Rated R. Running time: 2 hours, 10 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 8-; Language 8; Sex/Nudity 0.
Our star rating (1-5) 5
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never fail you nor forsake you.”
This Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed film shows up on the small screen every December. And well it should, being such a sentimental classic that fits in perfectly with the Advent/Christmas season. Have you taken advantage of Frank Capra’s classic? (I ask this because one reader of sophisticated film tastes told me not so long ago that he had never watched the film because he feared that it would be too corny. I urged him to check it out for himself.) One year I looked through TV listings and found that one could view it over 30 times. Now we have it on DVD, with the possibility of showing it at any time and place.
Christmas is more the setting of the film than its theme, the story really being about a man finding that his true destiny is right where he is and what he is, a small town banker, rather than a traveler or adventurer in some distant and exotic place that he had dreamt of. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey discovers that wealth is to be counted by the number of rich relationships one has, rather than by piles of money. Unfortunately his archenemy Potter, also a banker, but one who wants to control the life of Bedford Falls, never discovers this. The result is that Potter winds up all alone, whereas George is surrounded by family and friends, with his brother toasting him as “The richest man in town.”
For a meditation based on the film see my book Praying the Movies II (No. 22 “The Richest Man in Town,” pp.165-170). Below are some more Scripture passages and a few questions that a group could use in exploring its themes and issues:
Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.
The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
1) Why do you think this film, which failed at the box office, has become so popular? How do you think its naïve concept of goodness speak to our cynical age?
2) What seems to be its view of God and the cosmos?
3) What is George Bailey’s dream? What gets in the way each time he sets out to follow it? How is each of these a call to duty for George? Would you say he has been faithful to duty? How could we say that George has followed a “cruciform” life style? At what points in the film do you see a “cross” for him to take up?
4) What motivates Potter? How is he a taker, rather than a giver? Does he seem satisfied or happy? Will he ever be?
5) How does Potter tempt George? Why do you think George almost gives in? Have you been tempted to work for someone or do something you do not feel right about because the reward is attractive?
6) What wears George down? Have you felt that way at times?
7) What do you think of Clarence as an angel? Not your Christmas pageant variety? How can he be seen as carrying to George the message of Galatians 6:9? Have you ever thought what the world might be missing if you had not been born? (Or have you been engaged in church or neighborhood so little that you really would not be missed? Sobering thought?)
8) How is George’s brother’s toast to “the richest man in town” true to Scripture?
This is an edited version of a review from the Fall 2005 Visual Parables.