Where Readers & Writers Connect
by Sheila Hollinghead
Every Christmas, my family becomes slightly annoyed with me. At least, they pretend to be annoyed. Why? Simply because I insist we watch one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time–It’s a Wonderful Life.
It’s a Wonderful Life began as a 4,000-word short story entitled “The Greatest Gift.” Written in 1939 by editor and historian Philip Van Doren Stern, the story was rejected numerous times by publishers. Four years later, Stern decided to take matters into his own hands. He printed 200 copies of this tale of a man in despair who finds redemption and sent the story to friends and family as Christmas cards.
One of these “cards” came to the attention of a producer at RKO Pictures. RKO purchased the motion picture rights for $10,000 and the rest is history–repeated year after year in my home.
What is the appeal of this timeless tale? We identify with George. Most people have relinquished dreams and teetered at times on the edge of bitterness. George feels trapped, just as we often do, and wonders if his life has meaning. He ponders jumping into the icy cold river.
Before he can, he tells a strange man he wishes he had never been born. And the man grants his wish. When George explores this alternative reality of life without himself, he discovers he has made a difference in the world. He discovers this is the place he is meant to be. This is the life he was meant to live.
In the movie version, he actually succeeds in thwarting the schemes of Mr. Potter without fully realizing it until his guardian angel reveals it to him. This is the type of story we love–the story of a David and Goliath. George, an average man, stands against the most powerful man in Bedford Falls. Not only stands against him but wins.
George discovers that his life is a wonderful life and has been all along–even when he was in the depths of despair. The story and the movie adaptation answers the age-old question: What is our purpose here on earth?
We all have moments in the valley, moments when we do not see our purpose in life, when our hopes and dreams have been dashed, when we are trapped in circumstances beyond our control. Often, these moments are deceptive.
We can only see the reality when viewed from a different viewpoint, a viewpoint among the stars in the heavens. Then, we truly know, It’s a Wonderful Life—
even when our family grumbles about our movie choices!
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