In the past few years, my cousins and I have taken to a new tradition. Like so many, we watch It’s A Wonderful Life. But we watch it as it was meant to be seen–in a movie theater, on a huge screen. The Brattle Theater in Cambridge plays it every year, and no matter how cold or snowy it may be, there’s always a big line outside before showtime.
A lot has been written It’s A Wonderful Life, and its place in many a movie lover’s hearts. Here’s why it resonates with me. It’s one of the few holiday films that focuses as much on sorrow as it does on cheer. Yes, it’s a Christmas movie–but one where the lead character, George Bailey, spends a good deal of time contemplating suicide. It’s a movie that dares to show that not everyone is full of cheer during the holidays. Here’s the scene that gets me every time: Jimmy Stewart, as George, slouched in a bar, praying to God, “show me the way.”
Whenever I see this, I think, “I’ve been there.” And I cry. I myself have attempted suicide. I know so damn well how George Bailey feels. I also know how he feels when he gets to see what life would be like without him. Especially when depression has me in its grip, it’s hard for me to see the impact I make on those who know me. But whenever I watch It’s A Wonderful Life, I think about the differences I’ve made in people’s lives. I know that if I ever made a successful suicide attempt, many people would be deeply hurt. I don’t want to hurt them. That’s one of the things that keeps me fighting.
So, as over-the-top as it is, I love the film’s finale, too. To me, the holiday cheer is so genuine here. It’s earned, and not forced. Above all, it’s a validation of a fact that is often hard for those of us with depression to understand. As painful as it is, sorrow eventually lifts. And true joy is possible.
On top of that, isn’t it nice to know that even a bumbling angel can get his wings? How cool is that?