Do You Think It’s Wonderful?

Its_A_Wonderful_Life_Movie_Poster

When you think about how many films you have viewed during your lifetime, have you ever wondered why some remain timeless? They can be watched over and over again without losing their impact.

It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorites. Somehow this Christmas tale produced and directed by Frank Capra has kept its relevance every year since it was released in 1947. It still is #1 on the American Movie Institute’s list of most inspirational films. The movie is based on a short story written in 1939 by Philip Van Doren Stern called The Christmas Gift.

I am about to start on my last rewrite of my novel and examined this movie in a completely different way. Not as a movie-goer, but as a writer. I  discovered its magic and why it has left audiences spellbound for the last 66 years.

The first scene sets the tone for the movie. It starts on Christmas Eve with prayers being said for George Bailey while the snow floats down on Bedford Falls, New York. Then it cuts to the stars in the sky where Saints are discussing how to keep George from ending his life through the help of Clarence the guardian angel who wants to earn his wings.  

Guardian_angel_clarence

The story’s climax is introduced in the first scene. Whoa! What a concept. Even before meeting the protagonist, George Bailey, we learn that he is loved by many, is in trouble and wants to end his life.

We have compassion for the protagonist. My eyes still well up with tears when young George is cuffed in the ear by the pharmacist after he refuses to deliver pills accidentally filled with rat poison. And that is in the first ten minutes! After that scene, I am hooked into watching the movie all over again.

In the beginning, each scene has its own climax and ending. What a great idea! Flashbacks show Clarence the events leading up to that fateful day and how George impacted many of the people in Bedford Falls. This also introduces the characters. They are told like individual stand-alone stories so Clarence can fully understand George’s motivation and so can we.

The plot is clear and relatable. The mystery of why positive and lovable George Bailey would want to end his life keeps audiences glued until the climax. Even though I know what is going to happen, the structure and drama of each scene keeps me watching. We learn about the lives he changed through his own sacrifices and why he is loved by so many. Donna_Reed_with_James_Stewart_(1946)

The protagonist is a quirky and likable character. George is direct and speaks his mind. He is filled with enthusiasm and gumption in hopes of traveling the world someday. His positive outlook is infectious and his out-going personality shows courage even as a young boy. We admire George’s willingness to risk his own life and eventually his livelihood. In the end of the story he wants to take his life so his wife can use the life insurance money to pay off the bank’s loan.

The antagonist is introduced early. Mr. Potter is a lonely and greedy old curmudgeon confined to a wheel chair. He owns a competing bank and wants to take over the Bailey Building and Loan so he can take control of Bedford Falls. When Potter insults George’s father, twelve-year-old George Bailey defends him and gives Potter a shove as his father guides him out of the room. This sets up the tension for the story.

The climax of the story rocks! In the last half hour of the movie, George wishes he had never been born. Clarence shows him what life would be like if he got his wish. The town is in shambles and no one but greedy old Potter shows any happiness.

The protagonist learns something. George realizes that he does have a wonderful life and he wants to live.

It's_A_Wonderful_Life

“Every time you here a bell, an angel gets his wings!”

There is a moral to the story. You impact so many lives in ways you will never imagine. No matter how bleak life gets, there are people who love you and would be willing to help if you let them. Brilliant! It also introduces the comforting idea that there is a guardian angel watching over us.

I cried again while watching this movie before writing this post and will gladly watch it again on Christmas Day. It makes me wonder what life would be like if I had never been born. I have a pretty wonderful life too.

It is ironic that the history of the film also has a message for writers, movie makers and anyone else trying to accomplish a goal. Never give up. It didn’t meet box-office expectations when it first came out, but eventually became a Christmas classic.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

Do you ever analyze them?

Photos by Wikipedia

Click on this link to watch the film on YouTube

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About Susie Lindau

I am a Boulder, Colorado writer and artist who loves adventure both real and imagined. Come with me. It's always a Wild Ride!
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110 Responses to Do You Think It’s Wonderful?

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    I’ve seen this movie a couple of times, including in a film course at college, but it isn’t one of my favorites. Actually, I enjoyed your description of it much more than the movie itself.

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  2. What an interesting take on the movie…and I think you nailed it! It is one of my favorites, too. Two that come in second and third are Frequency and Late for Dinner (a movie no one but me has ever heard of). I’ve never really analyzed them to figure out why they’re favorites, but they have what it takes to hold my interest-repeatedly. :)

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  3. rich says:

    love the movie. it was in my “great movies” series.

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  4. I might as well get the screaming over with, “I have never seen ‘It’s a wonderful life'”! No, not once. I am pretty certain I own it, it just never found its way into my watching world. I have promised myself each year to do so and forget or something happens, or… well, that’s it.
    As for my favorite movie, there are several, but the one that I just keep watching and enjoying for the sheer enjoyment is “Bicentennial Man”. It has everything as far as I an concerned: It is sci-fi, has a beautiful co-star in it, is a love story, funny, epic, and has meaning interspersed all through it.
    Scott

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    • susielindau says:

      Cool! I haven’t seen that movie. I will check it out.

      If it is too much trouble to tee up your DVD, I left a link to the movie on Youtube. I watched it on my computer before writing this post and am glad I did since my memory put some scenes out of order.
      Let me know what you think of it Scott!

      Like

  5. 4amWriter says:

    This is my all-time favorite Christmas movie. I have to watch it every year, and every year I get all teary. I love your analysis!

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  6. Oh, I haven’t seen this movie but I’ll definitely check it out now. By the way, please feel free to shoot your questions if you still need a french pair of eyes to have a look at your novel :-)

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  7. Sophie Moss says:

    Studying movies is one of the best ways to learn the craft and art of storytelling. It’s so much easier to tune in with a notebook and see how they introduce characters and weave the plot than re-reading an entire book. Studying books is essential, too. :) But I am a huge believer in learning from movies. If it’s a great story, it’s a great story. Period. After I wrote my first novel, and thought, okay, I still have a lot to learn, I spent a lot of time studying my favorite movies and books and asking the same questions you did–why do I like this so much? Why does it resonate? Why can I watch it over and over and over and love it every time? And after I figured out all the common themes to my favorites, then I wrote my second book-The Selkie Spell. And I knew that everything in that story was true to me. :) Write on, Susie! Oh, and my fav Christmas movie is the Grinch. I’m a total sucker for his heart growing three sizes at the end. :) :)

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    • susielindau says:

      This was my first, but I will always look at movies differently after this one. I am glad to hear that you learned so much from them and will be paying close attention the next time I watch a great one!
      Love The Grinch too! There are so many good ones to watch over the holidays.
      Merry Merry!

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  8. Love how you’ve deconstructed this, Susie. Right down to the film’s history… something us writer’s need to be reminded of :) I’m no good at listing favourites, but I do remember watching this one on a particularly sad Christmas many moons ago. Pretty sure it moved me beyond words.

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  9. Pingback: Pass the Popcorn and Start the Movie! « myoxisamoron

  10. This may be my favorite post of yours, Susie. Beautiful! And has me wanting to rush to my TV to view the classic I haven’t seen in years.

    I don’t have a favorite movie I want to watch repeatedly, but there are many I think of often and hold special places in my heart. The Christmas film that knocks me over with nostalgia and gratitude is the Little House on the Prairie’s Christmas special. I adore Silence of the Lambs for entirely different reasons. ;)

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    • susielindau says:

      Thanks so much August!
      I would hope that those two movies would be loved for different reasons. Hahaha!
      So many films have messages and yet few hold meaning for so many over the decades. I am not sure that I have seen Little House on the Prairie’s Christmas Special and will have to look it up!

      Like

  11. Like El, I have struggled with depression along with anxiety most of my life. Watching IAWL is always life affirming to me because I often wonder if I really make a difference. Over the last couple of years some of my grown children have told me thank you for different childhood experiences and that they were glad I am their mother. To me that was like George at the end of the movie watching all those people come to his rescue.

    My other favorite Christmas movies are White Christmas (Sisters, Sisters), A Christmas Carol (1935), A Christmas Carol (1938) and Scrooge (1971). My children blame me for them not being able to watch any of the Christmas Carol movies because I marathon every version on Christmas Eve while I finish getting ready for Christmas Day.

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    • susielindau says:

      Awww! I am so glad that this has meaning for you! I love those other movies too. How cool that your children gave you that validation. As a parent, nothing could be better than that!
      Thanks so much for the blog love and shout out too!

      Like

  12. cjknotts says:

    Susie, I love I’s a Wonderful Life… A cute story: when my nephew was 4 (he is now 7) we were watching the movie. Now he was a pretty smart cookie for his age and he was totally engrossed in the movie and it was as quiet as a mouse. Well we were at the scene where George hits the tree with the car and Gabby yells out “Man that’s gonna hurt” We started cracking up.. One of my favorite Christmas memories

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  13. Wow, this is such a great analysis of what makes a story so memorable.. and a “forever” story of humanity. You’ve made me want to go back and watch this movie again so that I can see it through your eyes. Thank you!! xx

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  14. Great post! This is one of my all time favorite films, I cry every time I watch it!

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  15. gardenlilie says:

    Thanks and yes, I love that movie and it moves me every time, although haven’t watched it in a couple years, moving etc. Probably time for my kids to see that as things are starting to sink in. I got goosebumps as I read your last two lines, so very good. I remember turning the pages of Bridges of Madison Co. and crying like instantly, somehow, I just love when moments like that hit!

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  16. El Guapo says:

    There are some movies I analyze. Mostly I’m content to just watch them.
    Wonderful Life’s influence is still felt, for instance at the end of Groundhog Day where the snow starts falling at the end.

    Once heard a guy do an absolutely brilliant breakdown of Field of Dreams that made the movie even better.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I had never thought of breaking down a film, but now that I have, it makes me think there is a lot to learn from these brilliant writers and directors.
      I never thought of the snow at the end, but you are right. Love Groundhog Day and Scrooged!
      Thanks Guapola!

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      • El Guapo says:

        The teacher of a film class I took in college said that there was nothing in a film frame that the director didn’t put there for a specific reason(while discussing The Hustler).

        Wrap your head around that!

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        • susielindau says:

          That is so interesting! It makes me think of the staging they do for the inside of homes.
          That would be such a fun class to take. Maybe my daughter wouldn’t mind if I signed up for a film class with her… Hahaha!

          Like

  17. I love how you broke it all down. The first time I saw this movie was with my husband when we were first married. He went out and purchased it so we could watch any time of the year. There are so many messages to be had within this story….thanks for the huge reminder.

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    • susielindau says:

      Thanks so much!
      It definitely has many messages and I only mentioned the two, but there is a big one there about taking responsibility.
      Even if it wasn’t your plan, doing the right thing will bring great reward..
      I don’t think the movie was shown that often when I was growing up. But later it really hit me. That’s great that you have a copy. And now it is on YouTube too!

      Like

  18. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my all time favorites. I didn’t see it for the first time until a high school film class (guess my parents didn’t love me), and it was one of those movies that first got me thinking about writing movies, rather than novels when I grew up…

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  19. Hm. Mine just might be District 9, which I’ve never fully analyzed (at least not for my blog.) Great post and you’ve given me an idea…

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  20. Although I have easily seen thousands of films since my parents first took me to see “West Side Story” at the El Rey theater in San Francisco 50 years ago, I could never claim one film as my all-time favorite. That’s impossible, but if someone pointed a gun at my head I might stammer, “”The Godfather”, no wait, “Chinatown”. Hey, I meant to say “Grand Illusion”! Hold on, I’ve always loved “What’s Up Doc?” And, of course Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” was why I moved to New York. But at this stage, my life has been having many “Last Tango in Paris” elements to it, plus there’s Ingmar Bergman’s extraordinary “Scenes from a Marriage”, but I did prefer the TV series version. Can that count Trigger-finger?” Then, blam, I’m dead having succeeded in annoying the gunman or woman into blowing my head “clean off”.

    I have never been a fan of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Frank Capra films overall, but my sister would be sitting right next to you loving every second of that one. It is one of her all-time favorites. She could probably watch it on a hot as hell day in July. I do happen have an all-time favorite holiday film that I had to wait 44 years to find since it was only released in 2003. It’s “Bad Santa”. I relate much more to cynical jaded burned out aging alcoholic horndog Willie than George Bailey who, no offense, I do not identify with at all. Yet, snarky “Bad Santa” has character growth with a terrific edgy end and a use of the middle finger was my idea of poignant. I thought this film nailed the spirit of modern Xmas. My sister finally got around to seeing it a few years ago. She said, “I can’t believe you like that! It’s so gross! Ew!” I’ve seen it five times — and once at a party with my posse in July. Everyone there loved it. We all have different definitions of what’s a holiday classic, even though some of us had to wait decades to finally find theirs.

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    • susielindau says:

      You are not alone! I posted on Facebook asking what everyone’s Christmas favorite and Bad Santa came up more than once, like a bad lunch, I mean it was popular!

      Yep me and your sis. Just like this…. crosses fingers…..

      I am a sap under this tough as hell exterior. :)

      Thanks for the movie list. I haven’t seen all of them yet…Love these recommendations I have been getting today!
      Thanks V!

      Like

      • Naaaaaaaa, you’re not a sap and neither is my sister. You guys are just more nostalgic and sentimental than me. When need be she can be tough as nails and suspect that the same is true of you.

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  21. tomwisk says:

    I don’t loathe It’s A Wonderful Life but if it were never shown again I’d have peace. Overexposure caused this not a Grinchy heart. My favorite movie is Usual Suspects. I catch myself dissecting any movie I watch. My view is; every time a bell rings someone goes into diabetic shock from IAWL.

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    • susielindau says:

      Tom! Hahahaha! I might of known that you would be the one Grinch in the crowd! :) There are probably a lot of people who feel that way. I recall my dad groaning when we flipped through the channels one year.
      I don’t think I will ever be sick of it. I don’t why it comes to life for me every time, but it does and I always cry….
      Thanks for coming by!

      Like

  22. andydbrown says:

    Thanks so much for describing so beautifully the magic behind one of my alltime favorite movies! :-) Now I gotta watch it again! ;-)

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Oh good I am glad you liked it! Thanks so much Andy.
      In my opinion, it is one of the best made and it has one of the sappiest opening scenes known to man! :)

      You will enjoy watching it again. I notice something different every time!

      Like

  23. pjb1943 says:

    Hi Susie,
    I have too many “favorite” movies to list all, but I really liked your analysis of this one. You bring out so many points that the average watcher would miss in a casual viewing. Nice job. Any snow yet, or are you still dancing???
    Paul

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    • susielindau says:

      Thanks so much Paul! I didn’t notice the nuances of the film until I watched it on YouTube for the 100th time yesterday. In fact I had the sequence of the scenes all mixed up! Good thing I watched it again.

      They are predicting a chance of moisture tomorrow with a real storm coming in over the weekend. YES!

      Still dancing….. OooooOooooOOoooooO!

      Like

  24. tedstrutz says:

    Nice analysis. I haven’t seen this one in a long time, it was on the other night… I’m sure it will be on again, and I’m going to watch now.

    I see WordPress is delivering the snow you desperately yearn for… on your page… I wouldn’t try skiing on it.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      Hahaha! You know me Ted. I broke out the skis, but just couldn’t figure out how to get inside….

      I would definitely tune in from start to finish. I left the link up there to see it on YouTube. I was amazed at the quality and watched it yesterday.
      Thanks Ted!

      Like

  25. marisaporter says:

    And similarly, both Princess Bride and Wonderful Life were not hits when they first came out, but became enduring classics.

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  26. marisaporter says:

    You actually brought tears to my eyes as I remembered how much I love this movie. This one, The Princess Bride, and Man from Snowy River. The 3 perfect movies.

    http://wearyourvitamins.com

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  27. One of the best courses I took in college was the one where you watched important/classic/notable films and analyzed them…lot more to it than it appears. And as you say something to be learned about writing from that

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    • susielindau says:

      I am sure that my analysis wasn’t very thorough, but the basics of storytelling really came through in this movie with a few twists. Now that I have done this one, I will probably look at other films differently!

      I am like a sponge and have a lot to learn about writing. It makes sense to learn from the best!

      I wish I had taken a class like that! I don’t think they were offered back in the day…..
      Thanks Mouse!

      Like

  28. Coleen Patrick says:

    It is definitely one of my all time faves!!

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  29. mcolmo says:

    I have so many favorite movies, the list is loooong, but just to mention a few that I have watched more than once, Amadeus, The red Violin, Amelié, Micmacs, Dr. Zhivago, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen…, and yes, I analyze and observe them in detail, all of them.

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  30. I love seeing this through a writer’s lens, Susie. It’s one of my favourite movies. A handsome, timeless lead doesn’t hurt either.

    Good luck as you soldier on. The end of the year is perhaps the perfect time to finish.

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    • susielindau says:

      Yes I think you are right! I avoided the casting since it would have added about 500 words, but the acting was tremendous. Even the young George was believable.
      Thanks for spurring me on! The next book will be so much easier! :)

      Like

  31. The finish line is in view, go you! I bet I have watched this, but I can’t remember so I must find a way to watch it this Christmas x

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    • susielindau says:

      Thanks so much. :) I see it just up ahead….
      Oh my gosh Catherine. You would love it. I am not one to see movies more than once, but this one pulls at everyone’s heartstrings!

      Like

  32. Paul says:

    I’ve always loved this film, though my classics usually star Humphrey Bogart. A movie theater in town is showing it on the big screen December 19. I plan on grabbing an extra large popcorn for dinner that night!

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  33. The Hook says:

    Very cool examination of a classic, Susie!

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  34. Susie, just last week I made a list of IMDb’s 250 Best Movies of all tiime, and plan to see them all. A few days ago I saw “Harvey” for the first time. I’ve always wanted to see that to learn who the Harvey is that is referred to in one of my very favorites, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Well, watching Harvey, with Stewart’s endearing performance, was truly enjoyable. Now, thanks to you, I”m going to jump to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I was going to skip that for now because I’ve seen it a couple times, but I’ll watch it tonight. I’ll also put “Independence Day” on the list.

    A few other movies I’ve enjoyed recently (off that list) are “The Sound of Music” which started the whole thing, as I watched it to research my latest AmperArt collection, “My Favorite Things”; “Streetcar Named Desire”; “Shawshank Redemption”; “Groundhog Day”; “The Son-In-Law” which wasn’t that big at the box office but I thought it was hilarious and very heartwarming;”The Godfather” I, II, III; and just last night, “Casablanca.”

    I have a huge recommendation for your book’s success: Order “The Frugal Book Promoter” Edition 2 by Carolyn Howard Johnson immediately and start reading it as soon as it arrives. You should start promoting your book before it’s even published, and her guide will be your bible. Also, I’ll be glad to give you feedback on the book cover (my profession) free of charge.

    I have macular degeneration in one eye, and I thought your falling snow was further degeneration–and very unique, as the floating spots are usually dark. Whew!

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    • susielindau says:

      Oh thank you so much Chaz! I love checking out your latest creations. I haven’t seen Harvey, but have meant to for years!
      Thanks for the offer and I will take you up on it since I will probably create my own cover since I was an artist back in the day!
      Thanks for the book recommendation. I will check it out.
      Sorry about the scare and your MD. Must be tough especially since you are an artist… Have a wonderful day!

      Like

  35. Angelia Sims says:

    Did you know I have never watched this movie? I should be kicked. I guess I never realized what it was about. I will definitely change that. My favorite is A Christmas Story. Gotta love little Ralphie.

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  36. You know I never saw this movie until Steve introduced it to me a few years ago. What a loss over the years not to have seen it!
    Congrats on the final rewrite..:)
    HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I have seen this since I was a little kid. You can imagine how endearing Clarence is to children. It is simply a magical tale of hope. I am glad Steve introduced you to it. There are some lessons there for writers.
      Thanks so much! I am getting there with my book! I hope to have it polished enough to have my family start reading it and marking it up. I know Kelly won’t hold back and Danny is good at telling me, “I don’t get it.” I should give them each a hard copy and a red marker for Christmas!
      Thanks so much Linda! (((Hugging)) you right back!

      Like

  37. Tori Nelson says:

    Great post. Thanks for breaking it down. It’s a favorite of mine, too.

    Like

  38. I feel like anyone who says they don’t like it hasn’t watched it lately. Because, conceptually, it’s a train wreck. The movie shouldn’t work. The movie should be awful. It’s too dark and too sweet at the same time. It’s folksy-small-towny and “fate and angels.” It’s bafflingly weird. Jimmy Stewart spends the bulk of the film miserable and hating his life.

    Yet you put it all together, and I don’t care who you are – you’re tearing up at the end and thinking about you’re own life. And in that sense, it’s perfect.

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      There are several scenes in the movie that have me practically sobbing. I think it is touching to see someone who was so determined to get out of town, get stuck there and then have everything go south. When the town comes forward to help, it gives the audience hope that our own lives will turn out okay.
      Thanks for stopping by! :)

      Like

  39. John says:

    Great old movie, oldies are always great. We watch White Christmas every Christmas season. such a fun movie! Sisters, sisters!!

    Like

  40. giai01 says:

    Reblogged this on Giai01's Blog and commented:
    Tuyet

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  41. CC MacKenzie says:

    The one I watch time and time again is Independence Day. It’s funny, it’s scary and it’s got an End Of The World apocalypse theme going along with love, loss and redemption. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it. And for a moment I thought I had spots in front of my eyes, then I realised it was snow! What are you like, woman??

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I love Independence Day! That movie keeps me on the edge of my seat all the way through.
      You can activate the snow storm by going to “General Settings.” Hey it still isn’t snowing here so it’s the next best thing!
      Thanks CC!

      Like

  42. Awww well-done!!! This is a beautiful movie with a beautiful message. As someone who has struggled with depression, I like the way this movie treats hopelessness and pain–honestly, without minimizing it, but also showing the light through the darkness. And yep, I analyze movies (sometimes way too much perhaps).

    Like

    • susielindau says:

      I agree. I think it leaves everyone with such a good feeling at the end. It is difficult to remain hopeful in some circumstances and yet there is always something pretty wonderful about each life!
      Thanks so much El!

      Like

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