Best Years of Our Lives, The (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), directed by William Wyler.

The last chapter of any war story is "coming home".

Three servicemen, eager and nervous, yearn for simple things: just a life after the war. Family, good food and coffee, civilian clothes. They meet in a bomber, now carrying them home instead of reducing Germany and Japan to rubble. We'll revist the scene again toward the end: the aircraft scrapyard is one of the great moments in American cinema.

Their families, wives and sweethearts have been through the war too. So much has changed. It has to be a new life; for the better?

The human drama includes quite a bit of comedy. It's hard for me to appreciate an entirely humorless film (see Citizen Kane (1941)). Serious as this story is, it still has moments of wryness and even absurdity. Our three characters, in declining order of the amount of humor allowed them:

The last chapter, Coming Home, is an essential part of the story. "Message" can be deadly to a film, but here it works. Russell's is the heaviest part; we know he's an amateur playing a character much like himself, and that takes us out of the movie, but the reality of his disability grabs us.

For the rest, how could you tell the story of coming home without the jarring notes, the outrage over injustice? It meshes with the love stories: three good women relieve much suffering.

Available on Blu-ray.