My wife and I enjoy watching holiday movies in December. In particular, we
enjoy inspiring tales such as A Christmas Carol (multiple versions available), The Ultimate Gift (Fox Faith, 2006), and It’s A Wonderful Life (Liberty Films, 1946).
There are scores of other films, however, that are nothing more than variations of the same storyline and characters. The cookie-cutter plot tells how a woman who is either cynical or clueless about relationships meets an independent and capable man who is refreshingly different than other men. The woman usually looks like a fashion model, while the man is “cute” but also a bit scruffy, as though he hasn’t shaved in four or five days. A third character, the woman’s boyfriend, is usually not a bad guy. Still, he’s boring, shallow, lacks a sense of humor—and clean-shaven. No one really changes in these movies, and from the beginning, you can predict how they’re going to end.
The difference between the two groups of films is striking. Movies like It’s A Wonderful Life inspire us because the lead character demonstrates a heroic spirit as he or she strives to overcome evil and adversity. Although these characters often carry a significant flaw (e.g., Ebenezer Scrooge), they also experience transformation. These tales promote godly values and virtues such as compassion, generosity, perseverance, faith, charity, and integrity. These films point the viewer toward the goodness and beauty we find in God.
In contrast, the lightweight holiday movie is superficial and bland. Strong performances and solid directing may improve their entertainment value but still cannot make up for the lack of depth. While the characters have a certain attraction, they don’t inspire us. In the end, the stories are about nothing more than how two people find pleasure in one another and their circumstances.
Occasionally, producers will try to turn out a creative piece filled with drama and conflict. If they try to avoid including the pursuit of Christian virtue, however, the product ends up depressing viewers instead of entertaining them.
The reason George Bailey has a wonderful life is that he doesn’t live for himself and his personal pleasure, but according to God’s design. He stands up against the evil Mr. Potter when there’s nothing in it for him. George cares about others and steps up when he sees a need. He is a man of integrity. He loves his family and sacrifices for them. These and other qualities encourage me to become a better person.
The secular world doesn’t get it, though. In today’s culture, the most attractive features are physical appearance, authenticity, competence, and originality. While the secular entertainment media avoids endorsing Catholic values, it recognizes that, without them, the protagonists appear selfish and even repulsive to viewers. To make the hero more attractive, the writers portray him as caring about kids and family, trying to do the right thing, and showing at least a token interest in helping the downtrodden.
Inspirational movies frequently use fantasy and unusual scenarios to create tension and bring home their message. As a result, we cannot recreate the hero’s experience, but we can imitate his virtue. As we face life’s troubles, we, too, can live a heroic and godly life with peace and joy. Instead of getting help from a wealthy grandfather or benevolent ghosts, we have the Lord. Because of Jesus, everyone, and not just a privileged few, can have a wonderful life. The Holy Spirit makes this possible not only in spite of trials and suffering but through them.
What’s more, we have the promise of Eternal Life. For those in Christ, the time will come when there is no more sorrow, suffering, or pain, and they will be with the Lord forever. It doesn’t get better than that.
© 2019 Kevin Luksus