The Countermarch

Freedom From Obligation

For many Americans at or near the mid-century mark of their lives, Frank Capra has shaped their understanding of the meaning of Christmas in a way that only Charles Dickens could possibly rival.  Of all of his films, It’s a Wonderful Life was Capra’s personal favorite, but even though it was nominated for Best Picture in 1947 (as well as four other Academy Awards), it owes its influence on my generation to a clerical error that let the copyright on the film lapse in 1974.  For almost 20 years, until Republic Pictures figured out a way to assert copyright once more, It’s a Wonderful Life was shown as frequently from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day as A Christmas Story is today.

It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol share roughly the same premise: Through supernatural intervention, a man’s heart is changed on Christmas Eve.  Yet there are significant differences.  George Bailey is seeking death, while Ebenezer Scrooge is deathly afraid of dying.  George has made the lives of those around him better, while Scrooge’s influence on others has been minimal at best, and more often negative.  And the endings of the two tales reflect these differences: George changes his mind and embraces the life he has been living because, well, it’s wonderful, while Scrooge discovers that the only way to cheat death is to begin...

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