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Posts Tagged ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

(It’s 11:27 on Thursday night — close enough)

Yes, this is traditionally considered a Christmas movie.  But they sing “Auld Lang Syne” at the end, so the clip can work for either holiday.

The best video I could find encompassed the last nine minutes of the film.  For the relevant portion of the clip, click here.

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Acknowledgements

“It’s A Wonderful Life” by National Telefilm Associates – Screenshot of the movie. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg#/media/File:It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg

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Here they are, in no particular order.  Feel free to share yours in the comment section! (And yes, Die Hard does count)

1. Disney’s A Christmas Carol

2. Home Alone

3. Elf

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

…and, of course…

5. It’s a Wonderful Life

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Hobbits are not saints — that is, they are not saints merely for being hobbits.  Their simple and unobtrusive lifestyles notwithstanding, they do have the tendency to be self-centered “creatures of comfort” (to borrow a phrase from Joseph Pearce, author of the new book “Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning in ‘The Hobbit'”).

The-Hobbit-2

In fact, that’s part of what Bilbo Baggins’ journey to Erebor is all about.  Along the way, he learns through suffering and adversity to put others before himself.

One thing we can say about Bilbo without being sentimental, though, is that his small stature is matched by the humble — in other words, realistic — understanding he has of himself.  He does not believe himself to be a hero capable of fantastic deeds.  In fact, he more or less says this explicitly at the end of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Gandalf_Galadriel

So we might be forgiven for joining the Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) in asking Gandalf, “Why the Halfling?”

Indeed, why should Gandalf have chosen Bilbo to be the fourteenth companion of the dwarves on such a dangerous quest — especially when, as Gandalf insists, this quest could have a far-reaching effect on the fate of Middle Earth?

Unlike Saruman, the head of Gandalf’s Order, who believes that only great power can make a difference against evil, Gandalf believes that it is the small things that matter.  It is of just these small but innately powerful acts of kindness and love that he thinks Bilbo Baggins capable, and it is on account of these that he chose him for the quest.

As I was listening to Gandalf’s testimony to Bilbo’s worth, I was immediately reminded of the great tradition of “Little Way” spirituality.

MotherTeresa_094

The most famous adherent of this mode of spirituality was arguably Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who famously said this:

We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.

And look how she changed the world.

St. Therese of Lisieux

Blessed Teresa was very much influenced by St. Thérése of Lisieux, who became affectionately known as “the Little Flower.”  Thérése entered the Carmelite Order over 120 years ago with the desire to live out as fully as possible her love for God.  What she discovered in the process was that she was only a small creature and not, of herself, capable of great things.

Far from becoming discouraged, she came to realize that it was in the small things that she must strive to serve God.  Little things done with great love became her priority, not great things done with a view toward self-perfection.

George_Bailey

Nor is it only in Catholic spirituality that people will find such wisdom.  At this time of the year, many of us become reacquainted with George Bailey, the chief character in Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  Although George never gets to travel the world and accomplish the great things he dreamed of in his youth, although he is stuck in the “crummy little town” of Bedford Falls, although he is working at the “measly one-horse institution” called the Building & Loan, he comes to realize in the end that his simple life had farther-reaching consequences than he could have imagined.

Arguably, that’s what endears people to this timeless story — the fact that George Bailey makes such a difference precisely in the “littleness” of his life.

Let’s take a quick look at how Bilbo’s extraordinary littleness (and I think we can see now that this is not a contradiction) manifests itself.

thehobbitMN

At one point in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” Gandalf advises Bilbo that true courage consists not in knowing when to take a life, but in knowing when to spare one.

Beneath the Misty Mountains, Bilbo has the perfect chance to kill the creature Gollum, whom he has just beaten in a game of riddles that, if he had lost, would have cost him his life.  Filled with pity for this poor creature, Bilbo spares Gollum’s life and leaves him be.

Notice that Bilbo is not exerting any power here.  He could do so precisely by killing his opponent, but instead he chooses the way of mercy.  In just such a humble and seemingly insignificant act of kindness, Bilbo Baggins shows his true greatness.

Why am I spending so much time talking about Bilbo’s humility?  Didn’t I conclude my last post on this movie by stating that I would explore how the extra story material that Peter Jackson has included might affect the telling of Bilbo’s story?

Yes, and the hobbit’s humility has everything to do with this.

The capacity of “little lives” to make a big difference necessitates and presupposes that these lives are integral parts of something much greater than themselves.  Avalanches often begin with small stones, but it is because these small stones are part of the mountain that they can cause something so powerful.

This is where I think the extra material Jackson has included in the telling of Bilbo’s story will come in handy.  We already know that in sparing Gollum’s life, Bilbo contributed to the chain of events that would bring about victory for Middle Earth at the end of “The Lord of the Rings.”  But I imagine that as we follow this tale to its conclusion, we will discover in what other ways Bilbo’s quest fits into the great puzzle of Middle Earth’s story.

And I, for one, look forward to it.

All “Hobbit” images obtained through a Google image search; the rest are from Wikipedia.

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