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The Best Years of Our Lives
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES centers on three WWII soldiers returning home from service:. Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), a bombardier, Al Stephenson (Frederic March), a middle- aged footsoldier, and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a sailor who has lost both hands, fly back to their home town of Boone City, excited, but a little apprehensive about beginning their post-war lives. Fred is returning to a beautiful wife, Marie (Virginia Mayo), whom he barely knows. Al is coming back to his wife, Milly (Myrna Loy), and their two children, who have grown up while he was gone. And Homer is coming back to face his family and his fiancée, Wilma (Cathy O'Donnell), with hooks replacing his hands. Each of them has a lot of adjusting to do, and the story follows their post-war struggles with relationships, post-traumatic stress syndrome, careers, injuries, and more.
Is it any good?
This notable movie's theme of adaptation to changing circumstances and the need for genuine closeness is a timeless one. Many kids will experience and learn about post-war issues as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan. The most important scene in the movie is the one in which Fred realizes that he can use the same skills he used in the war -- especially his ability to learn -- to bring him what he is looking for. Fred and Homer both have a hard time believing that they deserve love, because each feels helpless and inadequate. Homer is afraid to risk rejection by Wilma, so he brusquely ignores her. Fred plans to leave town and never see Peggy again. But both ultimately take the risk and find the love they hoped for.
Al is also brusque and awkward with Milly at first, but by their first morning together he is ready to return to the relationship they had. Milly's description of marriage to Peggy is particularly important in this context, making it clear that "living happily ever after" requires commitment, courage, and work.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the challenges faced by each of the servicemen in adjusting to life after the war. Would it have been easier for Homer if his family and Wilma talked to him about his injuries when he first came home? Why was it easier for Homer to talk to Fred and Al about them than it was to talk to his family? Why was Al so awkward with Milly at first? What did he mean when he talked about collateral at the banquet? Why was it important for Fred to realize that he knew how to learn? How did that change the way he thought about himself?
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