Existentialism in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Throughout the unit of The Stranger and existentialism many of the characteristics that describe Meursault and other existentialists reminded me of George Bailey during some parts of the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The indifferent and almost numb feeling that Meursault has is the same feeling George Bailey had when everything was spiralling out of control and going downhill for him. While maybe not as serious as Meursault, George Bailey has had a similar feeling of existentialism it just manifested differently. George believes that he doesn’t matter and that his life doesn’t really affect anyone else’s. Meusault believes he is useful to some people but doesn’t really have feelings or relationships with anyone. Both characters are missing a piece that helps them give meaning to their lives. Each of them represent different levels of existentialism.

But the way they deal with it pans out in a completely different way. The entire novel, Meursault is describing things with very little connection. He refuses to see the importance or meaning to many things. One could go through most of the book without seeing much change in how he views the world. It is easy to infer that he has always lived his life with a high level of detachment. It isn’t till the very end when we finally see him express some sort of emotion. The fact that Meursault remained indifferent up until he was about to be executed shows how much of an existentialist he really was. George Bailey was a little less extreme. He didn’t always live a somewhat sociopathic life like Mersault, but he did have a rough patch where he was starting to believe that nothing mattered. The difference with George is that he had an angel come down and help him realize that his life did have a purpose and that there is something for him to believe in. Both had moments of indifference which ultimately led them to a greater point realization.

2 thoughts on “Existentialism in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  1. JULIA Y

    Yes I love this movie and totally agree! I related it to the Good Place, which is a very direct existential show, but this is much more subtle. It’s like how we were talking about how Seinfeld is low key existential at some points and relates to The Stranger. This is an example of a movie that has similar characters, but you don’t notice right away.


  2. Monty E

    I agree with you, Lily. Interestingly, I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life since I was a kid. Thinking about George Bailey as an existentialist I think adds a whole new layer to the movie. Although the movie is not as blatant as The Stranger, when George Bailey begins to think that his life has no meaning. When he sees what life would be like without him, I feel that that refutes the existentialist tone of the movie because he realizes that he helped others go through less pain and suffering. I agree with your comparison of both characters with an epiphany. I think that George Bailey’s is an epiphany that shrinks away from existentialism but that Mersault is a confirmation that his existentialist thinking was right the whole time.


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