I love the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.
I love watching George Bailey grow up and struggle to help a town he desperately wants to leave. I smile when George and Mary fall in love and move into an old abandoned house, when he’s in the business of helping people move into new homes. I love seeing Clarence, Angel Second Class, jump into the freezing water because George would jump in to save him. I love hating the miserly Mr. Potter, especially when he keeps the $8,000 that belongs to the Bailey Building and Loan.
Because It’s A Wonderful Life has become such a part of my Christmas traditions, I was surprised to learn that Jimmy Stewart almost declined the role of George Bailey. Having returned from his World War II military service, Stewart considered giving up acting as a career in lieu of something that might be considered “more important” to society. Conflicted over his decision, he sought advice from Lionel Barrymore, a seasoned actor in Hollywood. Barrymore encouraged Stewart to continue with acting and to accept the role of George Bailey, emphasizing the positive message of the movie. Fortunately, Mr. Stewart followed the advice of Mr. Barrymore and accepted the role of George Bailey. Ironically, Lionel Barrymore was also cast in the film as Mr. Potter, the evil rich nemesis of George Bailey.
Years ago, I wrote a paper on heroes and villains in movies, cartoons, and comics. In many fictitious worlds, heroes are all good and villains are all bad. If a villain repents, he often becomes all good (Like The Grinch, Scrooge, Anakin Skywalker, etc…) But in reality, only God is totally good and only Satan is totally bad. Most people in the land of the living are actually somewhere in between, even though their stories rarely create the conflict needed for best sellers and box office hits. So, how do we deal with this in storytelling? We create heroes and villains who are all good and all bad to continue the conflict to make the story interesting.
Unknowingly, we sometimes do the same thing in life.
I know I do.
I make people out to be all good or all bad because it enhances my own story. Life is just easier when there’s a villain. When there’s a bad guy in my life, it makes it easier for me to cast myself as the hero, the all good hero. Rather than striving for communication and understanding, it’s easier for me to blame my woes on those who are different from me, you know, the villains. When I’m struggling, I find myself creating Mr. Potters out of anyone and everyone who is an easy target. It’s a shame, because unlike the world of movie, cartoon, and comic book villains, behind the many Mr. Potters I’ve created are countless Lionel Barrymores, full of insight I just might need at just the right time.