Alice Bergstrom, one of the characters in Sunset Park, is writing her dissertation on the film The Best Years of Our Lives. Almost everyone in the book has either seen it already or watches it with her so she can add their reactions to her observations. Auster draws many parallels between the story in the film and the story of his contemporary characters.
The film follows the lives of three WWII veterans who meet on their way home from the war. They become friends, and we watch them and their families as they try to return to their regular lives. Each comes home with different wounds - some physical, some emotional - and each has difficulty adjusting. Jobs are lost, marriages dissolve, but there is hope.
In his review of the film, Roger Ebert notes that it "doesn't use verbal or technical pyrotechnics. It trusts entirely in the strength of its story." He believes that the film feels modern, not dated like most films from more than sixty years ago, because it makes no effort to add "superfluous drama" to the story. Instead, the film treats the characters as regular people who have dealt with horrible circumstances, much like those in which we find ourselves in today.
The Best Years of Our Lives was directed by William Wyler, and stars Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright. It swept the Oscars in 1946, taking Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (March), Supporting Actor (Russell), Film Editing, and Music Scoring as well as an Honorary Oscar for Harold Russell "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell was a veteran who lost both hands in an explosion, and he plays a young man who lost both hands in the war. The Best Years of Our Lives was also a great commercial success.
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This article was originally published in November 2010, and has been updated for the
October 2011 paperback release.
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