It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Ending Explained – Does George realize the true meaning of his life?

It’s a Wonderful Life Plot Synopsis

In a small town called Bedford Falls, an aspiring businessman called George Bailey is on the ropes after failing in business. When he decides to end his own life due to his crumbling situation, an angel from heaven, Clarence, comes down to help him realize his significance in the lives of others. Initially defiant, George sets out to see if he can learn the true purpose of life.

It's a Wonderful Life

What is George Bailey like?

George Bailey is an ever-excited dreamer who wishes to travel the world and do big things. However, his responsibilities don’t allow him to give his dream a shot. When he was 12 years old, he saved his brother Harry from drowning – an incident which rendered him deaf in his left ear.

Later, he prevents a local pharmacist, Mr Gower, from accidentally adding a poisonous drug to the prescription. Even as an adult, he continues to put himself aside in favour of others. Through his deeds, he gives a clear display of empathy, selflessness, and intellect.

How does George meet Mary?

In 1928, George plans to go on a world tour before college. At a party, he gets a chance to dance with Mary who has had a crush on him since childhood. Due to his father’s sudden death, George loses touch with Mary and is forced to abandon his dream to travel the world. George instead gets involved in the family business, Bailey Brother Building and Loan, alongside his uncle Billy.

George hopes to hand over the business to Harry after he returns from college – so that he can go on a world tour. However, Harry returns married with a job offer from his in-laws. Though sad, George feigns excitement so Harry and his wife don’t feel bad. Later, George meets Mary after she returns from college. They rekindle their love and marry shortly afterwards.

How does George save his business?

As George and Mary leave for their honeymoon, they learn there has been a run on the bank. The couple rush over and use their honeymoon savings to keep the business afloat. George starts a housing development segment aimed at proving shelter to people from low-income groups.

Mr Potter, the owner of the slums and the city’s most powerful personality, offers to pay George $20,000 a year in exchange for the company. George turns down the offer.

As we approach Christmas Eve of 1945, the town is preparing to congratulate Harry for his incredible service during World War II. Uncle Billy goes to deposit $8000 of Building and Loan’s money into Potter’s bank.

In a mix-up, Billy accidentally wraps the bundle of cash in Potter’s newspaper. Potter doesn’t squeak a bit about it and keeps the money. George loses his cool as he realizes the misplacement of money could land him and Billy in jail.

Trying to mend the situation, George begs Potter for a loan – offering his life insurance as collateral. Potter, however, berates him and mocks his situation before calling the police.

It's a Wonderful Life

How does George meet the angel?

After fleeing from Potter’s office, a drunk George gets into a bar fight. Suicidal, George decides to jump from a bridge. However, before he can take a step ahead, Clarence (the angel) deliberately dives into the river forcing George to change his plan and rescue him. After George blames his existence for all the mess, Clarence takes George to a parallel universe in which he was never born.

Bedford Falls is now known as Pottersville named after Potter. The town has gone to dogs due to crime and poverty. Mr Gower is a poor drunkard who is out after spending 20 years in prison for manslaughter. George’s mother doesn’t recognize him. Building and Loan went bankrupt a long time ago, and Uncle Billy has been institutionalized.

George discovers Harry’s grave, who died as a child because George wasn’t there to save him. Also, without Harry in the military during the World War, many American troops were killed. Finally, George encounters Mary who is a spinster. She screams when George tries to get close to her, and he is forced to flee.

It's a Wonderful Life

Does George realize the true meaning of his life?

George gets back to the bridge and begs Clarence to restore reality. Clarence reverses the timeline, and everything is back to normal. George finally realizes how wonderful his life is and he races back to his home. Mary and Billy have collected donations worth more than what George owes to the bank. Townspeople have gathered to celebrate both Christmas and George’s return. Harry toasts George as “the richest man in the town.”

Clarence thanks George for helping him earn his wings – gifting him a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The movie ends with George’s youngest daughter, Zuzu, telling him that every time a bell rings, an angel gets wings.

The movie is a lovely reminder that doing the right thing is sometimes hard, but ultimately rewarding if we have some patience and are able to look beyond our own means. George Bailey never understood the power of the good he did, for his colleagues, family and the entirety of Bedford Falls. It’s only when Clarence comes down and shows him the alternate world that he starts to understand.

In the end, George ends up with riches beyond his dreams, a timeless reminder that we should always do good things for others and sometimes, just maybe, we might be rewarded by the powers that be.

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