Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Thoughts ‘13—It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) ****

NR, 130 min.
Director: Frank Capra
Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Philip Van Doren Stern
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Todd Karns, Samuel S. Hinds, Mary Treen, Frank Albertson, Virginia Patton, Charles Williams, Sara Edwards, William Edmonds, Lillian Randolph

My father was an alcoholic. I’m not sure how much this impacted other aspects of his life. It only affected mine to a noticeable degree on a few occasions. One occasion was the last time he ever took a drink. He was pulled over and arrested for DUI in the early morning hours of my 13th birthday. Although this was the only time his drinking really disrupted anything in my life; it was strange and confusing, but not some sort of character crushing experience for me. For my mother, I’m sure it was the last straw. If he hadn’t changed then, my life would’ve been very different from there on out.

My father did change immediately. I don’t know if it was the timing of this particular screw up or what, but from that point on he was never just my father anymore. This fact was exemplified only a week later on Christmas Eve. Santa was a distant memory for my brother and I by that point, but my parents still practiced the illusion of someone leaving presents for us on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure why, but my mother and brother went to bed particularly early that Christmas Eve. It was sort of unspoken that Dad and I were going to take care of the whole Santa thing.

It was about ten at night and neither of us was ready to go through the Santa motions just yet, so we flipped through the television channels and for some reason a black and white movie caught our eyes. We didn’t know which movie it was, because we had missed the title card, but the opening credits had just finished up, so we settled in. This was on PBS, because it was before the film had been rediscovered and started getting play everywhere. Again, we didn’t even know what film it was, but we soon learned about George Bailey and were drawn into his wonderful life.

Dad and I watched the whole thing. We never agreed to verbally. I didn’t ever plan to watch the whole thing, but it was something that just happened. After it was over, we set up a guitar stand for my brother and I don’t even remember what my Santa present was that year, but we set it up as well. And, without much spoken between us throughout the evening, we went to bed.

We had bonded in a way that we never had before that night. We were equals for the evening. We were friends even, not like father and son so much as just two guys enjoying an evening together. I don’t think that would’ve happened without his mistake a week earlier. I also don’t think it would’ve happened without the intervention of this classic holiday movie. Our relationship changed that evening through a series of unique situations and the message of this movie, which my father did eventually recognize as “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

From that point on, my father and I watched this movie every year, even after I had moved out, gone to college, and started a family of my own. This year marks the third I’ve watched the movie without my father, and yet that unspoken bond that developed between us that fateful Christmas Eve is still there just as strong as when he was alive. I’ll never watch this movie without associating it with my father, and that’s more than fitting considering it is about how much a man impacts the lives around him.

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