It’s A Wonderful Life is a beloved American tradition, a classic film directed by Frank Capra, and one of the defining American pop culture fantasy films; the litany of TV shows that have ripped this movie off is almost ridiculous. We all know the plot: George Bailey is sent to a world where he’s never born and learns that he was a good person who did wonderful things.
It’s also a movie that, while obviously a bit short on the jump scares, pretty rapidly becomes really disturbing when you think about it. Here are three reasons the Christmas classic can be pure nightmare fuel.
#3) God Is A Huge Douche In This Movie
The crux of the plot is George’s uncle losing $8,000 by accidentally handing it to Henry F. Potter, one of the biggest monsters filmdom has ever produced. To get an idea of how bad that is, that’s roughly $90,000 in today’s dollars. Uncle Billy screwed up big time.
So, God, to teach George Bailey a valuable lesson, creates an entire alternate universe, instead of bothering to keep Uncle Billy’s marbles together enough for five seconds to avoid this situation. Ha, ha, memory loss induced due to alcoholism! Hilarious!
This wouldn’t be so bad on its own, but this is the final punch to the kidney of an entire litany of abuse George suffers through the entire movie. There’s a reason that Jimmy Stewart is frozen in a crucifixion pose within seconds of getting onscreen.
To say nothing of Uncle Billy who, considering his age and general poor health, really doesn’t need the crushing guilt of sending his nephew to jail.
#2) Mr. Potter’s Ultimate Fate
It’s widely held that the entire reason Mr. Potter gets away with stealing all that money in the final movie is that in the original script, he didn’t.
No, in the original script, Clarence, the good-hearted, kindly old man of an angel shows up to scold Potter and, according to rumor, talks Mr. Potter into a freaking heart attack before leaving him to die knowing exactly what’ll happen to him in hell.
Not that anybody would feel bad for Potter, one of the single most hated villains in film history, but Capra wound up deciding that was too dark.
#1) Pretty Much The Entire Third Act
Jimmy Stewart’s performance is widely acclaimed for a reason: Pretty much the minute he discovers the $8000 is missing, he becomes a mess. You’re convinced he’s suicidal as he’s about to lose everything. It’s not enough his dreams have all been crushed, now everything he sacrificed them for is about to be destroyed too.
And then it gets worse. He gets sent to a world where his brother drowned as a child, his uncle was locked away for alcoholism, all of his friends are either dead or miserable, and his wife is an emotional wreck. The entire third act is pretty much George Bailey stumbling around in sheer utter horror, getting any sort of emotional comfort stripped away from his soul. To George his choice is pretty much consign his friends to Hell or face shame and jail.
It’s really at this point you wonder about Capra’s relationship with his religion, since the guy was a devout Catholic.
The movie softens the blow, obviously: We’ve all seen the finale. Still, no matter how many times you see this movie, it’s still incredibly jolting that something so profoundly bleak made its way to the screen. The reason for that is Capra basically paid for it out of his own pocket.
Not that this makes it any less of a classic, of course. If anything it improves it because George really does earn that happy ending. Still, the next time somebody tells you it’s sugary, you might want to point them towards the scary parts; sweet it may be, but saccharine it is not.