Patrick Gallagher | December 26, 2018
Editor's Note: This piece is part of "12 Days of Classics," a holiday series drawn from the magazine's archives and published at magazine.nd.edu from Saturday, December 22, 2018, to Wednesday, January 2, 2019. Merry Christmas!
I first encountered It’s A Wonderful Life about 30 years ago at Notre Dame. In our sophomore or junior year, one of my friends was shocked to learn that I, the film buff in our group, had never even heard of this classic holiday movie. So when WGN aired it near Christmas, he reserved the Zahm Hall basement party room and we invited our friends to the screening.
We loved the movie. It was great to be with these friends and watch the story of a man who did more good than he knew. When the movie ended, after his friends had come to George Bailey’s rescue, someone pointed to one of the Farley girls who, never one to hide her emotions, was crying profusely over the happy ending. This distraction gave the rest of us a chance to surreptitiously dry our own eyes.
That night in that room with those friends has remained part of my experience with the movie over 30 years of watching. And after all those viewings, and what I’ve picked up each time I’ve watched it, I’ve come to realize that the movie ends the way I first watched it: with friends.
As those friends and I were watching George Bailey’s life story, I’m sure we weren’t looking 30 years down our own road — and we certainly weren’t thinking of ourselves ever being as old as George was in the movie (an age we passed a decade ago) or thinking about the situations we would be in, with our own responsibilities, our own compromises. No, the 20-year-old me wasn’t looking forward, but the 50-year-old me is looking back, wondering: Have I become George Bailey?
I believe It’s a Wonderful Life is like America’s mirror. I can’t be the only viewer who imagines I see something of my own situation represented there.
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