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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

We All Need a Reminder: "It's A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol" as Self Reflection

I hadn't watched “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) in almost ten years, but it used to be a household staple for my family. It’s no mistake that stories like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” both stories where a person needed a little perspective, take place around the holidays.

Two men argue on a snowy bridge

Wonderful Life was directed by Frank Capra (“It Happened One Night,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”) It was based on a short holiday story called The Greatest Gift, which was published as a pamphlet in 1939. And surprise, surprise, writer Philip Van Doren Stern was inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when he wrote it. The story was rightfully published a year later in 1944. Two years later it was translated to the screen in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.

A man and a woman look out the back of a car

Overall “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was met with bleak reviews, a reflection mainly of the heaviness of the film for the post-war audience. The film officially lost $525,000 for RKO. In 1947, the FBI released this memo “With regard to the picture It's a Wonderful Life, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists. [In] addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.”

A happy family stands in front of a tree

However, as the years went on and more and more audiences were exposed to “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it became a sensation. By the 1990s it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry that acknowledged its significance. 

The films films, in my opinion, challenge the way we live our lives. And invite us to look at life through a new lens. We can all take a leaf out of George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge’s book, and try to find more meaning, especially as the world around us continues to horrify. 

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