Coming in the wake of hard-earned national pride at the end of World War 2, Robert E. Sherwood’s screenplay of MacKinlay Kantor’s novel follows three veterans as they as they deal with their new realities when they return home. Neither they nor their relationships are the same, but the film manages to be patriotic within its introspection and heartwarming without being corny.
Most profound for me is the honest way The Best Years Of Our Lives presents people living with disability. Hollywood tends to either ignore lives impacted by disability or heroically mythologize feats performed in spite of disability. In doing so, they focus on the disability rather than the person.
In this movie, the character of Homer Parrish returns from war with prosthetic hooks replacing his hands. Homer, played in an Oscar-winning performance by real-life disabled veteran Harold Russell, lives with his caring, but pitying, parents, and we see him struggle to build relationships that see him as a person first, before they see his disability.
Homer has insecurities, dreams and interests like any other person, and the one person who appreciates that is Wilma, whom he had promised to marry when he returned. The drama around Homer’s reluctance to burden Wilma and her unchanged love for him is honest and deeply moving.
I dedicate this movie to my wife, Suzanne, who gave her love of classic movies to me.
When we met and married, I was an athletic and ambitious man, with prospects of a successful career in international business. For the past 10 years I have been a quadriplegic, unable to speak, walk, or eat, due to the effects of ALS. Suzanne chooses to see me as the whole person I still am, with dreams and insecurities, strengths and faults, even as we cope with the day to day challenges of life in a wheelchair.
Part of our struggle is in trying to get past people’s approach to those with visible disabilities. We are too often met with pity and low expectations, or treated as superheroes when we dare to find new ways to do the things we love. No one is awe-struck by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz’s ability to introduce movies despite his visual disability requiring the use of prescription glasses! In the same way, we hope for a future where people living with other disabilities are seen as people first, and that the tools we use to fully participate in society are seen as normal.
Like Wilma, Suzanne has chosen to see and to love the whole person I am, and, nearly 40 years after we met, we still are having the best years of our lives.
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