You want to know why The Best Years of Our Lives is my favorite movie ever?
It's because it gets so many things right. It's because there is truth in it -- lots of truth in it. I think that's because it's a story about struggling veterans of a horrible war -- men with newfound and profound impatience for all the pleasant lies and platitudes in which a society immerses itself.
In this respect, it's probably notable that the original story was written by a former war correspondent, and that director William Wyler had seen his share of aerial combat as a filmmaker in the Army Air Forces.
IN THIS FILM, which I watched yet again last night, there is no room for the self-absorbed or the self-righteous. I'll bet most people today would hate the hell out of it.
For example, the view of love and marriage you get from The Best Years of Our Lives isn't one for the squeamish. The clips above and below convict us and all the assumptions we've lived by in the decades since the film's release in November 1946.
IN THE FILM'S no-bull worldview, love is a verb. In the sentence "I love you," "love" is the action born of a decision made by "I." The object of the verb is "you."
And being that "love" is an active verb, it's implied that loving requires significant effort.
In today's world -- created by children who couldn't quite grasp what their postwar parents took for granted -- love has been recast solely as a noun. "Love" is this free-floating, self-actualized thing requiring nothing but to receive it.
Suddenly, the sentence "I love you" is like a sprinkler system without a backflow valve. Things flow the wrong way. We don't love so much as we're "in love" -- that is, until we're out of love again.
It's all about us. And that's not love -- or marriage -- at all. For the theologically inclined, the Catholic catechism puts it this way:
1604AND THERE'S this as well:
God who created man out of love also calls him to love — the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "And God blessed them, and God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.'"
Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: "It is not good that the man should be alone." The woman, "flesh of his flesh," his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning": "So they are no longer two, but one flesh."
1615A CULTURE that could create a film like The Best Years of Our Lives still knew some things. Took for granted some concepts we find totally alien today.
This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy—heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.
This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her," adding at once: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church."
I fear that we may understand the words recorded onto a soundtrack almost 64 years ago yet find that their meaning eludes us completely.
And if, somehow, our powers of comprehension continue to fail us so profoundly, the following scene will become a powerful metaphor for a whole new generation . . . and the country it has created in its own image.