Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, December 10, 2004

So Close...

...to finishing up with my end-of-the-quarter grading, filing, and what not. Not there yet, very tired, and (he admitted, blushing) I'm distracted by the fact that KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II just came out for X-Box. (In case anyone was thinking about giving me that as a Christmas gift--don't bother. Other gifts will be welcome: cash is always in good taste.)

As we settle into the holiday season, let me offer a suggestion of those of you who scoff at the treacle of It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, we've all seen it, and probably loved it as kids, but repeated exposure has led every adult I know to roll his/her eyes at it, grumbling about how mawkish it is. But, see, here's the thing--I think the title is ironic. Or at the very least, much, much darker than anyone realizes. People forget that this was the first movie Capra shot after getting back from World War II. And, I'm sorry, you don't get back from a war--any war, but especially one as apocalyptically huge as that one--and view life through rose-colored glasses. You just don't. So I don't think that the 'message' of the film is this beautiful, touching, life-affirming statement that Every Life Matters, and that We All Change The World In Miraculous Ways We Don't Appreciate. Because, if you think about it, a world that could go so horribly, miserably wrong at the loss of one man is a world in serious f--king trouble to begin with. I mean, the town flirt becomes a whore because George isn't there to smile at her occasionally? Really? (I will set aside the idea that Donna Reed's catastrophic fate as 'an old maid' is sexist--it is, but I really think the point is that she's become an emotionally dead, miserable person, not because she never married at all, but because she never met someone--anyone--who spoke to her the way George does. It's not the fact that she didn't marry that's horrifying--it's the fact that clearly she's lost the ability to love; she's the neurotic parallel to Violet's whoredom.) And let's not forget the serious--and I think, from Capra's perspective, quite realistic--fact that George's absence causes the death of dozens of soldiers because he's not there to save his brother. Capra had seen just such "for the loss of a nail" butchery in the war, and the idea must have sickened him.

So I don't think the movie is nearly as warm and fuzzy as it appears to be. I think it's quite dark indeed. If the world is on the razor's edge of George Bailey between liveable and dystopia--and if we consider that angels don't interfere--that George would indeed have succeeded in his bid for suicide in the real world--then dear God, are we in serious trouble. If we consider how f--king close we all are to having our lives utterly destroyed, and by the most random and uncontrollable circumstances--hey, if George isn't there to catch the pharmacist, an innocent child dies--how many pharmacists prepare their prescriptions without supervision?--and who knows what lives that kid would have saved?--then the 'wonder' of life is that it goes on at all. There's a lot at stake at this movie--and while the world of the film may end happily, we better damn well realize that our world is not that world. We do not have Clarence to jump in and save us. We may not have George Bailey to haul us out of our spiral into despair or our slide into that frozen lake. In short, we're lucky we're not all on that bridge--and in the real world, most of us are. That we manage to hang on is a miracle--and perhaps, meagrely comforting--but this is not a cute, fun-filled family film. It is, I think, a quite sober reflection on the unpredictability of fate, and the fear that needs to make us cling to what we love while we still have it, because--absent the very ordinary and very lose-able presence of George Bailey--we could lose it all.

Not a treacly film, at all.


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