I sometimes wonder why people are so dismissing of old films as redundant. Every time I see Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1949) I get weepy. George (James Stewart) leads a picture-perfect life and yet doesn’t truly appreciate it due to unfulfilled dreams of adventure and travel away from his small-time hometown Bedford Falls. When his business goes bankrupt, he enters a life crisis and thinks of suicide. He’s saved at the last moment by the appearance of his guardian angel who shows him how the world would have been had he never existed.
The same idea is explored in another old film – Akira Kurosawa’s "Ikiru" (1952) that explores the life of Kanji Watanabi, a longtime bureaucrat in a city office that spends his days doing nothing until he finds out that he is dying of cancer. While dying, he finds the meaning of life by fighting for the construction of a playground in a poor zone of the city and thus secures the legacy of his existence regardless of the fact that his name may not live on to be linked to this creation.
Isn’t it hopeful to know how each person can make a difference and that you don’t need to be particularly famous to make a difference through your rippling influence on others? Indeed, sometimes even a failing life isn’t as inconsequential as it seems. According to these films, no life is pointless.
These days, films are so wrapped up in special effects that they lose out on moral lessons that can be life-changing to viewers. Surely our robotic lives are very much in need of such heart-warming and optimistic messages about how every action and choice we make contributes to our world. If we are constantly reminded of this, perhaps we would have a better more humane world.
What existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom says about rippling and our circle of influence on other people’s lives in his book “Staring at the Sun”:
“That is, the effect we have on other people is in turn passed on to others, much as ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano level. The idea that we can leave something of ourselves, even beyond our knowing, offers a potent answer to those who claim that meaninglessness inevitably flows from one’s finiteness and transiency.”