Notes for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life II: Potter’s Reckoning’

It’s been a year since Clarence the Angel helped George Bailey re-discover his will to live. Prosperity and happiness has spread over Bedford Falls, NY like gently falling snow, all except for one dark corner, the heart of the town’s wealthiest citizen, Mr. Henry F. Potter. Being a cruel and greedy banker has left the frail, wheelchair-bound Potter a very rich, but lonely and isolated man. All his lackeys have either seen the light or died off and now Potter is completely alone. The emptiness has caused Potter to despair and in a moment of weakness he wheels himself to the same bridge that George Bailey had contemplated throwing himself from a year ago. Before he can cast himself into the freezing waters below, an angel arrives. It’s Clarence Odbody, the very same angel who had once convinced George Bailey that his life was worth keeping. He descends upon Potter and the old man tearfully describes his despair. He ends his babbling by uttering the magic words, “Well, my boy, it would have been better had I never been born.” Clarence nods his head and says, “That’s simple Mr. Potter, you’ve never been born.” Over the next 4½ hours of the film Clarence takes Potter through an alternate world Bedford Falls. Much to the dismay of Potter and Clarence the town is brighter, more happy, vibrant and prosperous than it ever could have been under Potter. People who suffered from his usurious loans are now offered fairer terms and if they fall behind, they are able to work something out rather than having their houses snatched from under them as was often the case under Potter. Everywhere Clarence and Potter turn, Bedford Falls is a better place without Potter’s miserable boot on everyone’s necks.


Potter and Clarence, after the fantasy ends, find themselves right back at the bridge overlooking the icy waters.


Clarence: Wow.


Potter: Yep.


Clarence: I mean—


Potter: There wasn’t a single person who wasn’t better off without me.


Clarence: It’s not supposed to happen like—


Potter: Say, you’re not very good at this angel stuff, are you? I’m more depressed now than I was before I ran into you. I might as well throw myself into the waters now.


Clarence: You mustn’t say such things.


Potter: Why? I’m a miserable old coot. I make people’s lives worse. You saw that.


Clarence: You don’t— I mean— It’s not—


Potter: See, you can’t even bring yourself to say anything counter. I should be strapped down and forced to consume all my meals through my rectum.


Clarence: What? You’re not so bad. I mean, no one is that bad. That’s just— Sheesh, that’s disgusting. You mustn’t think that way. How would you even come up with something that awful?


Potter: Yes. I should be stripped naked, doused with water and made to stand in a freezing cell.


Clarence: That’s cruel. What sort of person would approve of that being done to someone? There’s no reason to do such a thing to another human being. Someone could die like that and it’s a good bet that that sort of thing has caused death before.


Potter: Do you have no imagination, Clarence? What if we need to get information immediately and there is no other way, but to threaten rape and to pour water over a person’s face until they turn blue to make them feel as if they’re drowning?


Clarence: I’m not following you Potter. Are we still talking about your life? How’d we end up here?


Potter: Just some things I think about sometimes. When I’m not being cruel to the people of Bedford Falls, for fun I devise cruel torture scenarios—making one stand for 40 hours or more; refusing to allow a prisoner to sleep for up to 180 hours— and then I try to imagine what could possibly justify them. What if there is a bomb about to go off and the only way to find out how to stop it is to smack someone around a bit and then compromise their anus, huh?


Clarence: I see. That’s, um, some hobby. There’s really is nothing that can justify that sort of cruelty. Anyway, your scenario seems unlikely in the real world. Sounds like movie stuff. Why wouldn’t a suspect just lie to make the brutality stop. It’s what I would do.


Potter: That’s why you need to round up as many enemies as you can and torture them all indiscriminately without regards to their guilt or innocence. Sooner or later one of them will talk.


Clarence: That’s just horrific.


Potter: Well, my boy, all this talking is not making me feel any better about my life. So if you’re not going to lock me alone in a room for weeks and months until I begin to hallucinate then I must throw myself from this bridge. Goodbye, Clarence.


Clarence: No, Potter. I can’t allow you to do that. Maybe we can review the world without you aga—


Potter: No thank you, Clarence. I’m a horrible old wretch, aren’t I? Why would I want that confirmed all over again?


Clarence: You did have a miserable life after all, Potter. Still, there is always hope for redemption as long as you’re living. Die now and you lose that. If you toss yourself down there I’ll swoop in and use my new wings to bring you back to safety—each and every time.


Potter: If you won’t let an old cuss like me die away then do something to save my soul!


Clarence: Hmm…you have a good point there, Potter. We don’t usually do this, it’s against the rules, but how about I give you another chance? You live out the few years you have left and then I bring you back as a new man. It’s a chance to live life more humanely than you did this time around.


Potter: Yeah. Yeah. That sounds good, Clarence. But what will I be called? I need a name that will help me remember what kind of bastard I’ve been in this life so I can avoid it in the next. Hmm…Dick. How about Dick?


Clarence: That sounds good. And I’ll arrange to make you appear in a family with a surname that will remind you that you are tethered to all of humanity, harming any people is harming all people. Hmm…how about, Chain?


Potter: Really, Clarence? Dick Chain?


Clarence: OK. Cheney then. I’ll arrange for you to come into a position of great influence and power–much, much more power than you have now–so you can use your new insight to help humanity. Never will you hurt God’s children again. I will put inside your chest a powerful heart, one that will overflow with love and goodness. The name Potter caused great anger and trepidation in this life. In the next, the name Dick Cheney will forever be synonymous with peace, fairness, justice and an overall blinding happiness. You’ll be a beacon of hope.


Potter: Thank you Clarence for this second chance. I promise I won’t waste it snarling and growling, trying to conquer and dominate all that I fear and don’t understand. I’ll use whatever little remaining time I have in this life to dream of the next. The country, no the world, will change forever because of my works; of that, I am sure. Merry Christmas, Clarence. Merry Christmas to you and to all the people the world over!

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