It’s been a difficult year for all of us, there’s no doubt about that. We finally reach the end of the holiday period, but it’s not the holiday period we wanted – although it is the period we expected. We’re here in America at the end of a year of suffering, to find more. We were told that the VIDOC would be gone by Easter, which is not the case, we were told that it would leave with warmer weather, which is not the case.
But like every holiday season, I look at the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I wrote about it in my Personal Favorites series – it’s not just my favorite Christmas movie, it’s one of my favorite movies, period. I can talk about anything in this movie until the cows come home. Every time I watch the movie, I find something new to appreciate; a character I hadn’t paid attention to, or a well-read line I hadn’t noticed. He brings me an abundance of joy every year. This is an important end-of-year tradition that I will maintain in 2020.
In case you haven’t seen the movie: It tells the story of George Bailey, who is visited by an angel on the worst night of his life and shows him a world in which he would never have existed – what is shown to him is a violent dystopia, a world in which nothing is normal. When he returns to his real life, he comes back with an incredible will to live. The scene in which George returns to the world is the most true representation of joy in a film I have ever seen.
I see a lot of people online saying that we shouldn’t wait until 2021 as if we can curse it – and I understand that logic, but this awful, awful, nine-month moment is finally coming to an end. Things don’t happen first. January will be back to normal, and I don’t think it will be back to normal on the 21st. January will be back to normal, and the sooner we realize that, the better. But in the end all this madness and sickness, and the suffering it causes, will come to an end.
When we finally go back to our daily lives, when things get back to normal, when we can get out and have our loved ones around, we need to go back to our daily lives with the same joy and dedication that George Bailey came to Bedford Falls with.
In January I wrote an article about Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and the lessons I learned from it: Everything has an end, but not the memories. A good way to deal with grief is to thrive on memory and remember what you loved in what you lost; grief is a necessary part of life that makes it more worth living because you can remember how good things were. The Beautiful Life teaches a similar lesson in a different way: life is worth living because the world is much worse than without the existence of a human being. One film wants us to appreciate what we had in the past because it’s important to think about it, the other wants us to appreciate what we have because life is so terrible without it.
What strikes me at the end of the film is how happy George is when he comes home and finds the bank clerk and the cop:
(George enters his house and sees Mr Carter’s bank inspector, a policeman, a photographer and two reporters.)
George: Hello, bank clerk!
Carter: Mr. Bailey, there’s a sticking point!
George: I know, $8,000!
Officer: George, I’ve got a little piece of paper here.
George: I bet it’s a warrant! Isn’t it great? I’m going to jail!
And the expression of this sentence is really amazing, because when you read it on paper it may sound sarcastic, but it expresses it with such euphoria that it seems incredibly sincere. It is hard for me to think of a time in my life when I have experienced such joy.
This beautiful life offers a real spectrum of emotions – it is unlucky to lose large sums of money and see the world without your existence. But he also has an unstoppable joy of life. In the same way, 2020 and the pandemic have brought us to our collective low point – and now that we are slowly getting back to normal, we can understand how exciting it is to just live.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone! Stay safe there and bring George Bailey’s enthusiasm into your post-pandemic life when it happens.
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