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It’s a Wonderful Life: Individual Movie Response

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    I chose the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” for my individual movie response paper because well for one, it is getting pretty close to Christmas time, but also because it is one of my favorite movies of all time and it presents countless ethical issues that are easy to spot. And, right of the bat I’ll name a few. From one of the earliest scenes in the movie we see a perfect example of moral luck being applied. As a child George Bailey, the protagonist of the movie, saves his younger brother Harry from drowning in a freezing pond while the two are sledding. From an early age George proved to be courageous and caring person. During this act of courage, George sacrifices his hearing as a bad cold from the water caused him to lose it in one of his ears.

    George doesn’t deserve to be given extra attention or extra accolades for saving his brother just because he lost his hearing in the process. It wasn’t as if he was trading his ear for Harry’s life. But he does get these extra accolades, in the same way that a soldier who gets wounded in battle would receive a medal of honor in a much quicker fashion than a soldier who wasn’t hurt during that battle. This is a perfect example of moral luck. A wounded, courageous man is no more of a hero a non-wounded, courageous man just as George is no more heroic for saving his brother just because he lost his ear.

    Another ethical problem exhibited in the film involves George’s uncle, “Uncle Billy.” George’s father in the movie is a very admirable man and George has a very high opinion of him. George even gives up a big chunk of his future to help his father run the family business. The Bailey brothers, consisting of George’s father and Uncle Billy, run the “Bailey Building and Loan,” an institution responsible for giving loans and mortgages to people planning to build houses. We learn throughout the film that Uncle Billy is quite the incompetent “old fool” as George calls him at one point in the movie. We even learn that had George never been born Uncle Bailey would’ve wound up in an insane asylum. As the president of the building and loan, George’s father had a fiduciary duty to the investors and stakeholders in the company. By placing Uncle Billy and all of his incompetence as a partner in the company with responsibilities he couldn’t handle is a plain breach of business ethics. We see later in the film that Uncle Billy loses thousands of investors’ money, a strict breaking of the business ethics code. He should’ve handled many things with much more care than he did in the movie and placing him at a level of responsibility like that was clearly incompetent.

    George never wanted to run the family company and he always wanted to get out of town as soon as he could. He wanted to run off and be an explorer. As he says he wanted to build things, build cities and watch the world grow. Originally, George had to stay home from college for four years to help run the building and loan. The deal was that George would work for four years until he saved enough to go to college. His brother Harry was away at college on a football scholarship and when he returned home he was supposed to take the reins at the building and loan and then George could go off to college and start his life as an explorer. When Harry returns home from college, much to George’s surprise, he has married and has received a job offer from his new wife’s father in what is promised to be a job with a lot of potential for Harry, a wizard at research. Harry made a deal with George and he benefited form it greatly.

    By the time that Harry returned, his wife should’ve been very aware of his future at the building and loan. Harry knew George’s character. He knew he was truly an altruistic man, even a martyr of sorts. He knew that George always put others needs above his own and he took advantage of that by not meeting his obligation to take over the helm. Harry put up a small fight when George tries to let him off the hook and go accept his father in law’s offer, but Harry should’ve refused over and over and never give up on his obligation to George. This is a perfect example of breaking the Golden Rule. Harry didn’t treat George the way he would have wanted to be treated in that situation. He knew what was really fair and avoided it. He knew what George deserved and didn’t come through. He took advantage of George’s extremely altruistic personality and benefited from it twice.

    My next example occurs when George is sent by his mother to go talk his love interest of the movie, Mary. Mary seems to be engaged in relationship with one of George’s old friends Sam Wainwright, who appears to be the most obnoxious character of the film. The movie kind of acts like there is no problem evident in George stealing or George’s mother encouraging him to steal Mary from Sam. Sam and George are clearly longtime buddies and still George is motivated to get Mary even though he is hesitant at first. However, he is hesitant because he wants to leave town, not because of Sam. George’s conduct in this situation is less than ideal and shows greed and lust on George’s part. And, not to mention, during this scene Sam is calling the two of them to give them inside information and a big upcoming business decision. This, to me, was an example of insider trading and while insider trading wasn’t yet illegal, still raises some ethical dilemmas.

    A great example of moral blindness occurs near the middle of the film when there is a run on the bank. This occurs just as George and his wife Mary are about to disembark on their honeymoon and start their lives together. Talk about bad timing. Here again, George makes a gigantic sacrifice and shares the money he had saved for his honeymoon to keep the bank from closing. This seems like a sound moral judgement, but let’s look at the facts. George had no responsibility to use his own money to save the building and loan, as he is protected from personal liability or at least should be. The richest man in the city, Henry Potter, offers to pay off the debts of the building and loan at fifty cents on the dollar. George rejects. Now, in reality, this wasn’t George’s decision to make.

    He should consult the other members of the company including the board, the executives, etc. If he could not get a hold of them, he should act the way he presumes the board would act, which would have most likely been to accept Potter’s offer. George shows incredible generosity to give up his money in this situation, another genuine act of altruism. However, this wasn’t his decision to make. He also had a fiduciary duty the company and making this decision solely on his own is very risky and a violent breach of that duty. In the same scene, Mary then comes to the rescue offering up the honeymoon money without talking to her husband in the slightest. She assumes George would just be on board with this. Although from watching the movie the audience knows that George would 100% approve of Mary’s decision, this is still irresponsible and disrespectful for her to blow through her and her husband’s funds on such a risk without even talking to George first.

    Later in the movie, Potter accepts the fact that he can’t get around all of the good that George is doing for the town and it is putting a damper in Potter’s success of running Bedford Falls. Potter tries to make George come and work for him and offers him a huge salary if he does so. George, constantly standing up to Potter’s corruption thinks about it for a second and then immediately turns down the offer. In this case, there doesn’t seem to be a bad solution to his situation. He could easily rationalize taking the money because it could be for the betterment of his family. And maybe that is what he should have done. Any responsibility that George feels that he owes to the building and loan has long been fulfilled by now. Yet, George is showing cognitive dissonance.

    He hates Potter and all of his values and thinks that if he accepted the offer he would then come to be a similar man as Potter. He would have to rely on Potter and show loyalty to him when he doesn’t believe in a thing that the man stands for. So then, should George risk the corruption of what he believes in for the betterment of his family? This is a tough moral dilemma he finds himself in. I think that George did the right thing in rejecting the offer. He held on to what he believed in and what makes him such a special person. Had he accepted Potter’s offer he would’ve slowly starting to follow some his deplorable values and eventually become corrupted just like Potter.

    The next example shows how easily a man can lose all that he stands for. Uncle Billy loses thousands of dollars as a mentioned earlier, and George is in real trouble. He has a bank examiner there ready to see the accounts payable of the company and the money is nowhere to be found. This situation is a great example of when we feel in control of everything that’s happening in our lives it’s very easy to live by a set of moral principles that we define for ourselves. However, when the going gets tough the reliance on those principles sort of comes to a halt in a way. We engage in a sort of “fight or flight” situation. In George’s distress, he takes it out on his family. He comes home a wreck and yells at his kids. He asks his wife why they live in such a crummy old house. He even asks why they had to have all of the children they did. He is so frustrated at the outcome of all of his altruistic acts throughout his life and where they have placed him.

    He hates the fact that he never set out to do just what he wanted to do in getting out of Bedford Falls. While his family is at home getting ready for a Christmas party, he breaks and takes all of his anger out on the family, who hasn’t done anything wrong. Here, we are given a little bit more insight into George’s character. George’s constant need to help others could have been to build his own view of himself. He constantly needed approval from other people and for other people to view him as a saint. And, when his image of self-righteousness that he has built throughout the movie is in jeopardy, he cracks, facing scandal. Now that the going gets tough, he becomes weaker and his moral principles fly out of the window. He never even talks to his wife, who is facing just as much hard times ahead as him, about the matter. He crawls to Mr. Potter to beg for an easy way out even though he despises Potter and everything that he stands for.

    Earlier he rejected Potter multiple times, but now that he is facing tough times he doesn’t care and is willing to give up his integrity and the building and loan and all of its customers as he had been so reluctant to do so before. And, all because he can’t accept his own faults. Then, instead of fighting, he decides to fly away- literally. He decides to give up and give up his life just for a few thousand dollars. He may think he is doing the right thing, but really, he is about to commit the most selfish act there is in suicide. Putting that on his wife and children is extremely shameful and is nothing that we would have ever expected from the George Bailey we saw throughout the first 3/4 of the movie. Then, after all this he turns to God, who he has never spoken to before, for help. And on top of that, he gets extremely drunk in order to escape from his problems. When faced with a fight or flight situation, George chose to run away.

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    It’s a Wonderful Life: Individual Movie Response. (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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