By Phil Boatwright
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) — On the heels of recent celebrity suicides, it got me to wondering if the world of cinema could help.
While the motion picture industry has seriously addressed suicide through drama — “Fourteen Hours” (1951), “Night Mother” (1986) – and sometimes used the theme for dark comedy – “Harold and Maude” (1971), “The End” (1978) – my research reveals few storylines dealing with this subject from a spiritual perspective.
There is, however, one film that offers a helpful treatment, one that does point toward biblical directives. What’s more, you’ve probably seen it several times: “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
I know, I know, I’ve discussed this film many times. But the message found in this perennial holiday offering serves this discussion better than any film I can think of.
Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is just about to jump off a bridge to drown himself. His failures and his desperation have led him to believe that everyone, including his wife and children, would be better off if he was dead.
Then, just before George jumps into the frigid river, we hear Clarence the angel yelling for help. He has leapt in, knowing that George, despite his mental distress, will do what his whole life has been about – he will abandon his suicidal thoughts in order to save a struggling stranger. Even while on the brink of self-destruction, George’s lifelong convictions remind him of life’s sanctity. He realizes his life is not just about his life.
Now, the last thing anyone wants to hear when depressed is a sermon about getting outside yourself and doing for others. That’s why the picture of George coming to the rescue is worth a thousand words.
In an earlier scene, a despondent George is heard calling out to the Creator, “God, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there. …” Although George doesn’t normally pray, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been raised with a Christian ethic. The story’s time and setting suggest that he was brought up in a home with religious values. Furthermore, his action on the bridge would indicate that even though he hasn’t been a praying man, something spiritual is going on deep inside him that overrides his pain when he sees someone else in distress.
Clarence the Angel is good for a couple of laughs in the film, but what impresses me with each viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life is the nature of the protagonist, George Bailey. He’s a real person, one with faults and foibles. We’re allowed to see him fight with frustration. While he dreams of adventures, again and again he sets aside what he wants in order to serve other people. Something has impacted him throughout his life, some element that causes him to continually see the value in others.
I like to think Christ has affected him. Yeah, I’m projecting, but it does add up. Though lacking an altar call, the underlining parable of It’s a Wonderful Life testifies to the reality that love, even if beginning in a fleeting prayer, transforms and sustains.
Lest you think I’m suggesting a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life will keep a person from committing suicide, I assure you that such despondency needs the advice of someone far wiser than Dr. Phil [Boatwright].
People suffering with suicidal thoughts need to see a professional experienced in the handling of oppression. That said, if even the rich, famous, and most talented among us can’t escape adversity or times of overwhelming sorrow, then perhaps there’s an ethereal reason for why we all go through them.
We see through a glass darkly, but remember, we’re not alone and forgotten in the shadows.
Forgive me for attempting profundity, but wouldn’t you agree that the Big Picture of life is made up of billions of little pictures? And God, who cares for even the little sparrows, is in the details of the big picture.
And we’re a central part of the details.
How do I know this?
I read the Book. I keep reading the Book.
Are you hurting? Talk to someone. And read the Book.
Here are just a few of its assurances:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you: I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand, and says to you, do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
“… and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).
Phil Boatwright is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on Amazon.com.