When the holiday season began a few weeks ago, my wife suggested we start introducing our 9-year-old son to some of the movie classics by watching them with him. I had to confess that some I had never seen before (Miracle on 34th Street), and others I had seen but it had been many decades since my last viewing (A Charlie Brown Christmas). So I was game, but when she mentioned It's a Wonderful Life, I rolled my eyes. I mean, I had seen it so many times before, and while it is truly one of my all-time favorites, did I really want to sit through it again?
But I relented, I watched it with both of them, and I am glad I did. And if you are a parent, and your child has never seen this movie, it really is worth it to watch it together.
If you are one of the few people in America who has never seen It's a Wonderful Life, here is a very brief synopsis. It was made in 1946 and stars Jimmy Stewart as the small-town owner of a family-run bank who dreams of leaving so he can explore the world in order to accomplish something "big and important." Several times he is on the way to doing just that, and each time something interrupts his plans at the last moment, and he instead remains there. He eventually marries, he and his wife have several children, and he manages to keep the bank afloat, even through the harrowing days of the Depression. At one point he is wrongfully accused of mishandling funds and faces bankruptcy, scandal and even possible imprisonment. Despondent, he is about to take his own life, but the people who love him have been praying for him, so God sends an angel, Clarence, to prevent his fatal act. When George states, "I wish I was never born," Clarence shows him what life in the town and elsewhere would be like had that been the case.
I'll leave it at that, because if you haven't seen it I don't want to spoil the remainder of the film for you.
I think it is a particularly important movie for young people to view because the messages it delivers are so powerful, the principle one being that every single life has value, that every person on the planet has the potential to impact others in positive, meaningful and even life-saving ways. The movie beautifully illustrates that so many times we do this without even knowing it; we are affecting others in beneficial ways without even realizing that we are doing so. The movie tells us, "This is what is important, not that you are well-known, or make a lot of money, or are a super-successful executive/sports star/singer/actor, or have a certain body type or a beautiful face."
Let's face it, our kids are growing up in a culture of celebrity. It's thrust into their faces 24/7. It's a Wonderful Life is counter-cultural, because it's a film about doing what is right in life, even if it isn't glamorous or adventurous or exciting or wealth-producing. It's a film about loyalty to family and friends, even when money and other temptations are dangled before your eyes. It's a film about putting your whole heart and soul into whatever task is before you, even if you can't see the immediate results. This is a message we all need to hear and take to heart, but young people in particular need to be exposed to this timeless truth in the hope that it will become one of the core beliefs for their entire life.
I have been working with children and teenagers for over 30 years, and it's hard for me to think of messages that are more important for young people today to learn, and it's hard for me to think of a film that does a better job of it.
One good question you may be asking: What if you are a family that follows a non-Christian faith, or no faith at all? Is It's a Wonderful Life still the right movie for your family to view? My answer: yes. Because while there are Christian references in the film, its positive and powerful themes transcend any one faith or belief system.
Even if you've seen It's a Wonderful Life once or many times before, see it again, with your children. You won't regret it; nor will they.