More on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

A few days ago, while writing about Will Smith’s new film The Pursuit of Happyness, I also found myself talking about the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart.

My L’il Bro Thom added his thoughts, and I wanted to share them:

It’s a very deceptive movie – froth and cream on top, but bitter and full of bile underneath. I know now why people were so upset when it was colorized in the 80s – it needs to be told in black and white. The scene when George Bailey returns to his house and sees it in ruins is devastating – and it’s made eerier and more upsetting when the cop shines his searchlight onto the building and the shadows loom darker and deeper.

And Bailey is a haunted, hurt man – when he finally loses it near the end you see how close he is to being a wife abuser and an adulterer, a deep-down cynic who turns on the world when the world turns on him.

And still, there is Clarence, the angel – with a name that means clarity, and that gives light – a character to soften the blows and absorb the knives.

And the final lesson is not really about the inherent goodness of man, despite the tinkling bells and tearful singing. It’s a stark post-war fable: no man is an island. For better or worse, life has consequences. When the movie came out, we were just entering the atomic age and the Cold War, and I have to wonder how many people dabbing at their eyes at the end really grasped the point.

We live none of us to ourselves, and everything we do, even if we are not “thinking” about it, not acting consciously, has a ripple effect, it reaches out and touches other lives, sometimes imperceptibly. Nature uses everything. So does the Holy Spirit. We think we’re going along in our own little spheres and that nothing we do matters…for good, or for evil…but it all matters, and the Holy Spirit takes everything we put out there and uses it.

I hurt my L’il Bro yesterday. I didn’t mean to, it was wholly unintentional…but it was insensitive and because it was insensitive it was needlessly cruel. I was needlessly cruel. I hate that. And who knows how far my cruelty will ripple, and extend the hurt?

That does seem to be the theme of my Advent musings, but some lessons I wish I could learn in other ways. The lesson is that I am still sometimes unthinking or inconsiderate or too aggressive, too full of my own Irish head of steam (and the pride that goes with it) and because all of that is true, I am still more of a destructor than anything else. The other lesson is that God still has an awful lot of work to do on me, and I must let Him. And that no matter how much we seek to improve ourselves, it’s a lost cause without the help of grace. Some of us need more help than others. I need a lot.

That is not me being picturesque. My neediness before God is not evidence of His favor but of all I am lacking. In the Rule of St. Benedict, the wise founder of Western Monasticism writes, “Let him who hath need of less thank God and not give way to sadness, but let him who hath need of more, humble himself for his infirmity, and not be elated for the indulgence shown him; and thus all the members will be at peace.”

Yesterday at Vespers we prayed in psalm 123:
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
We are filled with contempt.
Indeed all too full is our soul
with the scorn of the rich,
with the proud man’s disdain.

Some interpret the line to mean “we are tired of the rich and the proud hating us and beating us down…”

I’ve always read it as “we are too filled with contempt for others, our souls are full of scorn for others who may have more – we have within us the disdain that comes from pride…”

I’m probably reading it wrong, but that’s how it speaks to me…and today I have lived it and proved it. Most pathetically.

I have so much to learn.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • JMC

    I’ve always read that psallm the same way. In the days it was written, the rich and proud tended to look down their noses at everyone else – little has changed, has it? It says we are filled with the same kind of scorn and contempt as is too often found in the rich and proud toward the less fortunate.

  • Memphis_Aggie

    I read that vespers prayer the same way you did. I read it as a acknowledgement of the contempt, scorn and pride we must empty ourselves of so that we can be more completely filled with the love of God. I empathize, have a long way to go myself.

  • GJMiller

    We ALL have so much to learn, dear friend. I learn from you daily and because of your encouragement, I move closer and closer to my childhood faith – but in a more aware fashion, this time from choice, not inadvertence.

    I am looking forward to spending my Christmas Day with my family, including my cousin’s step-grandchildren – identical twin Downs boys. The essence of love radiates from these two forever innocent little boys and being around them always heals me in some profound way.

    God bless, dear Anchoress.

    And off topic – my big cat (the 25# Maine Coon cat) LOVES summer sausage and raw potato chunks. Animals are unpredictable – so why shouldn’t your dog like bananas!

  • Laura Lee

    May God bless you dear Anchoress…and your family. You have surely been a blessing to me ever since I discovered your wonderful window of prayer, exortation, encouragement, humor and love.

  • gs

    Good day, wise Anchoress. Please receive this Christmas greeting. An allergy to incense bids me not to tarry long.

    Notwithstanding what your bro donne wrote, my libertarian inclinations say that each adult is an island. True, almost all islands need bridges to other islands. An island is subject to the benefits and ravages of sea and sky, and it has sight of the stars.

  • Victoria

    I was able to log in, after all, Anchoress. ;)

    Apropos your Pursuit of Happyness post, your brother’s words about another Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, reminds me of a user comment on Yahoo! Movies, who wailed that Pursuit of Happyness didn’t sit right with him, this near Christmas.

    In my Christmas Movie Guide review, I noted that quite on the contrary:

    Some people think it’s too grim to watch during the festive season, this story of a near homeless man, who risks everything on a hunch about his talents, but I can tell you that there can be no better film at the moment (save The Nativity Story), which is most evocative of Christmas.

    - The humble beginnings which seem to entrap, more than to liberate.

    - The hardships one must undergo, when everything seems ranged against us.

    - The people poised to take advantage of one, but also unexpected benefactors bearing the gift of opportunity.

    Because it’s not specifically about Christmas, or hovers around the holiday, I daresay it won’t be a Christmas classic like the Capra one.

    But darn it, it TOO is about Christmas. Not everything in life, is ho-ho-ho.


  • Pingback: The Anchoress » Sir, that’s not quite what I said

  • Pingback: Semicolon