George Bailey’s Midlife Crisis.

November 21, 2022

George Bailey’s Midlife Crisis.

May 29, 2023

With the holidays nearly upon us, I would argue that the most universally endearing (and enduring) Christmas flick is "It's a Wonderful Life," with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role as George Bailey.

Much of the film's first half focuses on the suffocation of small-town life, with George Bailey's attempts to escape thwarted by his sense of obligation. George's feeling of being trapped is so palpable that he ends up on a bridge, ready to jump and take his life.

At this moment, his guardian angel, Clarence, shows up to remind George what his community would be like if George didn't exist. For example, George saved his brother's life, who in turn saved a whole platoon during the war. He stopped a grief-stricken pharmacist (who'd just received word that his son had died in the Spanish flu pandemic) from inadvertently poisoning a customer. He saved the soul of his town by preventing a run on the bank. Without George Bailey, the lovely Bedford Falls becomes the dark Potterville, named after the stingy, local aristocrat who owns much of the town. Clarence's bit of magic helps George see that each person's life touches so many other lives, even if we don't recognize the effect we're having.

But, having watched this film again recently, I now realize that George Bailey was having a "midlife crisis" two decades before Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jaques popularized that term. Many of the life and emotional afflictions George was feeling—obligation, disappointment, boredom—are common when someone is experiencing their nadir at the bottom of the U-curve of Happiness.

If you're feeling a little holiday ennui, check out this film again. And while you're at it, check out MEA's 2023 workshop calendar. MEA and its faculty have been known to be a modern-day version of Clarence.

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