It’s possible I watched too many films this year. I’m really not sure how I managed that, given there were no enforced lockdowns and I left the house quite a bit. Yet somehow, I came pretty close to watching the same number of films as I did in both 2020 and 2021 combined.
A lot of that might be due to Paul Anthony Nelson roping me into bespoke games of Screen Drafts. You don’t need to know what that is; the only relevant information is that I have an obsessive personality and spent most of the year watching almost every film released in 1982, 1979 and 1976. (I am, by the way, now absolutely convinced there is no better way to engage with cinema. Forget focussing on a genre, following sequels, completing directorial canons: just pick a calendar year and go nuts. It’s revelatory.)
Bedford Falls. A town so idyllic, the FBI thought it might be Communist propaganda.
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), the story of a good man who loses hope and has to be shown the true value he has brought to the world. George Bailey (James Stewart), who loves his town of camaraderie and kindness, is nevertheless frustrated that it’s too small to contain his dreams.
We follow George over the course of a lifetime, see him overcome adversity, and watch as he’s slowly eroded by despair; how every chance he has to get ahead is thwarted either by misfortune or the machinations of local business mogul Henry F Potter. It’s a life of hard work and dashed dreams that eventually robs him of the will to live.
In many ways, it’s the quintessential yuletide tale, which is why it gets a spin in this household every single Christmas. But it’s been an awful lot of Christmases at this point, and after many, many viewings, I think I’ve stopped being able to watch the film in the way I used to. At some point, I crashed through the film’s façade and began to see the meaning that had been hiding under the surface this whole time, the narrative base code if you will, a secret message so diabolical and terrifying it would have given J Edgar Hoover night terrors for the remainder of his paranoid days.
It’s been a few years since I discovered this secret meaning, and I’ve spent a long time debating whether it is ethically responsible to reveal it to the world. Because once you know it, you will be unable to ever un-know it; it will be impossible to ever see the film in the same way again.