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Saturday, December 22, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life

I recently posted an annotated list of my favorite Christmas movies ("An Annotated Baker's Dozen of Christmas Movies"), and like most people, "It's a Wonderful Life" makes my list. Since then, I listened to a Research on Religion podcast in which Tony Gill discusses the movie with author Jon Sweeney ("Jon Sweeney on 'It's a Wonderful Life'"), who recently wrote an article about the movie. The discussion is interesting in part because Gill isn't a huge fan of the movie, but he was intrigued by Sweeney's article. Here's an extended description from the Research on Religion website:
Every December, millions of people tune in to watch the quintessential Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. The iconic scenes of George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) running through the town of Bedford Falls wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, and the ending where we hear an ornamental bell ringing to tell us that the hard-luck angel Clarence has finally received his wings, are familiar to almost everyone. Some critics have tagged the film with the moniker of “Capra-corn” in reference to its director — Frank Capra — and its over-the-top sentimentality. But is it more than just a movie that shamelessly pulls at our heartstrings? Is there a darker side to the movie? And are there deep spiritual lessons to be gleaned from the film. Author Jon M. Sweeney who recently penned the e-book, The Spiritual Life of George Bailey, joins us to answer these questions. We explore the films origins in a short story written by Philip Von Doren Stern that was sent out as a Christmas card in 1943 and quickly put upon the silver screen by Capra in 1945. And then it is off to stroll through the streets of Bedford Falls, looking at a variety of critical scenes in the film that highlight both the important characters in the film and hint at what is to come. We meet critical players such as George’s father, Mr. Potter, Mary, and Sam Wainwright. Regular viewers of the movie will be familiar with the story, though Jon spices up various points of the plot with his own insights about human nature. We are then treated to Jon’s fascinating interpretation of the second-half of the film as he shows us how the themes of temptation, resurrection, and salvation play out through the story. Jon then reveals a suprising detail about the ending of the film that will shed some new light on how you watch the last ten minutes. We don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so you will have to listen to the end of the interview. Jon finishes with a brief discussion about what the Capra classic might tell us about our own lives in contemporary times, reflecting upon our need for community and connectedness. He may have even convinced Tony, who is a devoted Die Hard fan, to watch the movie for the first time in at least ten years.
For those of you who prefer reading over listening, here's a link to the article that Sweeney wrote about the movie ("Signs of 'Life'"), and here's an extended version of the article that is available as an Amazon e-book ("The Spiritual Life of George Bailey") for $2.99 (free to rent for Prime members with a Kindle).

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