You can argue all you want about which Christmas movie is best (as my siblings did in the car on the way to Chicago), and you can complain all you want that It’s a Wonderful Life is too sentimental, but it remains on of the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Films Ever Made (20th) and number one on their Most Inspiring Films of All Time list.
I’m sure Jeremy and I will have plenty to say about this iconic film, but what interests me tonight is the love story between George and Mary Bailey that begins when they are children, and Mary whispers into George’s deaf ear that she loves him. Their childhood, courtship, and marriage are a perfect representation of the kind of lasting love we admire on Valentine’s Day!
When George finally realizes he loves Mary, he says, “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”
All lovers start out wanting to give each other the moon.
One of my favorite moments is when they honeymoon with all of the travel posters covering the windows of their leaky old house, and they are happy all the same. No Hawaii, Jamaica, or even Atlantic City. All of George’s grand dreams of getting out of Bedford Falls and giving Mary the moon never come true. I admire Mary (Donna Reed) because she doesn’t see it that way.
Of course, marriage is not perfect. Later, frustrated by the pressures of daily life and his struggling savings and loan, George says, “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?”
Mary sticks with George through the horror of his banking crisis and attempted suicide. During the film, Clarence the angel shows George the vision of Mary as an old maid (if George had never lived) and George is devastated.
I just returned from the funeral of my uncle in Iowa. This past August, he and his wife, Rosalie, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I suspect what they learned, from the first day, in 1961, to the last, February 8, is that marriage is hard, especially as we age. Running a successful farm means being always at the mercy of nature, and, contrary to popular belief, the early years of raising children are the easiest. Yet, they faced these challenges together and were made stronger.
It’s a Wonderful Life’s Christmas message is that we live a miracle each day, and to love others unconditionally, is the Valentine we must strive to give each other throughout our lives. Even though it’s a Christmas movie, today I nominate It’s a Wonderful Life as a great Valentine movie.