My husband knows its Christmas when I bring out the old school movie collections (and a box of tissues) - which include both the old AND new versions of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ - because I think both films are both unique and Christmas-ey in their own way. But one of my favourite all-time films – which is definitely a must at Christmas is the 1946 film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.
If you haven’t seen it, you are missing out. Ah, George Bailey, such a great man! And the message is an awesome reminder (particularly in this consumer fuelled season) of what really matters – and guess what? It’s not your number of instagram followers or the amazing gifts you are getting this year from amazon.
While I would love to go through every plot point about how this film reminds me of my own selfishness every year - there are some sweet life lessons we can take from the film that aren’t so obvious:
1. Kindness can be the key to your success
Did you know the idea of the film began with a Christmas card? The story of the film was based on a short story called The Greatest Gift. The author Philip Van Doren Stern had no luck selling to publishers and decided to give the the story as a gift to his closest friends for the holidays and printed up 200 copies and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000. Is that not just the most perfect start for a humble but life changing film? It’s also incredibly encouraging – even when you are at the end of everything you thought you could possibly do and think you have to put a dream to bed – an act of kindness never goes unnoticed and may just end up being the key to unlock major success in your life.
2. Keep going – even when people don’t get it
When the movie first premiered, it tanked – majorly. This wonderful American classic wasn’t a hit at first and actually left director Frank Capra over $500,000 in debt and he struggled to put together funds for his next film: State of the Union. The lesson here is: people don’t always recognise genius straight away – but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share yours. When I first started writing, it could be really upsetting if my piece wasn’t picked up for a column or it didn’t have much engagement online. But I’m still writing – my desire to write (and the enjoyment of clicking publish) is stronger than my need for others’ affirmation. People won’t always get you or what you are offering – and that’s their loss – but don’t let it keep you from doing your thing.
3. Haters gonna hate.
I love this. The FBI took issue with the greatest feel good films of all time. In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.” Personally I think the FBI got too much rum in their sweet tea that week! But the point is: some people will always take issue with something you do. That’s life. But they really are the 1 per cent. People need what you have to offer – so just totally ignore the haters and focus on the ones cheering you on.
4. You never know when something is going to be a life changer
Director Frank Capra was shocked at how popular the film eventually became. When interviewed he said: “It’s the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.” He just liked the idea. What do you ‘just like’ to do? Not everything you do, own, produce or start will become be a life changer – but if you keep going long enough – something you do will.
5. You are living the dream already – just change your perspective
The character of George Bailey touches us because we all want to ‘do great things’ and sometimes we can look back and question our place in the world. We forget that every person we know, work with and love – is affected by us, and the world would be less awesome without you in it.
When you take a step back: it really is a wonderful life. The greatest moments in life are the simple ones we share with those dearest to us. If you have one true friend, a family who loves you and a roof over your head then you are living the dream – and everything else is just trimmings. I have to remember this when the heating in our old apartment goes out or the electricity bill is a little high – because it’s our old apartment and we have what all that we really need.
After watching this film, if you don’t feel grateful for your place in this world and don’t want to run and squeeze your loved ones, then all I can say is: Merry Christmas Mr Potter!* Every person really does leave a mark on this earth - it’s just up to us what that mark will look like.
*If you think I am talking about Harry Potter, you really should to expand your knowledge of classic films.