Life throws us its share of curves, but Word on Fire blog contributor Ellyn von Huben contends its still wonderful. Today she explores the emotional universality of a classic Christmas film and the connections we make when experiencing it together.
The other evening, we took a break from the ongoing debate over when to put up the Christmas tree to plunk down and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV. Though we own the DVD, I like to watch it when it is on broadcast television. The days of Advent are one of the times when I like the feeling of a shared cultural (though not altogether religious) experience with my fellow man, namely “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “White Christmas,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life. ”
“It’s a Wonderful Life” endures as one of the best Christmas movies. Sweet but not saccharine. As wingless angel Clarence said (and for this movie I willfully suspend my disbelief in the faithful departed becoming angels), “I like George Bailey.” George is a good man, tinged with sadness beneath the affable surface. One of my favorite lines: “You call this a happy family? What did we have all these kids for anyway?” (Some year I shall find a way to use that on a Christmas card in a way that my children won’t misunderstand and that won’t depress the recipients. George – and I – know the answer. But there is something cathartic about expressing the moment of doubt.)
Every time I watch, I notice something new. It was only recently that I noticed the prefigurement of old, embittered Mrs. Bailey running a boarding house when George exclaims about his last meal at the “ol’ Bailey boarding house.” There is subtle unspoken commentary on the way Catholics were regarded at the time, immigrant “garlic eaters” with sooo many children and maybe even a goat. And there is the simple scene of George and Mary sharing a phone that has more erotic wallop than the most explicit films of today. I’m still impressed with the economy with which a cast of characters is fleshed out. For instance, look at the ease with which Violet’s “loose” character was drawn from the very beginning:
Violet: I like him.
Mary: You like every boy.
Violet: What’s wrong with that?...