I have a holiday tradition that started six years ago when I moved out on my own. On Christmas Eve, I stay home alone, wrap my family's Christmas presents which I will deliver on Christmas Day, watch It's A Wonderful Life and cry. To some, this may sound sad, but I look forward to it every year. I don't cry because I'm sad that I'm alone on Christmas Eve. I cry because I LOVE EVERY SECOND OF IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. And there's something beautiful and refreshing to me about taking time by myself to experience the movie while prepping gifts for the people I love.
It's always interesting to see at what point in the film the tears will start flowing. The first time I watched the movie on my own it was when Young Mary leans over the drug store counter and says to Young George "Is this the ear you can't hear in? George Bailey, I'll love you til the day I die." I started crying there and didn't stop until the movie was over. There was also a year that I started crying right at the beginning when everybody is praying for George. That was a mess. But mostly now I don't cry for long jags, there are just scenes or lines that make me go into these heavy silent sobs. This can happen anywhere from when Mr. Gower beats up on young George in a drunken rage, to when Mary first sets eyes on George at the prom, to when George grabs Mary and tells her "i'm gonna do what I wanna do!" before caving in. And of course the undeniable moment when Harry calls his brother the richest man in town. How can a person not be moved by that?
I can't recite the whole movie by heart if it's not on, but while I'm watching it I can chime in at any point and do all the great lines. That's become a part of the Christmas Eve ritual as well. I really like everything that Young George says especially when he's dealing with violet ("HELP YA DOWN??") or Mary "Say brainless, don't you know where coconuts come from?"
The best scene in the whole movie though has to be the quiet moment between George and Mary after they move the Martinis into their new home. They're doing this great thing of setting up a family with a nice house, but all they feel in the moment is trapped in their lives as their friends have moved away and become more financially successful. It's all expressed as George shows his frustrations by kicking the car door closed. But DUDE, Donna Reed is your wife and that truly is a wonderful life. But you can tell in the scene that Mary is feeling the strain of her life as well, even though she loves her husband and children.
Another great thing about this tradition is that every time I watch the movie different things jump out at me. This year, it was how awesome Donna Reed is as Mary. George avoids her so much because he knows she's the most wonderful thing on the planet, but if he chooses her he has to compromise his other dreams! But she's so totally worth doing that! And also this year, I really felt for Uncle Billy. Usually i HATE Uncle Billy. He's kinda feeble-minded, and a bit of a jerk to boot. If he hadn't been so keen on sticking it to Potter about Harry's commendation, he wouldn't have lost the money and George would've been fine. Usually when George yells at Billy for losing the money, I feel it's deserved, but this time I really felt bad for the guy. He really can't help himself and it's so sad!
So now we put It's A Wonderful Life back on the shelf for another year. I look forward to another trip to Bedford Falls next year and wonder what turn of phrase or facial gesture will set off the waterworks next time. Until then, when the gym floor will inevitably open up and Mary will hilariously ask George why must he torture the children, I remember that outside of the film, it really is a wonderful life we lead, and that as Clarence would tell us, no man is a failure who has friends. Enjoy those wings, Clarence!