I find that if I don’t sit down on the couch and put my full attention on a movie that I miss a great deal of detail. Give it another try and don’t bake cookies or anything. Pretend like you are in a theater and maybe even turn your lights off and get popcorn and soda. Just wait until you find the time to relax. I think, too, that this is the kind of movie that someone might have to see a few times before they get it. The more I have seen it, the more I get it.
I think you were expecting (and maybe because of what you have heard/read) to see a movie that could have just as well been called George Bailey Meets an Angel Named Clarence. It’s a Wonderful Life is about George Bailey’s wonderful life, it’s about getting to know George and his reasons for doing things and what happens because of him.
George is like the guy in your hometown that has worked at the same job for 40 years and is a member of Kiwanas or Lions or Knights of Columbus. Just an ordinary guy, without whom our communities would fall apart. Maybe your local fireman/paramedic, maybe just a businessman. Well, if you look into the mind of those small town heros (who may never be called heros), there may be dreams in their hearts that they never got a chance to fulfill. Yet, they patiently do what they know they need to do for family and for community. Oh, they get fulfillment out of it. But, there is a little part of them that may feel like they are missing out. (Goodness knows, many a woman feels that way.)
Here is my take on the movie. The movie is about George, not about his suicide attempt, or meeting an angel, or his relationship with the angel. The point is to get to know George, what he wants, what he longs for, and what gets in his was of having it. George is a dreamer who has every intention of traveling and not settling down. He’s got plans and, in his heart of hearts, he doesn’t want anything to stand between him and his plans. (He admits that in the scene that was mentioned with Sam on the phone.) The plot, as it unfolds is perfect. It shows how George from childhood possess that wonderlust and yet possesses a heart of gold. We see that he has a weakness for love, compassion, and duty, that leads him away from all he longs for and builds for him a life so different that that he imagined. And how many of us have had that happen to us?! George seems happy in his life and almost seems to have put his dreams away.
Why would he consider suicide so quickly? Was is that sudden? Could it be that he realizes that the life he built was ruined and the one he dreamed of could no longer be? Many of us carry that hope that someday those ancient dreams we put away can be resurrected. Suppose George believed that one day he would “see the world” with Mary after the kids had grown. (Of course, knowing George he would put the kids through college instead!) I think that knowing that your business is about to be audited by a bank examiner, thousands of dollars are missing, and a beautiful woman was seen leaving your office around the same time is enough to shock anyone into doing something desparate. First he grovels to Potter, before he considers suicide. The thought of as he puts it, “bankruptcy and ruin” was enough to make him grovel to a man he hated to see his father grovel too (who he may have blamed for his father’s death). George is a man who knows that the entire community looks up to him, although he doesn’t think himself a big man, and what will that do to him and his family if he is found to be accused of stealing the money the folks in the community entrusted to him. His life has turned out so different than what he expected. He expected to travel, not be involved with the town, the people, a wife and kids. He expected to go to New York and build skyscapers. All that stuff was still down deep in the heart of him. Now the life he built is gone (he thinks) and he will go to prision. I don’t need to have anything other than the character of George Bailey tell me the reason for this plot twist of suddenly feeling like suicide. And watching the entire movie is what shows me his character (I mean the spirit of the man, not the role.)
Personally, I’m not much into the end of the movie anymore. In fact, I wouldn’t really say it “ties it all together”. Yes, it is a good plot twist to end the movie with and show the moral of the story. But I much prefer watching George live his life and make the choices he makes. So, actually, I don’t get why you would think the end is the best part. But, that’s just me. Oh, the very end is great, of course.
A few notes I want to mention. The financial state of the nation at that time was worse than now. We were coming out of the depresssion, but still bad. Another thought. There were no credit cards to rely on and bankruptcy was not as common or acceptable. And the morals of the time may seem innocent, but there are always corrupt or immoral people. I am 50 something and I’ve discussed this with my mother over the years. She is now 86. It may seem like a more innocent time, but the fact is that not everyone had morals. Movies did have stricter codes, and movies often had a moral to their stories. But, pretty much people are the same. It seems there more of a prevelance of moral attitudes and behavior and immorality and corruption tended to be hidden. But, people were still people.