YMMV / It's a Wonderful Life

  • Adaptation Displacement: The film is adapted from a short story called "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. It is infinitely better known than the story these days.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Is George really a saintlike hero who selflessly sacrifices his hopes and dreams for the good of others, or is he just an Extreme Doormat who lacks the spine to stick up for himself and only gives because it's expected of him?
      • Some have also claimed that George brings his problems on himself by running an overleveraged, illiquid bank and letting his alcoholic uncle handle the business.
    • The Agony Booth interpreted Mary as being the true villain of the film, because it's implied her broken-window-wish to marry George is what caused him to suffer tragedy after tragedy that kept him from leaving Bedford Falls. (It's doubtful she knew it would happen that way, though.)
    • A lot of fans have speculated that Violet is actually pregnant in the third act of the film, and is planning to move to New York to avoid the scandal that would come from such a thing in a small town.
    • Does Clarence honestly care about George? Or is he trying to reignite the desire to live in him because that's his job? Having his own salvation secured, does he care about George's fate? Or does he play the yes-man to God and just wants his wings i.e. greater status in Heaven?
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: Mary losing her bathrobe and having to hide naked inside a bush. George even lampshades it. "This is a very interesting situation!"
  • Common Knowledge:
    • A minor example. Viewers very often mistake the man whose tree George runs his car into for William Frawley of I Love Lucy. This character was actually played by an uncredited J. Farrell MacDonald. It is an easy mistake to make, since the two do look and sound similar and his only two appearances in the film are in dimly-lit nighttime scenes.
    • A more major example is the general pop-cultural perception that the film is a corny, diabetes-inducing schlockfest that only young children and old people stuck in the '40s would be able to stomach. Those who believe this are frequently surprised to see that the film contains Black Comedy, sex jokes, discussions of economics and banking that are difficult to understand without prior knowledge of the subjects, and copious Adult Fears and Nightmare Fuel even before the Bad Future sequence kicks in.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: An odd example. A lot of viewers think Pottersville looks like a fun place, citing that there are lots of places for potential work. This is ignoring the obvious rampant corruption that's going on in town — Violet in particular implied to be a prostitute — and that the citizens are clearly miserable, most likely due to an increase in poverty and thus people living in the poor houses of Potter's slums which all the entertainment establishments perpetuate by encouraging the careless squandering of money. That's not to mention the Fridge Horror in a town that's run and owned by Potter.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop
    • If you're a woman and don't marry your designated soulmate, you'll spend your life as a miserable spinster.
    • Your hopes, dreams, and how you want your life to turn out are ultimately irrelevant. And if God decides that your purpose is to suffer so others don't have to, you'd better learn to accept it since you have no real say in the matter.
  • Glurge: Out of context, the film can come across as this. It's Common Knowledge that this is an uplifting film full of Tastes Like Diabetes moments. Thus it's quite a shock to new viewers how cynical the first half is — and how much Nightmare Fuel is in the portion where George sees what life would be like without him. This is lampshaded in a Friends episode where Phoebe watches the movie and turns it off before the end, finding it too dark and gloomy. This fan trailer and this one bring out the nasty, horrific aspects. This one references The Twilight Zone.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The banks today are basically run by Potters, and the way they were run caused much of the late 2000s recession.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Mary's sarcastic line to her mother that George is "making violent love to me, mother" is an example of Having a Gay Old Time. Mary's merely saying George is giving her an overemotional courtship (when it's her that's doing the courting). With the modern meaning of the term, the joke becomes even funnier and now comes across as Refuge in Audacity.
    • Also, Those Two Guys in this movie are named Ernie and Bert.
  • Inferred Holocaust: Pottersville has more excitement and a superior economic infrastructure, but under the glamor, many people live on the streets (and many of the ladies are hookers instead of homemakers). Bedford Falls only has a moderate manufacturing economy and no obvious places to find excitement, though the honesty and unity between the B&L and small business owners allows them to overcome most financial problems. Once the factory closes down, Bedford Falls will suffer depression and unemployment. In the end, a place like Bedford Falls has a better chance of bouncing back from a bad economy because of the mutual cooperation between the banks and small businesses. And, if you pay attention, that's actually exactly what happens: George suggests to a plastics magnate that he convert a closed tool-and-die factory and employ the locals. It's a minor throwaway line in the middle of a scene with much more important things going on, emotionally speaking, but it's there.
  • Iron Woobie: George, George, George. He essentially gave up his life for the people of Bedford Falls, though he cracks when he has to either put his dreams on hold or abandon them entirely. You can't help but feel sorry for him throughout the scene where he's angry after Uncle Billy loses the money, and then during the whole of the Pottersville sequence.
  • It Was His Sled: George Bailey gets sent to an Alternate Future where he was never born.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • As a result of losing his son, Mr. Gower is a grumpy old man who is driven to drink and would have fatally poisoned a child if not for George's intervention; seeing his reaction to learning what he did and his fate in the alternate future is heartbreaking. Thankfully, he gets better in the main timeline, his brief appearance showing that he has come back from despair, shaped back up, and become a very good friend to George.
    • George himself veers into this from time to time. He can become abrasive, but as this usually comes after he has to abandon or put his dreams on hold, you still feel bad for him. He always comes back from it, however; see Iron Woobie above.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • Mr. Potter has started to get a number of fans who see him as a representation of a good capitalist businessman. This requires ignoring his criminal action later in the film, his cruelty mixed with his business tactics, and his cold disregard for anyone else at all, favoring placing more value on material possessions and total control over everything he can have than on human life and decency.
    • Pottersville itself has a few people who think that it actually looks like a fun place to live, and that the various nightclubs and strip clubs would boost the town's economy. This is ignoring the fact that it's clearly a Crapsack World where everyone is a complete asshole, or the very least utterly miserable, and there are so many nightclubs and strip clubs because people are desperate and unhappy, drowning their sorrows in alcohol, and buying just a few minutes of the pretense of human connection in the clubs (or with the hookers), and this squandering of money on such tasteless establishments only perpetuates the rampant poverty that lands many of its citizens in Potter's slum neighborhoods, This article by Gary Kamiya in Salon examines this argument in more detail, claiming that the portrayal of Pottersville versus the straight-laced Bedford Falls suffers from a bad case of Do Not Do This Cool Thing by making the town look glamorous enough that people might actually want to live there, while Bedford Falls, by contrast, seems to have a dearth of entertainment options and a severe lack of privacy.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Mr. Potter is a hateful and greedy man throughout the whole movie, but what he does to George near the end — taking George's misplaced money and hiding it away so that George risks bankruptcy and imprisonment, and then calling out a warrant for his arrest when he comes to him begging for help, on Christmas Eve — is where he truly crosses the line and cements his place as one of the most memorable and evil villains in cinema.
    Mr. Potter: [chuckling] You're worth more dead than alive.
  • Narm:
    • Clarence's "She became an old maid" due to Values Dissonance can become this. Especially given the rest of Pottersville. Given it comes after the increasingly intense revelations about his uncle, his brother, etc., it can feel like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. On the other hand, an assumption that had George not been born, literally everyone he had been involved with would have died, become alcoholic or placed in an asylum would arguably have been even more Narmy.
    • The portrayal of angels as animated stars. It ends up looking really silly.
  • Narm Charm: George's unadulterated joy and relief when he realizes he's alive again. The endless shrieks of "Merry Christmas!!!" to every person and every building he meets should be Ham and Cheese at best, and Narm at worst. But in this movie, it's a cue for the Manly Tears of a man who went through emotional hell that almost drove him to suicide and just experienced a disturbing divine vision to give his life a powerful new perspective.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: George’s speech against Mr. Potter’s ruthless policies and in defence of Ernie and Potter’s other employees.
  • Strawman Has a Point: George makes it clear that he wants to leave Bedford Falls, go to college, and travel the world. All of his dreams are destroyed and he must commit suicide to regain hope and perspective. Potter was partially correct that George’s life has not resulted in personal happiness.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Ruth Dakin-Bailey, George's sister-in-law, never appears following her introductory scene, and her only role is essentially to supply yet another Diabolus ex Machina to keep George in Bedford Falls.
    • Marty, who is Mary's older brother, one of George's best friends, and the one that really introduces them to each other at the dance. After that, he only appears a few more times in the rest of the film and does nothing of any significance.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: A few viewers find it difficult to sympathize with George because they feel he brings his problems on himself by choosing to run an unsuccessful business even though he's given many opportunities to do something else. For example, Harry was perfectly willing to take over the Building & Loan after he came back from college, but George refused to let him and insisted he take the job his father-in-law offered.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • In Pottersville, Mary is a single woman who works at the library. It is evidently supposed to be a horrible fate that she couldn't become George's wife and instead is an old maid. George's more personal horror that the love of his life never knew him and his children were never born, though, is still timeless.
    • Major Values Dissonance with Mr. Gower and young George. First, would George at that age be legally old enough to hold a paying job nowadays? Second, when Mr. Gower slaps George, drawing blood from his bad ear.... in modern times, that would be a lawsuit, and probably a jail sentence.
    • Laws preventing extreme child labor existed in 1911, but children and teens routinely worked after-school and weekend jobs up until the mid-1970s.note  Teens could also take apprenticeship-type jobs and learn a trade (this is coming back). Stricter laws may have been good in some ways, but also meant that children could no longer earn money either to save for themselves or to contribute to their family.
    • The idealistic portrayal of the Building & Loan comes across as very naïve after the savings & loan industry's huge meltdown in the 1980s and 90s.
  • Values Resonance: The film's lambasting of the amoral way Potter runs the town bank, up to and including flat-out robbing his customers, remains ever relevant in light of the Great Recession.

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