Idol Chatter

bestyears.jpgFor years movie critics have been trying to figure out why we haven’t had a great Iraq War picture. After six years, the Iraq War is still too “hot”–politically divisive and emotionally unresolved–for filmmakers to distill the experience of overextended veterans and those who waited for them. The only movie that’s come close to bringing the war home for me is the 61-year-old classic, “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

Winner of Best Picture and six other categories at the 1947 Oscars, “The Best Years of Our Lives” tells the stories of three servicemen, played by Frederic March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell, returning home to an Anytown, U.S.A. called Boone City, Iowa.
Full of laughs (director Billy Wyler’s other huge success was the comedy “Some Like It Hot”) and closely drawn moments, the movie shows the bumpy re-entry many soldiers have to civilian life. Andrews’ character has to adapt to being a lowly soda jerk again after being promoted to officer rank for his courage in combat, while Russell, an actual veteran who lost his hands in the war, has to overcome his own feelings of inadequacy to believe life is still worth living. Strangers when they return to their loved ones, the three find each other’s company the most comfortable place to be.
I’d seen the film at least five times before I rented it last week, but it had never affected me as it did with our Iraq veterans slowly coming home, and new commitments being made to Afghanistan. Granted the distance we have from the “Good War” of the 1940s, “The Best Years of Our Lives” lets us see that the trials of men who have seen–and succeeded in–combat are as difficult in this war as in that one. Until someone makes the great Iraq War movie, “The Best Years of Our Lives” will more than do.

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