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Review: The Best Years of Our Lives

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Watched The Best Years of Our Lives on the Criterion Channel. The “coming home” narrative has been one of the most popular sub-genres of war fiction since The Odyssey (though it became significantly more ubiquitous in the wake of Vietnam), but director William Wyler’s immaculate craftsmanship makes this stirring meditation on post-WWII trauma feel innovative and relevant even today. The way he stages his scenes is particularly impressive; I could spend hours dissecting how the film expresses its core themes through blocking alone.

Civilians, for example, are often positioned with their backs to the camera, or at the very edge of the frame, leaving their faces just out of view—a visual motif that clearly communicates how difficult it is for the protagonists to reintegrate into postwar society:

Wyler also makes effective use of space in order to illustrate the gradual evolution of the relationship between his three main characters: 

And don’t even me started on the climactic wedding sequence:

There’s nothing flashy or ostentatious about Wyler’s stylistic choices; every technique he utilizes serves the story first and foremost—in other words: form follows function.

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