#195: The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)

When and how did I watch this?

November 4th, 2015, on Amazon Prime.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Another longer film, this time loosely based on World War II.  I didn’t really know any of the actors, so I was sort of going into this one blind.

What do I know about it now?

There are countless WWII movies out there. The theater of the war was widespread, reaching just about every culture and affecting the loftiest men down to the impoverished family.  Typically the setting is a battlefield, or something behind the scenes during the conflict such as a concentration camp or Jewish ghettos.  All of these make riveting films, but the landscape is almost always the same.

What this particular movie did transcended all of that, because it expanded the war beyond the typical good-guys-won motif that many of the films made in the 40s and 50s ascribe to.  Instead, it profiled three men that were clearly affected by the war itself, but had to make adjustments once they returned.  One guy had his hands blown off, and while he felt the shame of appearing a freak to everyone around him, it was compounded by the lack of heroism in the incident — he was hurt in a sunk carrier in his only moment of action. The other two men featured in the film dealt with their own issues, equally profound in their own way. Some of the people they encounter are appreciative of their efforts, and some are quite otherwise.

It didn’t approach the war in the typical nationalistic fashion most golden-age war movies depict it, and the film made sure the human element was intact. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, including the ones I’ve watched on the list so far.

What are some themes in the film?

Shame, infidelity, aging, PTSD, home, self-awareness, camaraderie

Did this affect me personally?

Yes.  The very beginning struck me immediately. So did the rest of it.

Why is this ranked #195?

It’s another Oscar-sweeping movie.  It has the WWII theme.  Oh yeah, and it’s a great film. It should be higher, but I it doesn’t have any of those big lines or dramatic scenes that people remember for the ages, so it’s quite underrated on this list.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She liked what she saw — she didn’t finish it.

Would I watch it again?

I could watch this one several times.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Yes.  It’s probably a film you’ve overlooked.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

It’s on several other lists, I discovered, and rightfully so.  The modern internet voter loves the big suspense thriller, or the hyper violent or special effect feasts, but movies like this are appreciated by those who recognize a quality story, perfect screenwriting, and acting that really doesn’t exist anymore. Note that this was written a year after the war while the war was still fresh and many veterans were still attempting to wriggle their way back into society. I doubt that anything captured this aspect of the war better than The Best Years of Our Lives.

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