The Best Years of Our Lives Film Analysis

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The movie, The Best Years of Our Lives, is a film by Samuel Goldwyn of veterans from World War II, with emphasis on the lives of three men. In the movie, the main characters’ names are Homer, Al, and Fred. The movie focuses on three men who have to get readjusted to civilian life after spending many years actively engaged in the military. They even fought in World War II and survived, but the movie portrays a harsh reality of adjustment for all three men. 

Homer is the main character because he is a military veteran who has had both his arms amputated. However, each character is suffering mentally and emotionally, but Homer goes through emotional, mental, and physical anguish because he lost both his arms in the war. The three men have not only formed a bond in the military that only those in the military understand, but they form an even closer bond on the way home. The film shows the men talking and reminiscing in the back of a taxi. 

The terms, homosocial, masculinity, demobilization, and protagonists, disability, civilians, all keep resonating throughout the messages being conveyed. Homosocial relates to social reactions between people of the same sex. In the movie, Homer, Al, and Fred developed a homosocial relationship that only veterans could understand. When Homer was first dropped off at home after returning from WWII, the homosocial relationship was very vivid. The men were each driven to their homes, and Homer showed a sense of anguish or longing for his friends as the driver pulled away. One of the scenes from the film shown Homer’s wife hugging him, but Homer did not respond. Yet, he showed emotions when his military friends were driven away. It was a look of disbelief because his friends were leaving.

The other terms are very important to review because they are depicted in the articles, Between Friends, Masculinity, and Rehabilitation in the Best Years of Our Lives by Sarah Sahn and the Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in the Best Years of Our Lives, which is written by David Gerber.  Both authors use terms to describe the reintegration and pains of three veterans returning into civilian life. However, Sahn seems to do a better job describing the story of the men in the film and how the adjustments of veterans into regular society is very difficult. Sahn writes about detailed accounts of how Homer has to readjust. Sahn also discusses how the demobilization, the discharge from the military, affect each one of their lives. When the men return to Boone City, their lives begin to change even more. Sahn writes about how Fred had to return to a very low wage job after serving as an Air Force Captain. Fred even begins to have problems at home with his wife because he no longer has a job in the military, which was much more respectful than the job in the drug store.

Sahn goes on to give another account, which is of Al. He also has issues because he takes a position as a loan officer, but soon realizes that his boss will inform to deny loans to servicemen. Al has a problem with this because he knows firsthand the sacrifices that military men have had to make and believes that the country owes a debt of gratitude. 

Sahn adds emphasis to his piece by discussing the main character and how his disability framed the story:

Homer’s prosthetic hooks comprise the visual center of the film’s representation of wartime trauma and loss; the story of Homer’s reconciliation and marriage to his childhood sweetheart Wilma is the central narrative thread on which the film’s rehabilitation stories hang. The marriage plot, along with its corollaries in Al and Fred’s stories, has been central to readings of disability and masculinity in the film (18).

Sahn’s argument is that these men have risked their lives and come back to society with a whole set of additional problems. These men have to learn to be regular citizens again, regardless of the stares, post-traumatic stress disorder, dismemberment, and other personal or emotional issues. 

Stigmas have also played a role in how men perceive mental health issues. Many veterans return home with PTSD and feel ashamed in seeking help because of stigmas. In the movie, Fred has a nightmare, which stems from his former involvement in the military. Veterans all across the world need mental health treatment, and some seek it while others do not. Researchers, Lucas and Phelan, conducted an experimental study in status characteristics and reported that “a label of mental illness reduces an individual's interpersonal influence” (Hatzenbuehler, Phelan, and Link 818). Evidence suggests that shame may cause one to isolate themselves socially. Many who are afraid of rejection avoid entering relationships for fear of people discovering their stigmatized status. In one study, individuals who were able to hide such perceived shames experienced higher self-esteem only in the presence of those who shared their stigma (Hatzenbuehler, Phelan, and Link). Correlational studies have also shown high levels of isolation among stigmatized groups, even those with mental illness and minority sexual orientations (Hatzenbuehler, Phelan, and Link).

Gerber and Sahn’s account of the movie holds similarities. They both detail accounts of how veterans deal with life after being thrashed back into society. It begs the question, “Was it worth it?” Many of the men have to learn life all over again. The most profound notion is that these men sacrificed and risked everything for the safety of their country. They lost their dignity but gained it back. They lost the state of their relationships and had to work on them to improve them, and they may have lost their limbs, even their souls. They come back into a society, which offers stares, sympathy, and often little reimbursement for their deeds. They can never be repaid for their sufferings as Gerber alludes. Gerber also states that the movie prompted pity and fear.  Nonetheless, the title of the movie, “The Best Years of My Life,” is riddled with symbolic meaning. The veterans had endured the best years of their lives in the military before being crippled mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Works Cited

Gerber, David A. “Heroes and Misfits: The Troubled Social Reintegration of Disabled Veterans in ‘The Best Years of Our Lives.’” American Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 4, 1994, pp. 545–574. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2713383. Accessed 25 May 2018.

Hatzenbuehler, Mark L., Jo C. Phelan, and Bruce G. Link. “Stigma as a Fundamental Cause of Population Health Inequalities.” American journal of public health 103.5 (2013): 813–821. PMC. Web. Accessed 25 May 2018. 

Sahn, Sarah F. “Between Friends: Disability, Masculinity, and Rehabilitation in The Best Years of Our Lives." Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, vol. 11 no. 1, 2017, pp. 17-34. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/649377. Accessed 25 May 2018.