The film’s main character is Stewart from Bedford Falls, New York, who inherits a savings and loan association from his father, and runs into financial difficulty due to the machinations of Barrymore, a representative of Big and therefore Bad Business. Barrymore owns everything in Bedford Falls apart from Stewart’s Savings & Loans. During a meeting between the two, Barrymore mentions they were the only two businessmen were the only two to keep their heads during the depression and presumably this means, to hold sufficient amounts of liquid assets to keep afloat while others haemorrhaged funds and lost everything. It should be noted though, that Barrymore seems to have done significantly better out of the depression, and that Stewart has not only been bested by old money, but all of his contemporaries; his brother is a war hero, one of his best friends from college became an auto parts magnate, etc.
In this way, the film anticipates the television series Breaking Bad, in representing the travails of hypercapitalist men too invested in doing what they do well to make it in the world as the ‘success’ they should have been, while being swept up more in the process of accummulating capital according to some masculine ethic of domination, despite their claims to be doing it for the benefit of their wives or children, who they in fact transparently resent and certainly aren’t above threatening with violence. Stewart does almost nothing around the house but scream at his kids, kick or punch objects, and I don’t think it’s an egregious overreading to suggest that the ending will mark only a temporary improvement on his mood, based on his wife’s reaction to him coming home on Christmas eve.
In all this, the film represents nothing less than the religious imaginary of the bourgeois, especially in their incarntion as ‘small to medium business owner’. despite owning a financial institution, Stewart is a proletarian, put upon by Barrymore, providing the poor working people of bedford falls with a service, rather than inflating speculative bubbles with their money and turning a decrepit building into a mansion just by virtue of having a plucky wife willing to slap up some new wallpaper. The film is a dream of speculative capital redeemed by its putatively collective qualities, as if the negotiation of a mortgage was not a stratified relationship, as if goodwill rather than politically enforced imperatives were what was actually connecting a bank manager with his customers.
More than all this though, is the film’s cosmology. The angel sent down to convince stewart not to commit suicide does so due to heaven being a tiered workplace, with each angel seemingly required to spend a few generations in the lower tier as a guardian angel. Now, i don’t think we get sufficient insight into heaven’s overall functioning to tell whether or not it is capitalist rather than a bureaucracy, preventing one’s charges from committing suicide being the only clear means of advancement we see, but one should note its apparent similarity to Stewart’s building society, a vision of philanthropic capital which can work from both sides of a fundamentally unequal relationship. The bartender ringing the bell on the till and declaring that he’s giving out wings is heavy-handed, but indicative of the profound incuriosity and myopia of bourgeois art. Even in the furthest reaches of the known universe and inthe next life, the extent of their social vision is high-financial capital incentivised in the direction of philanthropy