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#39- The Best Years of our Lives

Quick recap: This movie follows three servicemen as they return from fighting in World War II and try to readjust to civilian life. Al, a sergeant in the Pacific, returns to his loving family and job as a banker. Fred, who was in the Air Force, comes home to an uncertain future as he and his wife are barely able to make ends meet. Homer, a veteran from the Navy who has had both of his hands removed, must cope with his new disability as well as try to build a relationship with his fiancee.

bonding over a good smoke

bonding over a good smoke

Fun (?) fact:  Harold Russell, who played Homer, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. The board thought he was a longshot to win so they created a fake award for inspiring courage for his fellow veterans. And then he won the Oscar.

My thoughts: Growing up, I always had this idealized view about World War II. In my mind, America universally supported the war effort and when soldiers returned home, they were greeted as heroes and were given everything they needed as reward for keeping us safe.  I became an adult during the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and was able to see more realistically what solders are faced with: unemployment issues, disabilities that aren’t necessarily easy to spot, and the inability for us civilians to truly relate to what they have gone through during combat. After watching this movie,  I realize that soldiers have always faced these issues. I can’t comment as to how things have gotten better over time, but it just seems sad to me that these issues are still very much present.

The movie clocks in at almost 3 hours, but it is important to see each character as they navigate through their old life again.  It was heartbreaking to watch each character return to their family, especially Fred. He had done so much during the war, saving countless lives and yet comes back to his parents living in squalor, his wife MIA and no job. Most people who have seen the movie tend to focus on Homer’s character- the veteran who has had both hands amputated. And there is good reason for that, especially considering he was a real veteran. But for some reason, it is Fred’s story that really stuck with me. His character also had to deal with ‘combat trauma’, what we now call PTSD and it was moving to see him trying to recover from the past the horrors of war, yet knowing that it will never really be gone.

Final review: 4/5. The only issue I had with the movie was the ending. Everyone ends up happy and ‘back to normal’. It would’ve been nice to have had a grittier ending, but I’ll take it.

Up next: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

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