The Best Years of Our Lives
Directed by William Wyler
Written by Robert E. Sherwood based on the novel by MacKinlay Kantor
This movie comes straight off the bat with the feels, showing the pain of coming home after seeing terrible things through Homer and his two lost hands and his fears about how his girl will handle seeing his hooks. The other two men accompanying Homer don’t have the same disfigurement but plenty of worries and reservations all the same.
I blubbered my way through all the reuniting scenes with the servicemen and their families and wives. Anna pointed out it’s like the end of a movie, not the start. And I guess that’s the point. The reunions quickly turn hard though, with Homer’s family uncertain how to deal with his hooks. Fred afraid to even find his wife, Al trying to fit back into a family that’s well adjusted to being without him.
It’s a slow burn of a movie, which is nicely framed because it’s about people being very polite to the returned vets and eventually saying no, or no you can’t or we can’t help. And because those conversations are slow and convoluted the pace of the movie makes a lot of sense. It’s carefully crafted to punch you in the gut, hurt your heart and make you cry.
Does it make me love the people? Yes, absolutely. I think I loved Fred first, and then Homer a lot. Al was a little tougher to feel sympathy for but I was there too once he woke up and went around the room checking it was real and not just a dream *sob*. I also felt for all the women in their lives and the various reactions that they had. I’m not so sure about the May to December romance Fred had with Al’s daughter Peggy, but hey… better than his existing wife who just wanted to drink and socialise, am I right?
Bechdel test: Alice and Milly talk on the phone near the start but we only see Milly’s side of things. Milly and Peggy talk, lots of mother daughter stuff but I think it’s always framed around the men in their lives? I could be wrong, I could be forgetting them talking about clothes or housework though. No stand out passes, anyway.
Peggy: I’ve made up my mind.
Al: Good girl.
Milly: To do what?
Peggy: I’m going to break that marriage up! I can’t stand it seeing Fred tied to a woman he doesn’t love and who doesn’t love him. Oh, it’s horrible for him. It’s humiliating and it’s killing his spirit. Somebody’s got to help him.
Al: You know, I had a dream. I dreamt I was home. I’ve had that same dream hundreds of times before. This time, I wanted to find out if it’s really true. Am I really home?
Milly: You’ll probably have to make a speech.
Al: It’s my plan to meet that situation by getting plastered.
State of Mind: I’m pleased that this movie didn’t end as bleakly as I feared it would. Anna felt like she could see where it was going and didn’t want to endure it, so I watched the last bit alone but actually it’s pretty positive. There’s a lot of social commentary, and a lot of it is damning, but there’s also generally satisfying and happy conclusions for our main characters. I was relieved. Knowing this, I may watch it again because a happy ending makes the earlier pain easier to endure I feel. All in all, a great technical movie, characters with depth who are portrayed well.