So, what’s the best movie ever made? A subjective question, if ever there was one. That’s the magic of movies: some folks will enjoy a film that may seem an endurance test for others. It horrifies me that not only did people go see films like 27 Dresses and License to Wed, they actually bought the DVDs, as well. But that’s the subject for another column. Perhaps it could be called Bad Movies and Why We Love Them.
Meanwhile, on to the subject at hand – the best movie ever made. While Casablanca or Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia may be prime examples of technical and artistic innovators, I challenge you to suggest a more important message than that found in It’s A Wonderful Life.
Hear me out.
In this film about an angel sent to Earth to rescue a man on the brink of suicide, James Stewart’s George Bailey is given the opportunity to see what his community would have been like had he never been born. Director Frank Capra reminds us that our compassion and responsibility make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact. The things we say and do affect the lives of others. Hard to top that concept.
Well, what about the movies that tell of Jesus, you ask? Good question. You are astute. Stay with me, class.
I can recall countless moments in “Jesus movies” that have touched me, taught me, and inspired me. The Passion of The Christ, for example, dynamically reenacts the physical horrors Christ endured. However, the film isn’t really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us. But I would submit that It’s A Wonderful Life shows Christ’s teachings being put into action by a Believer.
Now, I concede that there is no scene showing George Bailey hearing the gospel and responding to it sometime in his youth, so I’m making an assumption. That’s another magic of the medium: the best movies let us project our sensibilities onto a film’s theme. But when you analyze the consistency of George’s caring nature that puts others first, is it really difficult to see him as a man of faith?
Some may not consider my film choice worthy of the title “Best Film” due to my least favorite element in the story – the goofy angel. (“Teacher says, every time a bell rings…” Oh, please.) Clarence the Angel, Second Class, is good for a couple of laughs, but what impresses me with each viewing is the nature of the protagonist. George Bailey is a real person, one with faults and foibles as well as nobility. We’re allowed to see him struggle with frustration (“Why do we have to have all these kids!”). He’s not a saint, but he is more than the average guy. He’s a complex fellow. While he dreams of adventures, again and again, he sets aside what he wants in order to serve other people. Something has impacted him throughout his life, some element that causes him to continually see the value in others. What makes a man do that even at the depth of self-despair?
Even during a clouded moment when he considers the proposition that he’s worth more dead than alive, he abandons his suicidal choice to rescue a drowning stranger. Suddenly, his convictions remind him of life’s sanctity. I like to think of this as an example of how Christ has affected him. Yeah, I’m projecting, again, but it does add up. Something very spiritual is going on in this guy.
The Oscar winning All About Eve has sophisticated dialogue unlike any other. The Tree of Life is a visual and viscerally emotional feast, with its exquisite imagery used to make profound statements. Dr. Strangelove is perhaps the best example of comic point-making satire. And each new Star Wars entry wows with special effects. These are all prime contenders for the best film of all time. But, the greatest aspect of any film is that which explores the soul of man. Without any sermons or altar calls, It’s a Wonderful Life reveals how God’s love transforms and sustains. To me – that makes it the best film of all time.