Darran McCann was born in Co. Armagh in 1979. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University before becoming a journalist with Belfast’s Irish News. He went on to write, teach and study at Queen’s University Belfast. His debut, After the Lockout, a story about freedom and repression, is set in Ireland in 1917, and tells the story of socialist gunman Victor Lennon and his battle with the local parish priest Stanislaw Benedict for the souls of the people in his home village. Darran McCann’s filmic alter ego is George Bailey, protagonist of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). EITHNE FARRY
The narrative of It’s a Wonderful Life concerns the grinding-down of a good man, to the point of utter despair. George Bailey (played with never-greater integrity by James Stewart) is a character of uncommon ambition and wanderlust: his many and varied plans and ambitions are consistent only in that they will take him far from his little hometown of Bedford Falls. And his ambitions are within his grasp. Frequently, a train, boat or plane, or a job or investment opportunity or place at college awaits, and there’s always someone on hand to assure George that no one will blame him for taking it. He is always free to choose his dreams.
Yet George always chooses selflessly. The story of his life is a litany of frustration, his plans always deferred, each selfless act bringing fresh hardship and heightened frustration. Ultimately, George hits rock-bottom, and only the magic realist intervention of Clarence, his guardian angel, prevents his suicide.
So why would I, or anyone, wish to be George Bailey?
Well, after his trip with Clarence through a world in which he never existed, George attains a level of consciousness that is surely beyond the grasp of all but deities.
But that’s not it.
There’s a philosophical ruthlessness to It’s a Wonderful Life that belies the film’s Christmassy reputation. It’s an easy truism that doing the right thing is hard, but It’s a Wonderful Life dramatises just how hard. George is punished, not rewarded for his goodness, yet he never succumbs to cynicism. His dilemmas are ever more unforgiving, the price of character grows ever greater, the life he wishes for grows ever more remote; yet George always makes the hard (and right) choice.
Can there be a more straightforward definition of morality? Of heroism? Of goodness?
And who doesn’t want to be moral, to be a hero? To be good?