It's a Wonderful Life! from a Christian Perspective
Several weeks ago, I (Dane) stumbled upon a fascinating television special about the making of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra Jr. hosted it and offered a rare glimpse into his father: Frank Capra—the man behind the classic 1947 Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
>>THE MAN BEHIND THE FILM
Capra Jr. shared that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a deeply personal film to his father. In the film, sitting in a director’s chair, Frank Capra tells us, “It’s the picture I waited my whole life to make.” Surprisingly, many of the audiences didn’t take to the film at first, thinking it was too sad for the Christmas season. And not surprisingly, the critics didn’t care for it either.
Frank Capra Jr. shares that “The theme that everyone’s life touches so many other lives was one that moved my dad more deeply than any other idea he worked with.” For these reasons and many more, Frank Capra was right when he foretold that “the picture will live on beyond our time.”
>>A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
At LifeHouse, we’ve staged our adaptation of Capra’s film many, many times over the last twenty years. When I (Wayne) wrote our musical version, I didn’t need to push and mold the story to fit with LifeHouse’s Judeo-Christian mission.
Whenever I watch our musical version, I can’t help but think of the many biblical themes that meet the hearts and minds of our audiences.
>>TO BE REMEMBERED
At a recent meeting, one of my staff members, Jennifer Keeney, brilliantly made application to us from our show “It’s a Wonderful Life!” She picked up the theme of remembrance. Every human being has a desperate longing to be known or remembered.
Keeney noted that when George Bailey learns everyone has forgotten about him (or never knew him), he grows frantic.
Keeney did a little research and shared that we encounter thousands and thousands of people in our lifetime. According to one source, I found that we may have the opportunity to impact over 80,000 people in our lifetime! That’s quite the opportunity to leave a dramatic legacy: either for good or ill.
Sometimes I think about the impact Mr. Potter—the Scrooge-like banker of Bedford Falls—had on his town. Unlike George Bailey, Mr. Potter was like a metal vice—squeezing what he wanted out of the people who depended upon him.
Here’s a haunting question: if you had never existed, would the world be better for it? As far as we can tell, for Mr. Potter, the answer’s not a pleasant one.
>>WHERE HISTORY SMILES
We know the opposite is the case with George Bailey. Without him, the world is darker and with less hope. History longed for him to exist because of, among other reasons, how he offered himself for his people of Bedford Falls.
It’s not like he didn’t have dreams. He was the very definition of ambitious. He wanted to travel and do “something big and important”! Instead, at every opportunity to fulfill his dreams, he met the cries of his people who needed him.
He wasn’t obligated to help them. George didn’t cause their problems. But this is where history smiles: when a man doesn’t have to serve or sacrifice, but he does anyway. And yet, this leads to the darkest part of the story! When George gives up his money to the people in the town, he gives up his childhood dream to see the world, giving up a part of himself.
“I’m at the end of my rope,” George prays to God. Downtrodden, discouraged, the voice in his head tells him he’s “worth more dead than alive.” But you know the story, Heaven sends someone to rescue George, to help him see that his life indeed matters, subtly reminding us that our lives matter too.
No faith more than the Christian faith affirms the great worth of a human being and the significant impact we will make on those we encounter—whether for good or ill, whether we like it or not.
Just as God gave up his Son, and the Son willingly gave up himself, so George gives up himself. The Christian Story tells us that the man who chooses to serve others has placed himself on the path of greatness. And while George never escaped Bedford falls, I’m confident that we can consider him “big and important.”
As you enjoy this Christmas season, may you remember our Lord whose act of sacrifice will forever ripple through history. He is truly the Great one!
Wayne R. Scott is president of LifeHouse Theater in Redlands, CA.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and cast chaplain at LifeHouse Theater.