The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

I don’t usually watch sad movies during the school year, because the stress and exhaustion from work coupled with a sad film can derail my mental health quickly.

But Sunday I was feeling more anchored and less sad than I have in months, so I pulled out the good ol’ Warner Brothers collection and when I saw the next movie on the list was “The Best Years of our Lives,” I thought, why not?

Plot: Three men catch a hop to their hometown after the end of World War II. They didn’t know each other before the war, but are bonded by their separate experiences in the war and the long trip home. The next three (yes, three!) hours chronicle their adjustment back to civilian life.

Best moment: Homer, who has lost both of his arms, invites his would-be fiancé up to his bedroom to get a glimpse of what her life would be like should they marry. He shows her what it takes for him to get ready for bed, and openly shares his emotional vulnerability about what kind of husband he thinks he’ll be, dependent as he is. It’s so raw and touching, and I applaud Robert Sherwood’s writing and William Wyler’s direction for taking such an intimate moment and showing that vulnerability, while scary, most often brings us closer to each other.

Worst moment: In terms of quality, there’s not really a “worst moment,” but in terms of discomfort, there were several moments that could be labeled “worst,” only because they were awfully difficult for the characters. Reentry to civilian life can’t be easy, and everyone involved in this film confronted that head-on, not shying away from or sugar coating the realities of post-war life. This means that some scenes were really hard to watch.

Fun fact: William Wyler, who directed the film, was one of five big-name Hollywood directors who filmed documentaries from the front lines during World War II. I highly recommend Mark Harris’ book “Five Came Back,” and the Netflix documentary of the same name to learn more about those directors who risked their lives to show Americans what war was really like.

Recommendation: I watched this film in 2005, and perhaps age has mellowed me a bit, but I rather enjoyed watching it this time around. I wasn’t bored at all watching. If you have a lazy afternoon, it’s definitely worth your time.

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