Do you think that this film shows the emotional problems of returning veterans accurately?
Does it depict a clear point of view from both the veteran and the family at home?
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Best Years of Our Lives shows a representative sample of three categories of returning soldier: The upper class son who comes back with rough manners and friends that puzzle and sadden his mother; an upper class husband and father who comes home to loving and happy wife and teenage children but cannot feel the carefree happiness and love of life they feel; the wounded and disfigured son of a prosperous working class family who has to adjust to being the same son but in a changed, dependent body and who has to watch his parents try to adjust as well. The first two can get out, go to some sort of work and try to rediscover ordinary life but the third is physically limited and psychologically bound to his parents home.
This overview shows that in one sense, the film does not represent a true picture of returning soldiers as not all were from prosperous or upper class families, nor were all who returned in as good a condition as the characters: many were much worse off; some were only narrowly effected. On the other hand, it does accurately give a truthful representation of the emotional and psychological and physical adjustments to emotional, psychological, and physical problems faced by both soldiers and family.
In sum, the film has limitations as an entertainment medium in an era more sensitive to visually depicting hardship and suffering, and it has limitations of scope in that time and cost allow only selected representations of soldier's experience. Yet the selections are made so well by the writers and director [Robert E. Sherwood (screenplay) and MacKinlay Kantor (novel) ; William Wyler] that the problems and difficulties of soldier and family represent shades and degrees of truth across the entire varied population of male and female returning veterans.
The film came into being when stories were published about the problems that returning vets were having. The fact that the film proved so popular both in the United States and in the United Kingdom suggests that many returning vets found it accurate or at least highly plausible. If it had fundamentally falsified the experiences of veterans, the film probably would not have been as popular and as highly honored as it was.
In such a situation, I personally think you are going to encounter a multitude of different reactions and responses to returning home. Whilst on the whole the film accurately explored the feelings and emotions of some groups of soldiers, we cannot see this movie as being a comprehensive depiction of the feelings of soldiers to returning home.
My father claimed he never had any emotional problems after returning from World War II. He was just happy he was not shipped to Japan to take part in the proposed invasion of the islands, his unit's next destination--made unnecessary, thank goodness--for him and possibly me--by the decision to drop the atomic bombs. My dad did have to deal with a fairly serious back injury (he was badly wounded in the Battle of the Bulge) upon his return, and it bothered him until the day he died. He would probably have identified more closely with Homer Parrish, the Harold Russell character who lost both hands during his stint with the Navy.
This is hard to say for me because my grandparents never really talked about what it was like to have my grandfather come back from the war. They just seemed to think it was something that happened to everyone and wasn't to be discussed.
Of course, the movie was about the most extreme cases. It wouldn't have made for such a good drama if it looked at the stories of people who came back and were not physically or psychologically damaged. It is also important to note that the majority of the returning veterans would not have undergone the kind of trauma that the veterans in the movie had.
So, for a certain section of the population, I think the movie was accurate, but I don't think it was accurate for the majority of returning veterans. I think that the bigger problem was more subtle -- men coming back after years of being away from their families to women who had also been playing a different role than they had been used to. It would have been very hard (but much less dramatic) to readjust.
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