Just as there are only a small number of the very greatest symphonies, or paintings, or novels, so there are only a small number of truly great films. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of them, however—perhaps even the greatest film ever made. It has everything: good versus evil; liberal versus conservative (read: Tea Party) politics and economics; romance; idealism versus cynical selfishness; living and dying for ideals; love for the common man and contempt for the hard-bitten man of wealth and power; sacrificial love; the struggle to lead a good life helping others; faith and despair; and God’s providential care for those who selflessly work for His Kingdom on earth. And all this presented through believable, powerful, natural acting by everyone—James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, Beluha Bondi, Ward Bond, among many others. The music is by the peerless Dimitri Tiomkin, and the film is directed by one of America’s greatest directors, Frank Capra.
Here on film, made in 1946, is our current Tea Party politics portrayed in the guise of Mr. Potter, on a collision course with Democrats, in the guise of the Bailey family, whose nickel-and-dime savings and loan enables the little man to own a home and leave Potter’s slums. It’s a film we love to watch but hate to emulate: for it means that Profit is NOT king; indeed, that life is far more than mere profit, and that helping the working man obtain a house is more important than a bank’s bottom-line. It’s an iconic film whose message we steadfastly ignore, all the while praising the film. It’s a film Conservatives love to hate—or love in spite of its Christian message that people must come before profit; and that the health of one’s soul is more important than the size of one’s bank account—not a message in accord with the Tea Party’s socio-economic policy—or Trumps’ vision of America.
The film is almost 70 years old, yet its message is as fresh as a morning breeze and profound as life itself. Capra knew his Bible. He translated the New Testament into film—and its power to move one’s soul, to live like a Bailey and not a Potter (or Trump, or Murdoch, or Ryan), to fight for God’s kingdom on earth and not Satan’s (Potter), makes this a film for the ages—but most appropriately a film for the Christmas season, where love of neighbor trumps love of money and power, just as the Christ child will in time conquer darkness and sin. It’s a film after God’s own heart precisely because it reveals God’s own heart. Do we get the message?—love before profit. Love. Love. Love.
Len Sive Jr.