It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t just a great Christmas movie, it’s a great movie, period. I’ve written quite a few posts about it already, and I was planning a new one for this holiday season. I had a great idea and was all ready to write it up. As it turns out, however, my great idea was mostly wrong. I was so in love with my precious idea that I had cranked my confirmation bias up to 11: I magnified the points that supported my argument while unfairly dismissing those that didn’t.
I know all this because I talked it over with my wife. She kindly and patiently pointed out where my thinking had jumped the rails. Like George Bailey, I was lost in my own dreams and fantasies and blind to the people around me. George’s wife, Mary Bailey (Hatch), played brilliantly by Donna Reed, didn’t get as much screen time as George. What we do see of Mary, however, paints a very appealing picture.
When George stubbornly clings to his failed dream of world adventure and refuses to court Mary–a woman that he clearly loves–Mary doesn’t let her own pride get in the way of their happiness. Faced with the kind of angry rejection that Mary experiences, a less virtuous person would have dished out some rejection of her own. Instead, Mary patiently guides George toward the happiness that was available for both of them.
When the Building and Loan was in danger of being destroyed due to insolvency, Mary selflessly gives up the money they had been saving for their honeymoon to save the day. Although she had clearly been looking forward to their time together, she hands over the money with good cheer because it was the right thing to do.
While George is seeing how the world would have been different without him, Mary recruits Uncle Billy to search for him. And, although it’s easy to overlook it in all the excitement of the “miracle” at the end of the movie, there’s no doubt who is responsible for this miracle:
Uncle Billy: Mary did it, George! Mary did it! She told a few people you were in trouble and they scattered all over town collecting money.
George’s war hero brother, Harry, also leaves a banquet in his honor to lend a hand. Why?
Harry: Oh, I left right in the middle of it as soon as I got Mary’s telegram.
George’s moral transformation is, of course, the center of the movie. We don’t need to spend as much time with Mary, however, perhaps because she is already what George needs to become. She’s loving, kind, patient, and virtuous in every other way. She is, in short, a hero. When the bell rings at the end of the movie, signaling that Clarence has earned his wings, there is another angel onscreen–and she’s been there the whole time.
She is the character in all of fiction that reminds me most of my Elizabeth.