Monica Hesse: Mary Bailey is the real heroine of “It’s a Wonderful Life”


Listen ! I bring you good news, as well as Grandpa’s only correct interpretation of all Christmas classics, that every American is required by law to grab a snippet of every holiday season.

Are you ready?

Mary Bailey is the real heroine of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

This is not how the film is billed. The hero is believed to be Mary’s husband George Bailey, a tortured Boy Scout played by Jimmy Stewart who longs for travel and adventure even though duty keeps him stranded in the fictional hamlet of Bedford Falls. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ takes place on Christmas Eve when George’s daffy uncle misplaces a deposit for the family’s financial institution: George must consider the potential bankruptcy of the business while struggling to determine if his life and his work are of any value. There are a lot of flashbacks. There is a guardian angel. The movie ends with the whole town coming together to celebrate George and spray him with buckets of money.

Ignore all of this. Decorate the hallways with Donna Reed.

When, in a flashback, a stock market crash threatens to sink the Bailey Building & Loan, who has the idea of ​​donating George and Mary’s honeymoon funds to keep things afloat? Not George’s. Panicked customers storm the lobby when Mary shows up with handfuls of cash.

When George wants to throw stones at an abandoned house, it is Mary who suggests that they restore the house instead.

The film’s final, triumphant scene is only made possible because while George’s genius plan to correct his uncle’s mistake is to jump off a bridge for the life insurance policy, Mary runs into the city to collect donations.

“Mary Bailey invented GoFundMe,” observes a pro-Mary supporter on Twitter.

Yes, I went on the internet to see if I was the only one with these feelings of appreciation for Mary… and no, I absolutely am not.

“‘It’s a Wonderful Life” is the story of Mary Bailey, who twice saves her husband’s struggling business, pulls him from the brink of suicide / jail, and raises four children while successfully rehabilitating a historic house, ”observes another member. of the Mary team.

“Mary Bailey is the real heroine of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’,” said Caleb Norris, a movie buff with whom I discussed our common devotion to Mary. “And a mopey man gets all the fame.”

Mary faces the same leaky roof and the same small town limitations as her husband with one major difference: she never complains. She doesn’t need an angel named Clarence to come down from heaven and inform him that she has actually led a wonderful life. She intuitively knows that wonderful lives don’t come by collecting passport stamps or military honors; they’re made by investing in the community around you and lining the bejesus with an old victorian.

“Why do you have to torture children? She asks George when he pours his foul work mood on the family. Why indeed? She was the one who stayed home all day with a sick toddler and a sounding piano.

Does “It’s a Wonderful Life” realize that Marie is his hero? It is not. In one of the film’s most famous sequences, the angel Clarence gives George a glimpse of how his town was if George had never been born. It’s bad. A slum lord has taken over the neighborhoods. A platoon of soldiers never returned from the war. And Marie? Clarence tells her, in horror, that she is “about to close the library.”

That’s right: In an alternate reality in which half of Bedford Falls has been turned into a graveyard, the film suggests that the saddest thing of all is that Mary Bailey has become a librarian.

Once you see it, you can’t see it: the entire movie celebrates the personal sacrifices of a kind man while ignoring the identical sacrifices of a kind woman. Why? Because “It’s a wonderful life” assumes something that society assumed in the 1940s and sometimes continues to assume to this day: a woman is supposed to sacrifice herself, to arm herself, to fend for herself, to get out with difficulty. . But when the husband does, the whole town has to take notice.

I cannot express how much I love this film, which I watch several times a year, and which I have had since childhood. Hope you like it too. But the next time you sit down with the Frank Capra classic, treat me to an experimental viewing, in which you let your eye drift slightly out of center and fall on the true hero of the story.

Merry Christmas. It’s Mary’s Christmas.


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