Do You Like the End of “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Christmas time is here! Time to focus on family and helping the less fortunate—assuming you don’t get too swept up in the commercial, materialist, stressful holiday stuff.

I’m Jewish, and Chanukah just isn’t that big of a deal in my family, especially since the kiddies got older.

For me, Christmas has always been associated with movies, not gift exchanging. Like many Jews, growing up my family went to movies on Christmas. And if we weren’t at the movies we spent a lot of time in front of the tube watching films like Home Alone, A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life—over and over.

It’s a Wonderful Life is truly a touching masterpiece. It grounds you, reminding you to appreciate what’s really important in life—loved ones, friends, helping your fellow man.

For those of you who haven’t seen it (not sure how that’s really possible), George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, owns a building and loan and owes a bunch of money to the bank. The money has been “misplaced” because it was actually stolen by the evil Mr. Potter, the owner of the bank. As George ponders suicide in his desperate state, he is granted a wish by an aspiring angel to see what the world would be like if he had never been born. He eventually realizes that he has been immensely important to the lives of countless other people. He remembers how wonderful his family and friends are and decides that even if he goes to jail for his debt to the bank, he’s happy about what he has in his life.

At the end of the movie, George goes home expecting to be taken away in cuffs, but then a miracle happens. All of the people he’s helped over the years come to his aid. They come to his house and give him their own money so he can pay the bank.

Happy ending. He appreciates all the wonderful things he has in his life and now has money to pay back the bank, and even some left over for himself.

But is there a slightly conflicting message to the ending of this touching story? The movie’s conclusion is that money really isn’t important for happiness and meaning in one’s life—it’s the people you love and who love you. Yet still, at the end of the film, it’s money donated by his friends and clients, that solves George’s problem with the bank. Could the film still have had a happy ending if George didn’t get the money from his friends? Perhaps.

Question: Do you like the money donation part of the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life?

Alternative question: What are your favorite Christmas films?



Last Scenes of It’s a Wonderful Life

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13 thoughts on “Do You Like the End of “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

  1. avatarJerry Bayless

    It’s hard to suggest changes to a masterpiece, but maybe it would have been better if Potter had been exposed. The friends coming to George’s aid would still be good, but instead of the telegram from Sam Wainwright at the end, maybe an announcement from the Bank Examiner that Potter had been exposed by his trusted assistant. By not focusing on the donated money, but instead the generosity of the common people, the message would stay the same and also suggest that good trumps evil in the end.

     
  2. avatarGreg Sweet

    Have you seen the alternate ending they did on SNL? At the end they all figure out that old man Potter must have stolen the money and they all go over in a mob and beat the hell out of him. Hilarious!

     
  3. avatarShimmy

    Noah, I feel bad for you that Chanukah isn’t a big deal anymore. It is a joyous holiday for Adults and Children alike! There is much more to it than just gifts, dreidels and latkes…

     
  4. avatarDeborah Rudy

    I love the ending of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and it’s not just my favorite Christmas movie, it’s one of my favorite movies, period. Just think how far ahead of its time it was. In 1946 it took a lot of guts to make a film that addressed depression, despondency and suicide, even if a goofy angel named Clarence is used to soften the conversation.

    The “money ending” in the movie doesn’t diminish the value of the message in any way. The money is just a vehicle for selfless giving for all the characters involved. In a sense, this Christmas movie has a very Jewish message at its roots. The hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, has the word tzedek as its root. Tzedek literally translates to justice. When one gives charity, it is not a gift to the poor, it is simply the manifestation of doing what is right, what is just.

    All the decisions George Bailey makes in this film are grounded in doing what is right. Even when it means sacrificing his dreams and aspirations all along the way, George is compelled by a sense of justice. At the end, when his friends and neighbors come to his rescue, that, too, is a perfect example of tzedakah — behaving in a righteous and charitable manner.

    Oh, how I wish that there were more modern day George Baileys. How much richer the world would be if there were.

     
  5. avatarGeno DeVandry

    This is one of my all time top 3 movies. Every Christmas my wife, kids and I watch this movie. I have five grown children and my number two who is thirty called me last week to let me know what day he would be arriving for Christmas and wanted to know when we all were going to sit down and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I seem to always tear up at the end and kids love razzing me. I always ask myself, have I made the world better? Have I lived my life in away that gives it value and meaning?

    I like the ending and you could probably change it and it would not effect it’s value for me. What is important for me in this movie is the opportunity George has to see the world without him in it. This movie allows us all to consider changes for our lives with the new year upon us.

     
  6. avatarJerry Fair

    Noah,

    Greetings! I believe the ending of the movie was almost perfect. George got to see what the world would be like without him, and then his friends showed him how much he was loved. The money really didn’t matter, it was the feelings for George that stood out the most. The only thing that is truly missing in the movie is what others have commented about…. Potter should have gotten it in the end!

    Happy Holidays to you and your family!

     
  7. avatarLloyd Graff

    The movie is brilliant, inspiring and troubling. Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George is troubling because as great a guy as he is, he is also depressed and thwarted much of his life. Always at key moments in his life when he wants to escape provincial Bedford Falls he is stopped by circumstance or Potter. His business is hamstrung by witless Uncle Billy. Why didn’t he can that boob wit the crow?

    But that is the problem with George. He is a wonderful guy who is “stuck”. Capra has to bring in wanna be angel Clarence to pull George out of his depression and show him the beautiful life he has. The emotion in the movie (I cry every time) comes from George’s realization that his life has been worthwhile because of what he has given to others. The troubling part for me is that the thwarted and depressed George Bailey will take over once again. Will the money from his friends and acquaintances ultimately lift him out of depression or drift?

     
  8. avatarBen Guthrie

    Many viewers of a 1946 film had recently lived the desperation that George experienced. My grandma told me about feeding “bums” – her term, maybe common in the day? – who came to the back door, and then finding chalk marks on the sidewalk. Given their shared experience, I’ll bet the audience didn’t miss the point for lack of a realistic ending.

     
  9. avatarNoah Graff Post author

    Although I have slightly mixed feelings about the money, I think the message all comes together at the end when you see the book with the note from Clarence which says, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

    As I was writing this blog I also thought of Stewart and Capra’s other masterpiece of the ideal way to live one’s life, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Check this clip out from the end of the film. It summarizes the message perfectly. The importance of “Lost Causes”

     
  10. avatarJerry Johnson

    Gosh, this story sounds eerily familiar.

    There was this guy who owned a machine tool distributorship and owed a lot of money to the bank and employed a substantial number of people. His business’s cash flow was destroyed when the evil Obama minions created “the Crisis” to get Obama elected, and the economy crashed late in 2008, right after the best IMTS ever !!!

    Now, while he is not suicidal, he is waiting for his friends and customers that he so eagerly assisted in so many ways over the years to put some Christmas Love in his Stocking.

     
  11. avatarLloyd Graff

    Must blog again. This movie means so much to me. When I was in the hospital for heart surgery I had my own It’s a Wonderful Life experience as family and friends rushed to the hospital to support Risa and I. Fortunately, I survived and recovered to be able to savor the realization that my life had meaning for others. I really did think of Jimmy Stewart and the Frank Capra movie during the experience, but especially afterward. I do not recommend emergency heart surgery to get in touch with what is important in life, but I think I will watch my DVD tonite to reconnect me to those precious feelings of gratitude for the humanity that often lays buried inside us.

     
  12. avatarFred

    “created “the Crisis” to get Obama elected” And to think people who think like you will actually vote for Sarah Palin. You been smokin too much of that Dick Cheney brand of prime Afgahn weed aint you bro’ .

    I think the bizzare parallel is the TARP Fund, where as the government/taxpayers were called upon to bailout the large financial institutions. Regardless of the fact that TARP was instituted under the Bush administration, it has been sucessful.

     

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