It’s a Wonderful Life is considered by many to be the greatest Christmas movie ever made (and some would even say greatest movie).
There is something that resonates about the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). In the beginning, he has all these big dreams of the places he’s going to go, the money he’s going to make, the people of importance that he will have in his Rolodex.
But as his life progresses, it becomes clear that he will never enjoy any of the things that he imagined he would as a child and later a young man.
In the end, no man is a failure who has friends, and that’s a lesson that his guardian angel, Clarence, teaches him on a fateful Christmas Eve night.
As festive as the movie is, and as religious as the man in the George Bailey role was, though, there are a couple of surprising theories now circulating about the hidden messages in It’s a Wonderful Life.
For starters, there is the theory that Frank Capra’s holiday classic pushes an atheist agenda.
According to a recent piece in the Guardian, It’s a Wonderful Life is “the least religious but most humanist film you could ever see.” These are the words of site writer David Wilson.
Wilson believes that the film “suggests people should fix their problems on Earth rather than waiting for God to help out,” the New York Post summarizes.
On the George Bailey character, Wilson says that despite the fact he prays to God at one point in the film, he “is not religious at all, but simply a man trying to find transcendence in the routine of his life and in his duties to his family, friends and community.”
Furthermore, director Capra, a Catholic, “had a lifelong apathy towards” his religion and “the movie’s religious characters and references seem superficial and insubstantial, or simply whimsical in comparison to the action and characters that dominate the central narrative of the film.”
A second theory in the Post story states that it was also considered somewhat Communist shortly after its release.
Referencing a 1947 memo written one year after It’s a Wonderful Life hit theaters, the Post pulls this passage.
“With regard to the picture ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture.”
The source said Communists relied on this “trick” to subtly get their messages across. However, the line of inquiry came to a close, the Post states, “when a witness liked by the HUAC, ex-Communist screenwriter John Charles Moffitt, testified.
“I would right now like to defend one picture that I think has been unjustly accused of Communism,” Moffitt stated. “That picture is Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The banker in that picture, played by Lionel Barrymore, was most certainly. . . a snarling, unsympathetic character. But the hero and his father, played by James Stewart and Samuel S. Hinds, were businessmen, in the building and loan business, and they were shown as using money as a benevolent influence.”
While you would be hard-pressed to find many Americans, or fans of It’s a Wonderful Life in general, who might agree with the two assessments, the theories are representative of what great film is supposed to do.
Get people thinking about what the filmmakers and talent are trying to do with their project and asking the question, “How does this speak to the human condition?”
Communist, atheist, or Christian — It’s a Wonderful Life has managed to do just that for decades. But what do you think, readers? Is It’s a Wonderful Life a piece of atheist or Communist propaganda? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
[All Images via It’s a Wonderful Life screen grab]