Charles Dickens‘ A Christmas Carol is an American tradition during the end-of-the-year holidays. It’s a quality story – but unfortunately, an abused one and most often the point gets lost on audiences. Whether it’s a direct adaptation of the Dickens’ novel or the beloved American film It’s a Wonderful Life, both main characters deal with a crossroads and are given an opportunity to re-examine their lives.
In A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is forced to confront his past, present and future. The film It’s a Wonderful Life finds George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) contemplating suicide before his angel-in-training Clarence (Henry Travers) shows George what life would be like if he had never been born. The resemblance is uncanny in their journeys through existentialism.
Over the years, many television shows have copied the formula where the main character goes through a moment of crisis. A sitcom like FOX’s Married with Children had an episode titled It’s a Bundyful Life, where Al (Modern Family‘s Ed O’Neill) gets an opportunity to see how his family turned out if he was never around with the assistance of loud, obnoxious angel played by Sam Kinison. Kinison brought his confrontational schtick from his stand-up to all his characters. If we are to believe Al has changed like every other main character from every other show that has used A Christmas Carol, then it should be a permanent learning experience, but it’s treated as a one-off episode and the character involved revert back to their mold.
Is it nitpicky and facetious? Yes, because it’s just lazy writing and the execution never has any long term effect. Want the original story? Watch the tons of existing adaptations of A Christmas Carol; while It’s a Wonderful Life has been available on digital and physical media for some time now, and still has its annual broadcast airing.
One final reason why both stories should be retired? Scrooge and George’s problems can’t realistically solved in one night, based on a hypothetical. Jacob Marley and Clarence manipulated their respective subjects to make a wanton change in their lives – lest further tragedy befall them and those around them.
What happens after Christmas? Scrooge’s relationships don’t get “magically fixed” because he changed his behavior for one day. He estranged those around him for decades – but because it’s “Christmas,” they are supposed to just let it go? The real world doesn’t work that way: Scrooge would still be ostracized and no holiday could make up for what he’s done.
As far as George’s problems, they were solved by what could best be described as “a stroke of luck.” Some may call it divine intervention, but it really doesn’t address George’s problems of acceptance in his own environment. What director Frank Capra shows in It’s a Wonderful Life was “The Butterfly Effect” for George. Unfortunately, the conditions are specific and Clarence showed him one version of the past of a world without George. It’s awfully presumptuous that the individuals in George’s world would do the exact same things, but with different results.
The audience sees this as Clarence teaching George a lesson about the value of life – but in reality, he’s selfishly manipulating and scaring George so he can get his wings. What would become of George’s life in the future? Is Clarence going to follow George every time he has a crisis – or just during Christmas?
All these stories do is sweep the larger problem under the rug for this “mystical force” for a holiday that happens once a year. We live in a materialistic world and financial security is a priority in the civilization.
Let’s face it, both stories are fine the way they were for their time – but there’s no point in copying the same elements to contemporary programming for the sake of Christmas to justify the archaic theme of “miraculous charity” that just doesn’t exist in this world.