I know you probably love It’s A Wonderful Life. I know it’s probably part of your family Christmas tradition or something. You’re supposed to love it. We’ve been told since childhood that it’s a wonderful slice of Capra-fuelled Americana, a holiday tale of love, fidelity and redemption, or something.
We just watched it, yet again, on a quiet Christmas Eve. Rather, Mrs. Weathereye watched it. I endured it. Man, I hate this movie. My problem with it is a simple one, and there will be spoilers here, so if you’ve never seen it, congratulations, Merry Christmas and let’s be best friends. Anyway, my problem with the movie is this: George Bailey is an asshole.
He isn’t supposed to be. The main character, played by Jimmy Stewart doing a pretty good Jimmy Stewart impression, is supposed to be this pillar of the community, the devoted son, brother, husband, friend, employer and high-risk mortgage broker, the hero of Bedford Falls, blah blah blah.
Except he isn’t. He’s quite a terrible person, in fact. After watching this movie for the eleventy-third time, I can now establish, conclusively, that George was a nasty, selfish, whiny, brutish jerk. It’s clear throughout the film; he’s cocky, mouthy, obnoxious and disrespectful, and has a tendency toward violent physical response.
- He throws rocks at the windows of a vacant house.
- When he can’t open someone’s gate, he kicks it until it gives.
- Sex pervert alert: despite her clear protestations, George forces his Jimmy Stewart lips on a woman while she’s on the phone with another guy.
- Trouble at work leads George to insult, berate and torment his children and scream at his wife.
- Superdad: “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?” The movie doesn’t mention it, but all four Bailey kids grew up to be criminals, addicts, deviants and/or assholes.
- This is what George tells his weeping uncle, a simpleton who’s lost the business deposit: “Where’s that money, you silly stupid old fool? Where’s that money? Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison. That’s what it means. One of us is going to jail — well, it’s not gonna be me!” Sweet, eh?
- With children crying, wife concerned, the DA waiting to lay charges and his business about to sink into the snow, George goes to a bar and gets loaded.
- Then he drives drunk, crashes his car into the oldest tree in town, and disses the tree owner as he staggers away.
- Bert the cop tries to stop him from running wild, so George decks him. Yeah. George punches out the cop.
- When a teenaged girl suddenly finds herself naked and hiding in the bushes, he teases her and hints that he’ll sell tickets so policemen can come and see her business.
So. With all this example of dickery on the part of George Bailey, I find the whole point of the movie — that he’s this wonderful person who affected so many lives, whose very existence was a beacon of goodness and purity — to be completely wrong. It’s false. He’s a bitter, jaded, uneducated small-town schlub who keep sulking about how he didn’t get to put stickers on his suitcase. The story doesn’t hold water. And the idea that this is uplifting and inspiring falls flat.
In the end, Wendell Jamieson of the New York Times said it best, and echoes my feelings exactly: “It’s A Wonderful Life is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife.”