“Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”
Besides the fact this movie has Capra’s usual bizarre caricature of rich people (anyone with Potter’s attitude and traits would not stay wealthy for very long let alone George Bailey’s entire life) this is a great film.
Long before cheap sci-fi took up the concept of the butterfly effect, this story asked how much do we affect the lives of those around us. And George Bailey seemed, even in his less happy moments, to always be a force for good in life.
If I really have to summarize the plot for you…well, that’s just sad. If you haven’t seen this movie go out and see it right now.
The point you are supposed to get out of this film is not only that life is precious and worth living, but that we all improve the world around us. Every little choice, when made with the right frame of mind, looking for the long term rather than the short term (as George did in trying to stop the run on his bank), thinking of others equal to how much you think of yourself, of standing up for what it right and opposing what we know to be wrong, and forgiving ourselves our mistakes when we are less than perfect—every little choice affects the lives of others in ways we can never see and with results we can never know. Now, the very lives of everyone in the town we live in probably doesn’t depend immediately on what choices we make…or at least we think it doesn’t…but does it need to be a whole city before we worry about our choices. What if the choices we make only affect a dozen, or half a dozen, or even only one other person (although I doubt any of us have such little impact)? Even if only one, think about the power that our choices have, think of how much we are worth if we can make the world better for only one other person.
Let me go off on my New Age tangents for a second. An often overlooked point of George Bailey’s life is how important his antagonist, the cartoonish Mr. Potter was. Without Potter George would have left Bedford Falls, he would have gone to college, probably been a mid-level architect, never married Mary, never been the person who fought to help those around him, never been the great man he was. Destiny put in his path a force that would bring out the best in him rather than let him steer toward the mediocrity of what is considered success by the standards of the hoi polloi. So next time you run across someone you really hate…ask yourself, have they been placed there to bring out something good in you…and are you letting that good portion come out?
On the other hand, while not a major point, I just need to point out that this movie perpetuates one of the worst spiritual lies of all time. It suggests that humans become angels when they die. I believe angels do exist, but in no religious or serious spiritual belief on Earth have angels ever been human.