It's (Still) a Wonderful Life
2023 held a lot of ugliness. But as the year comes to close, we're choosing to focus on the beauty.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1946 film, it’s Christmas, but Jimmy Stewart sees only disappointment, bankruptcy, and failure.
We can all relate. In Christmas 2023, it’s easy to look back over the past year and remember only ugliness — in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, and in the places affected by earthquakes, floods, and wildfires.
But in the classic movie, the angel Clarence shows Jimmy Stewart that there’s still plenty of beauty in the world.
Too sentimental? Well, buckle up, because it’s Christmas, and we’re here to prove the exact same thing to you — using scenes from our past year as evidence.
Take this shot from our June stop in Cambodia, where we were blown away from the grandeur of the vast ancient Angkor Wat temple complex.
We began the year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we visited Batu Caves, which is famous for having Hindu temples inside the cave complex.
Kuala Lumpur is also home to the Petronas Towers, which subtly meld the Islamic Rub el Hizb octagram design into a modern super-structure complex that includes twin buildings that were once the tallest in the world.
Nearby Penang, Malaysia, was full of color — in the food for which they are rightly famous, and also in the temples, like the Kek Lok Si Temple.
From Malaysia, we headed to Bangkok, Thailand — a huge, gritty city choked with people and traffic.
But even that chaos holds a certain kind of beauty, like this scene from the city’s Chinatown.
But, of course, Bangkok’s greatest beauty is probably found in its amazing food — and the care and expertise with which it is cooked.
From Thailand, we headed to Cambodia, which is an excuse to show more photos from the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex.
Back in Thailand again, we headed north now, to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, home to the amazing White Temple...
…and the famous Mae Hong Son Loop, where we were the only people on this beautiful bamboo bridge which is sometimes mobbed with monks and the people who donate to them.
We also stopped by Bua Tong, also known as the “sticky waterfall,” because you can easily walk right up it — no equipment needed, not even shoes.
In July, we headed back to America for Brent’s dad’s funeral, and after that, we split up for a week, and Michael quickly found himself lost in the stunning beauty of the Flatirons of Boulder, Colorado.
Together again in Seattle, we made time to meet up with old friends, who reminded us that the most beautiful thing of all really is the smiles on the faces of the people you love — even when you’re all wearing dorky hats.
Before long, we were on a cruise ship across the Pacific.
A month later, we landed in Australia, and we’ve already shared photos from the city’s stunning harbor. So let’s look for beauty in a smaller, more subtle place — like, say, a bluebottle, a kind of stinging marine invertebrate that blows onto Australian beaches when the wind comes from the northeast.
And now here we are, spending part of the Christmas season in the Blue Mountains above Sydney.
2023 wasn’t a wonderful year for everybody on Planet Earth. But we do all still live in a world that is full of beauty.
And we think that’s worth remembering, maybe now more than ever.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Michael and Brent
December 23, 2023
Brent Hartinger is a screenwriter and author. Check out my new newsletter about my books and movies at www.BrentHartinger.com.