19. The Best Years of Our Lives (1947)

Title: The Best Years of Our Lives

Release Date: 21 November, 1946

Oscar Ceremony: 13 March, 1947

Director: William Wyler

Starring: Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy & Teresa Wright

Hey hey, it’s time for another war movie! I’m at my 19th Best Picture winner and so far, about 1/3 of the movies have been about war. The Best Years of Our Lives was directed by William Wyler, the same man who directed Mrs. Miniver. However, instead of focusing on British civilian struggles during WW2, this time Wyler chose to explore the lives of American soldiers after returning from WW2.

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Honestly, the movie starts off really promising. Three men from three different backgrounds meet on a flight home from war. You can see them pictured above from left to right: sailor Homer Parrish, Air Force Captain Fred Derry, and army Sergeant Al Stephenson. Parrish lost both his arms during war and awaits to return home to his fiance and high school sweetheart, Derry got married right before the war and used to work as a “soda jerk”(someone who makes and sells soft drinks in a shop), and Stephenson is a wealthy banker with a wife, a teenage son, and a grown-up daughter. After a few cool aerial and car shots of their hometown of Boone City, a typical American town in the 40s, we get to see each man go home and face their loved ones. However, we quickly realize that readjusting to normal life is not as easy as we assume. Whether it’s a family getting used to having someone back (and potentially changed) after so long, or a man realizing that things are not exactly the way he left them, it’s definitely a challenge.

In a time where most people were overjoyed and thought the worst was over, it was important to remind everyone that some men might not be okay. When you go through something as traumatizing as war, you can’t just leave all your memories and experiences behind in the blink of an eye. Healing, if even possible, takes time, effort and patience. We must keep in mind that the troubles of war do not necessarily end on the battlefield.

The Best Years of Our Lives feels like an attempt to make an iconic epic like Gone With the Wind and while the whole concept of examining post-war struggles in soldiers is indeed worthy, the film turns into somewhat of a melodrama. The love story it chooses to put at its center is nowhere near as complex and interesting as Scarlett and Rhett’s. Moreover, it takes away from the real issues and makes the movie way longer than it needs to be.

The thing is, I feel like things could have been much worse. Nowadays, we are a bit more aware of the serious effects of PTSD and how incredibly difficult it can be for people to readjust to a certain life, regardless of what they have been through. After having just seen The Lost Weekend, a film that did not think twice when it came to taking risks to ensure a raw and uncensored portrayal of an issue, The Best Years of Our Lives seems to deliver its point through rose coloured glasses. Sure, we feel Homer’s discomfort when his family tiptoes around his prosthetics and treats him like a different man. Sure, we feel Fred’s disillusionment with his shallow wife and intense emotions for Al’s daughter, as well as his difficulty finding a decent paying job. Sure, we feel Al’s regret when he realizes how much his children have grown and how restricted he is in his banking job. But in the end, these men’s stories are happy ones.

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The Best Years of Our Lives is definitely not bad. A tad overrated yes, but not bad. It’s nice to see the aftermath of war for once, as opposed to the actual war itself. It’s also nice to know that many people could probably relate to this movie, and still will for years to come.

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