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'It's a Wonderful Life'


Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life

Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart, and Karolyn Grimes in the scene where a bell rings, signifying that Clarence the angel has earned his wings.

Public Domain

Asking Spiritual Questions:

Does your life really matter? What would happen if you’d never been born? The classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Liberty Films) asks audiences those questions as it presents the story of George Bailey (played by the incomparable Jimmy Stewart), who tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve but is saved by a guardian angel named Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) on assignment to miraculously show George why his life matters.

Famous Angel Quote:

A bell rings while George and his family and friends are singing near the end of the film, and George’s daughter Zuzu exclaims: “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Knowing that Clarence has finally earned his wings in heaven, George smiles and says: “That’s right, that’s right. Attaboy, Clarence!”

The Plot:

Clarence is a “second class” angel in training, and if he successfully completes his mission to help George, he can earn a promotion to first class and get his angel wings. George is a dedicated husband and father of four young children, as well as the generous owner of his small town’s building and loan. He’s loved and respected by many people, but when one of his employees loses an $8,000 deposit and George can’t account for what happened, he may be charged with fraud and fears that he’ll lose his business, which will cause his friends to lose their savings.

Despondent, George thinks that his $15,000 life insurance policy may make him “worth more dead than alive.” So after a bout of drinking at a bar, George crashes his car near a bridge and staggers to the edge of the bridge, intending to jump off and kill himself.

But before George can jump, Clarence appears and jumps into the water before George, prompting George to rescue him. After George performs the good deed, Clarence reveals that he is George’s guardian angel.

At first, George doesn’t believe that Clarence really is an angel. But when George bitterly says that he wishes he’d never been born, Clarence convinces George that he’s angel by getting God’s permission to show George what the world would be like without him.

The alternate reality that the film shows is a gloomy one. George learns that, if he hadn’t existed, his loved ones’ lives would be much worse. George’s brother Harry would have died in an accident as a child because George wouldn’t have been there to save him. George’s wife Mary would be a lonely spinster rather than a mother to four loving children. Many other people George loves would suffer as well.

After George sees what life would be like if he had never been born, he drives back to the bridge where he had intended to commit suicide and begs God to let him live again. God answers George’s prayer by having Clarence miraculously return George to the world as if the alternate reality hadn’t happened.

After Clarence convinces George that his life is truly worthwhile, George returns home to discover that the entire community has rallied around him to raise the money needed to avert the building and loan’s crisis. George has discovered the miracles of unconditional love and a God-given purpose for his life.

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