Feel-Good Movies, A-B
“Tis the season for Christmas movies. I’ve already vegged out on two of my favorite B movies being played incessantly on Lifetime starting on Thanksgiving and running who knows how long, 12 MEN OF CHRISTMAS starring Kristin Chenoweth and COMFORT AND JOY starring Nancy McKeon. They’re fun. Maybe you like zombies. I like schmaltz.
But this post is about the power and glory emanating from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I can’t wait to see them again. I’m throwing in THE GRAPES OF WRATH as another powerhouse emotional message movie along the lines of the other two. It lacks a Christmas setting but voices a similar message.
Countless people across the decades love these movies. At one level, they’re simply great storytelling. They have good structure; a great villain; a compelling main character at the end of his rope who goes on a journey, endures dangers and complications, makes great personal sacrifice trying to get what he wants and realizes along the way he wants something else; the main character undergoes deep personal transformation that effects the lives of others in a positive way.
After watching them we feel better. They reflect us at all our levels: body, mind, and spirit. They delineate our meanness, yet indicate we have the capacity for boundless compassion. They tell us which path we should take. They ask us to rise to our potential, which is spiritual in nature. I believe all three movies ask us to choose to be our better angels. Writers know any attempt to render such a story may get preachy fast. But they’re the the best stories when they’re done as artfully and beautifully as these.
They want us to wake up already and actually serve family, humanity, and God and not just say it. They connect our everyday dealings with our spiritual selves.
The writers of these three movies (and the writers of the stories they’re based on) wanted to affect deep change in humanity. Not just George Bailey or Tom Joad or Scrooge. All of us. We, too, are the hero who is down, who must sacrifice or make a choice. Either buckle under the pressure and escape, or take a stand for what’s right, which usually has something to do with realizing our connection to others, not just personal or family, but everyone.
Ripped From the Headlines
On the other hand we’re also Potter in LIFE, the camp bosses in GRAPES, and Scrooge in CAROL before his dark night of the soul.
Who is Potter but today’s “1 percent” who own everything but care only for the bottom line? Corprations are people, but people, somehow are just stinky, lazy, whiny protesters. How dare they speak up!
Instead of Potterville, we have Wall Street. And we have a bunch of Cratchits and Joads, George Bailey’s and Dust Bowl emigrants, who work or look for work, care for their families, AND go down to protest against economic injustice, peacefully, as is their right. I’ve been amazed at the Potter-y, Scrooge-y attitudes my fellow Americans spew on facebook on a daily basis, deriding the protesters as lazy people unwilling to work. And then use stories of their own struggles to somehow “proove” the validity of their prejudice. I don’t get it. Why make such a leap? Why assume a group protesting injustice is lazy? On the contrary, they work hard AND they stand up for what’s right. They do more. Risk more. And they get smeared for their trouble. And pepper-sprayed and beaten.
No one sees himself or herself as Scrooge or Potter or the camp bosses that oppress the Joads. But we side with those forces when we deride our struggling fellow Americans. I invite everyone who regards the protesters thus, to watch any one of these three movies this season and ask yourself which forces you’re empowering? Why love the beleaguered main characters of movies and not your fellow citizens performing the same role?
Throw Open the Window and See the Light!
Though it’s difficult to see in life the suffering caused by such derision and prejudice, in the movies we know the downtrodden main character is the hero, journeying from miserable and misunderstood to fully realized human being, individual expression of God, the light, the whole. We feel that cold crisp beautiful bright morning when, after a long night of deep self-reflection, Scrooge throws open the window on Christmas Day. We jump for joy with the renewed, ebullient George Bailey who sees the light of his own being and its effect on others, and rededicates himself to serving the whole community and not just his personal ambitions. We float along the back roads and river bottoms with an uplifted Tom Joad as he assures his worried mother he’ll be there in spirit whenever anyone is beaten or denied or cast out or oppressed by economic injustice, prejudice, and fear. [Click here and go to minute 2:25]
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE calls us to value ourselves, take a stand against inhumane circumstances, and put our money in small community banks that actually serve us as human beings.
THE GRAPES OF WRATH asks us to change the kinds of systems that made all the members of the Joad family loose their livelyhood and their home. Join together. Don’t look away from the truth. Don’t look away in prejudice and fear and say, “Oakie, go home.” Or, “Protester, get a job!”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL asks us to examine our hearts, cast out the part that devalues real work, human emotion, and life itself. Today is the day to feel and express compassion for everyone, the sick, the injured, and those who work hard but are not valued or rewarded.
Corporations Are NOT People! Come On People Now…
I think all three movies ask us to look at the way we devalue and objectify human beings, with dollars, currency. There’s confusion between what is human and what is not. When people are separated from their own humanity, their feelings of compassion, friendship, and love, then hatred flows toward the very ones who suffer and dare to stand up, speak out, and make change.
May we watch this season and not only be entertained by the images but moved and transformed by their messages. John Steinbeck and director, John Ford and screenwriter, Nunnally Johnson for THE GRAPES OF WRATH; director and screenwriter, Frank Capra and the long list of contributing screenwriters for IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE; Charles Dickens and the many directors and writers of various versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, probably wanted us to enjoy the stories, but also be moved by them. Be better. Let them inspire love for our fellows. We are mean and selfish, or we are compassionate and aware of our connections to others. We hide behind holiday expressions, or we live their true meaning.
I included this music video in the preceding post. Here it is again, Bruce’s take on the Tom Joad “I’ll be there” speech for modern times. Like Tom Joad, Bruce is there for the souls who suffer. Let’s all be there.
[The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen]