Therapy Thursday: You Can’t Take It With You and It’s a Wonderful Life

Hello, Classic Film World!  I apologize for my absence from the blog (and especially to Brandie and Nikki for leaving them to keep things going so swimmingly without help- *pause for a moment of applause*).

So, I’m getting back in gear with Therapy Thursday again… and I’m taking it a different direction. Today, I’m doing both a TT blog and a comparison blog- we’ll see how this goes.

James Stewart as George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life

Now, I’m not personally a big fan of It’s a Wonderful Life, blasphemy, that I know it is. Still, I watched it with the family over the holiday. It’s good for a Therapy Thursday, for pretty obvious reasons. First, the whole karma-ness involved. George Bailey does everything he can to help those around him, trying to keep their lives from crashing down, eventually to the expense of his. Social work burnout, anyone? In the end, though, it comes back to him. We like this idea; it’s pretty warm and fuzzy. Also, it’s a pretty classic take on altruism. Many theorists don’t believe true altruism doesn’t exist- that we all want something in return, even if it’s just a “good feeling” about what we did. George comes pretty close to true altruism, but the moral of this story is that all his giving came right back to him, anyway, so it’s irrelevant. However, not everyone was like that, especially when he hit his low.

When George Bailey became hopeless, the world agreed with him.

Which brings me to my next thought: when he felt hopeless, the world became that way. No one helped him. People were mean to him. He made poor decisions. Things spiraled and got worse very, very quickly, until he hits rock bottom- and who likes to see Jimmy Stewart like that? However, after his “time of reflection” with Clarence, George Bailey realizes how important what he has is to him. It’s his life affirming moment; after that small change, his world puts itself back into place. Interestingly, this is how a lot of depression works. You can’t see the solution if you’re staring at the problem, which is the reason behind the now popular solution-focused therapies. People viewed him as crazy in the film when he was unhappy/miserable. However, they also were concerned with his ecstatic exclamations at “obvious” things. How could he be suddenly happy with so many problems?

Mr. Vanderhoff encouraged everyone to live for fun and what they truly want.

Interestingly enough, Frank Capra has an answer to this another of his films: You Can’t Take It With You. I love this movie for it’s humor and over the top characters. It’s just lovable. Again, we see Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore in film together, but this time Barrymore plays his future father-in-law. Martin Vanderhoff (Barrymore) has essentially come to the conclusion that George Bailey comes to at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life: that life is meant to be lived, and that’s what matters. However, he phrases it more along the lines of “Life should be fun.” The corporate world also finds Mr. Vanderhoff quite odd, because he is dedicated to living life for fun, not financial gain. It’s true- his family is very unusual. However, something very interesting happens with this family: the neighborhood adores them.

Martin Vanderhoff even enjoys his crutches, because he had "always wanted to try to walk on crutches," and now was able to give it a try.

Mr. Vanderhoff is always kind to others, is even a local leader, and lives his life of fun not at the expense of others, but in encouraging others to be happy. Not unlike George Bailey, who sacrifices himself for others’ well-being and happiness.

Is happiness having what you want or choosing to be happy?

So, how do we become happy? By having what we want or deciding to be that way?

2 thoughts on “Therapy Thursday: You Can’t Take It With You and It’s a Wonderful Life

  1. I also am not a fan of It’s a Wonderful Life, and I usually get odd glares from people when I say that. But, I am an enormous fan of You Can’t Take It With You. It’s so insane, and brilliant, and just plain HILARIOUS! Plus, I never mind a good Jean Arthur film…

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