Sunday, December 02, 2012

Virtual Advent Tour: George Bailey Lassos the Moon

Greetings! Welcome to my blog for the Virtual Advent Tour.

There's an episode of M*A*S*H called Dr. Pierce and Mr. Hyde. In it, after shift upon exhausting sleepless shift in the O.R., Hawkeye has a bad case of insomnia.  Not only is he grumpy and irritable, he is also exceedingly sentimental.  He remembers the beautiful origins of Bing Crosby's 1943 hit, "I'll Be Home for Christmas."  In the preceding war before the American involvement in Korea, the song was a beautiful reminder to the troops overseas of the holiday they were missing back home. Indeed, to this day, it is embraced by military operatives around the world. To Hawkeye, who knew little of peace before the war that he is currently serving in came to pass, it is a melancholy shift to nostalgia and a heartbreaking moment wherein he breaks down in front of Radar, remembering its potent emotional impact:

........Hawkeye: (To Radar) World War II--a lot of nice songs came out of that war. (Singing) I'll be home for Christmas...You can plan on me...(speaking again...I remember lying on the rug listening to them sing that on the radio. I can still smell the rug. (singing)Please have snow...and mistletoe..and presents on the tree...(speaking) A lot of very touching songs came out of that war............

In 1946, the war was a very recent and imminent memory. Those who had served so dedicatedly were now back on home soil and many had difficulty seeing toward an optimistic future when the pain and trauma of their experience were always freshly exhumed in their mind.  To this, Frank Capra added his own brand of redemptive optimism with his telling of It's a Wonderful Life : arguably the greatest Christmas film of all time. 

It's a Wonderful Life, upon its inception, was not necessarily pegged as a Holiday film; but one can see why it was easily appropriated as one. For one, it was easily available in the public domain when television stations began showing movies and it was one film that even the most basic cable stations could afford to screen.  Thus, it was an easy and beautiful way to get the family around the television set as the radio-listening/carol-singing days of old gave way to the new medium of entertainment.  Also, it has so many of the themes and archetypes we enjoy in our Christmas fare: from the Grinch/Scrooge character of Mr. Potter, to the kindly angel Clarence to the residents of a small, snow-filled town singing carols around a piano on Christmas Eve.

While most of the story does not take place at Christmas time, as is traditional with, say, the Hallmark fare of its ilk, its themes are incredibly resonant: especially for a world reconciling with the devastation of a recent war.  

There was a new wave of optimism and a new brand of Americana ushered in by the relentless hope of a story-teller such as Capra.  Who wouldn't want to trade the travesties of war for the triumph of goodness and the human spirit? George Bailey, the dreamer at the centre of the story and, likewise, the embodiment of the American ideal of hope, peace, love and the familial way, learns he is richer than he could ever have imagined possible.  The American dream is changing and the idyllic world of a small town with a beautiful, crumbly old home and a wife happy in the kitchen with an apron and a few  ankle-biters to tug on its strings, was just the type of revery forged in the minds of the young men recently released from service.

George Bailey is a hometown hero, yes; but he is also a home-front hero: a glimmer of the life that can be during what is hoped to be a permanent ceasefire.  

The movie does well at contrasting the recent War with the optimism of a nation.  George Bailey suffers from partial hearing and cannot enlist with his countrymen. His brother, Harry, however goes on to become a war hero.  While the celebration of Harry's homecoming is laureled around the streets of Bedford Falls, it is ultimately the triumph of the man who had to stay behind who is celebrated and revered at the end.   Capra does well at balancing the fresh tribute to the men who served with those who stayed at home.  George Bailey is not white-feathered for his inability to serve; rather he is seen as the understated hero he is. It is revealed, during the iconic flashback where George learns of his impact on so many lives, that had George not saved Harry from the icy water during a tobogganing accident in childhood, Harry would never have had the opportunity to save so many lives during the War.  It is an interesting and compelling parallel, yes; but also a lifeline for those who had experienced the War on either side of the Atlantic. 

There is no stigma in this wholesome story, there is only hope for the dawning of an era where the American man can pick up the pieces of his life; where redemption of past wrongs can be erased with the recognition that all you can take with you is that which you leave behind.  I like to imagine young men who had committed atrocious acts in the name of War watching this film upon its opening and feeling cleansed in the knowledge that this is a life they paved the way for.  This is what they fought for: this relentless and spirited optimism so fully cumulated in an uplifting Christmas scene.

Readers of this blog know my passion for Christmas carols and religious music and, for me, the pinnacle of this redemptive tale occurs in the gorgeous musical setting wherein the patrons of the Building and Loan shower grace upon their downtrodden hero and purchase his redemption with their goodwill and monetary gifts.  As Hark! The Herald Angels Sing proclaims the joy and abundant life purchased by God's gift of his Son to a broken world, so do the residents of a small community recognize the selfless life-long acts of their saviour. 

George Bailey once thought of lassoing the moon; of traveling the world and making his name afar; but the greatest gift he receives is the knowledge that the kindness and smallest action can ripple through generations and that one life well-lived saturates the lives of others in a way that human understanding will never grasp. What better Christmas theme than this?... no matter how you celebrate the Holidays.

By the time that Hawkeye fictitiously recalls the music of the previous War during his service in Korea, the small splice of peace shown in Bedford Falls has slivered and decayed and his country is once again in the midst of War. George Bailey and Bedford Falls and the Capra-brand of optimism seems far, far away; but the passionate recollection of a life well-lived, and for service men and women, a life well served, chimes on with the bells and the carols and the acts of cheer.  

The other stops today: 

kelley @ the road goes ever ever on
Tasha @ Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books as


sprite said...

Beautifully put.

Belle Wong said...

Lovely post. It's a Wonderful Life is such a wonderful movie for this time of year.

Rachel said...

thanks so much, both of you, for dropping by my blog. I wish you a Merry Christmas and I hope your plans include a revisit with this marvellous story :)

Marg said...

What a lovely post!

I haven't ever seen this movie, but I feel like I love it already given that so many people I know love it.

Chrisbookarama said...

I haven't watched this movie in ages but I love it.

Kailana said...

Great post! I really must watch It's a Wonderful Life for myself! This year should be the year...

Susan said...

What a lovely post, Rachel. So many people love It's a Wonderful Life, and I am now trying to think if I've seen that M*A*S*H episode!

Merry Christmas :-)

Tami said...

One of my top 5 Christmas movies! And love M*A*S*H too. Great post.

Rachel said...

i hope everyone who has yet to see this amazing film does so immediately!!! it will restore your faith in humankind :)

kayerj said...

well said! I enjoy MASH, the songs you mentioned and "It's a Wonderful Life" has always been one of my favorite Christmas movies. stopping by from Virtual Advent tour. Have a very merry Christmas, Kelley at the road goes ever ever on

Joy Weese Moll said...

That scene with everyone singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" always makes me cry -- even if I just catch the tail end of the movie and see only that scene. I love group sings!

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I adore this movie. I watch it every holiday season. It reminds me to live as Mother Teresa encouraged us, to live our small lives filled with great love.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this movie.

Here's my Virtual Advent: Uff da! Norwegian Fattigmands! I hope you will stop by!