Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Great Movie Scenes - The Best Years of Our Lives

One of the odd things about studying liberal arts at a university is that college kids are exposed to works that often require more life experience or maturity to appreciate. I've recently enjoyed going back over some of the fiction I read in college. As an English major, I had enough in me to appreciate works like Macbeth and Huckleberry Finn, but as a naive Mormon kid, I missed the boat entirely on The Scarlet Letter. And I didn't have the patience to avoid daydreaming while reading certain complex stories like "Flowering Judas."

Same with movies. One of my favorite classes was a film appreciation course I took as a freshman. I was able to get into some movies like Shane, Buster Keaton's The General, and Citizen Kane. (I fact, I loved Orson Welles' movie so much that I sat through it twice on a Friday afternoon/evening, even though I was hungry and blowing off a date with a girl I was in love with.) I also despised a couple of other movies -- Truffaut's The Story of Adele H and Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. I haven't seen Adele H again, although I think I would actually enjoy it now that I can tolerate subtitles and appreciate unrequited love -- in fact, I struggled for years to get over the same girl I blew off to see Citizen Kane a second time.

I have seen The Best Years of Our Lives again. It's now one of my favorite movies, if not my favorite movie. As an 18-year-old, I was hoping a World War II movie would offer a little more action. I was all set to see a gruesome depiction of war so that I could write a paper that explained why war is hell while secretly envying those who fought and suffered. But the movie was about three soldiers coming home from war and struggling with their relationships. Yawn. There wasn't a single gun shot or explosion.

In today's featured movie scene, here's a clip that shows a former bombardier visiting an airplane graveyard. What I didn't get as a college student was how much more can be shown by showing less. When the former bombardier played by Dana Andrews is having his flashback, it's up to us to imagine what the soldier experienced. The military citation read by the bomber's father in the previous scene offers some direction, but since the action isn't overwhelming the screen, the audience can think about that and more. We think about the former bomber who once had a heroic role in life and has been reduced to looking for work as a soda jerk. We think about how the bomber dismissed the military citations as trash ("those things came in packages of K-rations"), and wonder what really happened. And I'm fairly certain that back in 1946, with more than 400,000 Americans killed during the war, the airplane graveyard represented more to the people watching the movie than just recycled airplanes.

This is just one of many great scenes in a great movie. If it were played in the theater now, I'm pretty sure I'd sit through it twice.