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It’s a Wonderful Life

Directed by Frank Capra

USA, 1948

Cornerhouse, 17 December 2011

It’s a Wonderful Life

What Hilary Putnam said about Aristotle – ‘The smarter I get, the smarter Aristotle gets’ – you can apply also to Frank Capra.

To put it plainly, there are always new things that strike you about his films.  The thing that stands out a mile about It’s a Wonderful Life this time, in the light of Gary Speed’s recent passing, is that it’s about a good man driven to the edge of suicide.  Indeed, one can’t help but wonder whether the title might be ironic.

George (James Stewart) is saved only by the intervention of an avuncular angel named Clarence (Henry Travers), but of course angels don’t exist in real life.  In attempting to dissuade George from suicide, Clarence shows him the world as it would have been if he hadn’t existed.  It is an interesting ploy and, in effect, Clarence is using the ‘life is a social good’ argument against suicide.  Rather than the argument that you might have expected to hear from an angel: Life is God’s gift and it’s not yours to throw away, you ungrateful bastard.

Consider: we have various roles and responsibilities, our life has necessarily become enmeshed with other lives, those close to us.  So it is wrong to believe that suicide claims only one victim.  If you think it is OK to hurt and damage, confuse and do violence to your loved ones, to those you’ll leave behind, then fine, go ahead and kill yourself.  Otherwise, desist and seek help.

Naturally, George goes and does what is right.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a great film, which always moves and rewards.  It is playing as part of Cornerhouse’s Festive Favourites season all this week, details here.