. And yet, when fate requires it from him, he dutifully takes on the challenge. Humanity is extremely important to him.

 

A quote from the movie: “Like everybody else, on D-Day he wept and prayed, on V-J day he wept and prayed again.”

 

At the height of his life crisis, however, George realizes that he’s not a praying man (like everyone else). Finally, he asks Clarence, not God, to get him back to his wife and kids.

 

George Bailey is a habitual prayer, not convinced of praying. In dire need, he relies on his common sense and his cultural and scientific education.

 

 

What do we learn about Clarence? 

Imaginative. Philosophical. A creative one. A character like from a fairy tale. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” is his constant companion from the first mention of this “guardian angel” to the last sequence of the story told. 

 

 

Clarence mentions that he knows which book the faded Mark Twain is writing on. In one scene, George calls his angel “Gabriel”. And “Gabriel” replies and adds: “Clarence”. 

 

Interesting: “Gabriel Clarence” and “Samuel Clemens” (the civil name of Mark Twain) have the same melody. 

 

With this pun Frank Capra lets Mark Twain play his pranks humorously but incognito in this story. 

 

 

Thus, the aforementioned mention of Clarence gets a demonstrable meaning: it is, figuratively, the story of Bailey, on which the faded Mark Twain is currently writing. 

 

In other words, Capra – inspired by Twain – uses the knowledge from Twains literary works in George's story to explain his trauma management (the experienced fairy tale). 

 

The spiritual heaven supposed at the beginning turns out to be in fact a literary universe and the “guardian angel” as an intellectual free spirit. And the “wings” are given to Twain by Capra as recognition for his literary work. Consequently Capra borrows his pictures partly from Christian worlds of view, partly from fairy-tale ones. 

 

 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is thus a charming western satire of religion, an imaginative Christmas fairy tale not only for Christians and a tribute to Mark Twain and his literary work at the same time. 

 

I, Bernard Glasa, dream, feel and think very much like George. 

 

 

More reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

 

Capra describes the milieu in which the events take place as christian and superstitious, in Potter's character also as capitalistic abhorrent. 

 

 

Another aspect seems to me worth considering. 

 

Two adorable women have been competing for George Bailey's favour since their youth. To both, George feels amicable und loving until the end of the story.

 

There is the pious Mary, who George marries and with which he starts a family into a precarious life situation, as well as Violet, supercilious and indecent, who loves adventure and risk and to discover the world like George. 

 

Capra's description of Mary ending up an old maid and Violet ending up in prostitution, because George was never born, is due to the narrative message and typical of fairy tales. 

 

I wonder if the enlightened George would decide for the same woman today, assuming he could freely choose as he did after the trauma of the war. 

 

 

 

Mark Twain: „I believe our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.“

A typical feature of Narrative is:

What you see is not told. What is told you may not see.

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© Niekalt Verlag, Bernard Glasa