Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Wizard of Oz (1939)


     For a long time while I wrote “Reel Christianity”, I thought to myself: “At some point, I want to write about ‘The Wizard of Oz’… but I have no idea what exactly to write about.” Well, last semester, as I took a class in college about the integration of faith and media, the instructor pointed out an idea in “The Wizard of Oz” that I hadn’t thought about before. We’ll get to that in a minute, but to address what most of you already know, “The Wizard of Oz” is one of those cinematic staples that everyone needs to see before the age of six. Many have identified the film’s moral as “there’s no place like home”, but I’d like to propose another theme that many of us seem to forget sometimes.

     Again, we’ll get to that in a second. But let’s look at the film itself first. Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) is a young girl living in a very dark, gloomy, sepia-colored Kansas with her Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) on their farm. They have three helpers, Hunk (Ray Bolger), Hickory (Jack Haley), and Zeke (Bert Lahr), and they each persuade Dorothy to cheer up in their own ways. After the mean Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) scares Dorothy and her dog Toto away, Hunk tells Dorothy to use common sense to avoid Miss Gulch; Zeke tells her not to be scared when he suddenly gets scared of the farm pigs; and Hickory… uh, he wants to be a statue. Watch the movie and it’ll make sense.

     So anyway, Miss Gulch takes possession of Toto before Toto escapes and goes back to Dorothy, who decides to run away from home. On her way, she runs into a half-baked fortuneteller known as Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) who tells her that her Aunt Em is brokenhearted now that Dorothy has run away. Dorothy decides to return home, but she is caught in a storm on her way back, and before she can join her family in the cellar, she finds herself in her bedroom caught in a tornado, landing her eventually in a mysterious place.

     This place is known as the land of Oz, a Technicolor wonderland with midgets—err, Munchkins, a fairy godmother—err, a good witch named Glinda (Billie Burke), and a man behind a curtain—err, a wizard known simply as the Wizard of Oz (Morgan), whom Glinda says can help Dorothy return home. Before she sets off on her journey, however, a bad witch shows up: the Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton). See, what happened was, Dorothy’s house landed on the witch’s evil sister, and the ruby slippers that she wore magically transported onto Dorothy’s feet. So now the Witch wants those slippers and threatens to get them from Dorothy at any cost. She disappears, and Dorothy has to follow the Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard and go home.

     So now I’ll cut to the chase. On her way, she meets a scarecrow (Bolger) without brains, a metal man (Haley) without a heart, and a lion (Lahr) without courage, all of who join Dorothy on her journey to see the wizard in the hopes of getting what they need. They eventually get to Emerald City, the wizard’s place of residence, and the Great and Powerful Oz (who seems to be a large head surrounded by fire) tells them that in order for him to help them, they need to perform a small task: bring him the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

     This, of course, is not easy, but through a series of hijinks and threatening situations, they pour water on the Witch, melting her, and return to the Wizard with her broomstick. When the Wizard tells them to come back tomorrow, however, they get angry, and Toto (who at times seems to be the smartest one of the bunch) goes behind a nearby curtain and reveals the Wizard’s true identity: Oscar Diggs! …Just kidding, that name is just from “Oz the Great and Powerful”. But still, the Wizard really isn’t a wizard at all, and the group of friends ask him (or interrogate him) about how to get the things that he promised them.

     And here’s where the moral gets a little weird. Oz proceeds to tell the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion that they each had a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively, in the first place—they just had to discover it through their journey. So in commemoration of their new discoveries, Oz gives them a small token: a half-baked diploma, a clock shaped like a heart, and a gold medal labeled “courage”, respectively.

     Gee, when you think of it that way, the movie does sound a little weird in terms of its lessons. But that all culminates when Dorothy, who was ready to go back to Kansas with Oz, is left behind on accident. However, Glinda shows up and reveals to her a stunning realization:

DOROTHY: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?

GLINDA: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

DOROTHY: I have?

SCARECROW: Then why didn’t you tell her before?

GLINDA: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

     Dorothy explains what she’s learned, which is basically “there’s no place like home”.

SCARECROW: But that’s so easy! I should have thought of it for you!

TIN MAN: I should have felt it in my heart.

GLINDA: No, she had to find it out for herself. Now, those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!

     So yeah, Dorothy says her goodbyes, clicks her heels three times, and repeats “there’s no place like home,” and in a minute, she’s back in her bed in Kansas, surrounded by Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Hunk, Hickory, Zeke, and Professor Marvel (for some reason), awaiting for her to regain consciousness. And she tells them how happy she is to be back in her home, and how she never wants to leave home ever again, and—

     Okay, let me just say. When I realized the weight of this moral of having power inside you all along, it was a little frustrating. And I’ve addressed this theme in a few articles on “Reel Christianity” before, but I don’t think I’ve talked about it in a film that was as well-received as “The Wizard of Oz”. But there it is, and I need to say something about it. There are a lot of people out there, Christians even, that say that man is inherently good and that if we follow Christ, we will have nothing but happiness in our lives. At its core, that’s what this message in “The Wizard of Oz” is saying.

     Friends, I’m sorry to say that this is not true. The apostle Paul addresses this head on in the book of Romans, explaining that Jews and Gentiles alike are sinful. “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:22b-24) We were born into sin because we are human, but we can be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Praise the Lord for that!

     So yeah, as great and as influential as “The Wizard of Oz” was and is, this idea of having the power to “go home” all along is a little wrong. We may be capable of it, but it doesn’t come from within ourselves—and thank the Lord that He loves us so much that He wants to do that for us. My prayer for us all this week is that we would allow His Spirit to fill our every being so that we might be His witnesses on this earth.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Iron Giant (1999)


     Before animation director Brad Bird moved to Pixar and led them through the making of two of their most mature films, “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille”, he was brought into the animation department at Warner Brothers Pictures to direct a film version of the 1960’s novel “The Iron Giant”. Bird was given more creative control than is usually given on an animated film, but because of this, he had the ability to tell a much bolder, much more complex, and even much more personal story than many similar films had in the past. Almost fifteen years after its release, “The Iron Giant” is seen not only as a modern masterpiece of animation, but also as an incredible allegory to the sacrifice of Jesus (whether Bird and his team intended to show it or not).

     In the film, young Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal) lives with his widowed mother (Jennifer Aniston) in 1957 Rockwell, Maine, where the threat of nuclear war and the space race against Russia loom over the country. One day, Hogarth discovers an area in the forest where something has crash-landed (which we see at the very beginning of the film). He finds there a fifty-foot-tall live robot (Vin Diesel) stuck in power cables. Hogarth gets him out, and the robot follows him to his house.

     Of course, there are several “shenanigans” that take place as this robot tries to discover this new world. In one scene, he eats some railroad tracks near the house but is too late in putting them back before a train comes. The train crashes into his head, and Hogarth hides him for a time in the barn at his house. Later, the robot repairs its “wound”, and Hogarth brings him some comic books to read. The robot enjoys reading “Superman” comics, but not a comic book he finds about an evil robot. Eventually, Hogarth talks to him about the side of him that isn’t very nice.

HOGARTH: It's bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don't have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose.

     Meanwhile, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), a government agent, investigates the recent crash-landing, for fear of a foreign attack—or worse, an alien invasion—and eventually starts to suspect young Hogarth of hiding something from him. But with the help of local metal artist Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.), he is able to hide the robot from Mansley and lieutenant general Guy Rogard (John Mahoney). Eventually, however, after a series of events, the robot goes into his “battle mode” and takes off for town. Hogarth and Dean chase after him.

     Soon, the robot is fighting against the military, shooting weapons at them that are far superior to theirs. (He is prompted to fight after he finds Hogarth unconscious, presumably dead to him, after an explosion.) Soon, a frenzied Mansley launches a missile from space that is programmed to fire straight at the robot. However, he doesn’t remember that since the robot is standing right there in Rockwell, the missile is about to head straight for them. (Gee, when you put it like that, the whole situation seems kind of silly. Trust me; in the film, it’s not.)

     Hogarth, his family and friends, and everyone else in the town is realizing that they are about to be blown to bits when the robot kneels to talk to Hogarth:

IRON GIANT: I fix.

HOGARTH: Giant?

IRON GIANT: Hogarth. I go. You stay. No following.

HOGARTH: I love you.

     The giant takes off, intercepts the missile, and explodes in the sky. It’s very sad, especially after seeing Hogarth and the robot interact in such a friendly way. But later on, Dean builds a statue in Rockwell in the robot’s memory, as meanwhile in Iceland, pieces of the robot that have landed there are starting to reunite as the robot repairs itself.

     There’s no sequel, of course; Warner Bros. didn’t make enough money from this film to do that. But I’m glad, because on its own, “The Iron Giant” is a very powerful film, certainly as a film presumably aimed at kids and their families. I have no idea what Brad Bird’s “religious affiliation” might be, but he and his team tell this story well as a huge allegory for Christ and his sacrifice.

     For example, the otherworldly robot crash-lands suddenly in a seemingly normal town of Rockwell, Maine, and the only person who really tries to take care of it (at first) is a boy, who should know better than to even believe in such things existing. Eventually, the world wants this robot gone, and the Iron Giant ends up sacrificing himself to save the lives of his friends—and even, to an extent, his enemies. He even, as we see at the very end, has the ability to come back to life. How can this not relate to Jesus even a little bit? It’s honestly pretty cool to watch.

     But just like people did in Jesus’ day, there were still many who doubted the Iron Giant’s existence or power. There’s a line in the film spoken by Mansley saying something like, “Nothing happens in Rockwell.” And in John 1, one of Jesus’ future disciples says a similar line:

     Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

     “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

     “Come and see,” said Philip.

     When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

     “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

     Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

     Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
     Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (1:45-50)

     And just as Hogarth was amazed by what the Iron Giant was capable, Jesus’ followers, and all of us, were and are amazed by the miracles He performed and the work He still does in our lives today. I pray that we would remember that as we go about our lives, as tough and trying as they may be—we would remember how mighty our Lord is.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)


     I’ve talked about the films of Peter Weir on “Reel Christianity” before, but I’ve never gotten to talk about my favorite film of his. That’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, which was released in 2003 and thus probably was ignored by some audiences who instead went to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and/or “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” that year. But picture those two movies blended together with baroque music and slower pacing, and you’ve got “Master and Commander”, one of my favorite adventure movies.

     The film features Russell Crowe as the title character, Captain Jack Aubrey, captain of the HMS Surprise, a British warship that crosses paths with a French ship named the Acheron.  The film begins with an attack on the Surprise from the Acheron, and it sets in motion a long journey for Aubrey and his crew to retaliate. The crew is ordered to “sink, burn, or take her a prize.” Aubrey’s best friend, and the Surprise’s doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), is with Aubrey most of this time as they travel the seas, and it adds a lot to the drama of the film.

     Because the film is based off of several books by Patrick O’Brian, we see the Surprise go off to many places, get involved in several battles, and get to know several crewmembers. So in a way, the film feels a little episodic, but it still flows and makes a very impactful film. And part of the reason why it’s so impactful is because we see the friendships of the men on this ship, particularly between Aubrey and Maturin. But we also see them interact with other crewmembers like first lieutenant Thomas Pullings (James D’Arcy), midshipman Hollom (Lee Ingleby), and teenage midshipman William Blakeney (Max Pirkis), whose arm Maturin has to amputate after the first attack from the Acheron.

     As the battles go on, tension starts to rise among the crewmembers. Some start thinking more and more than Hollom is clumsy and should not be in his position, which prompts Hollom one night to take a cannonball in his arms, jump into the sea, and sink to his death. One of those men is caught being disrespectful to Hollom by Aubrey and is whipped as punishment, and Maturin goes to Aubrey afterward and says that many men are becoming mutinous because of Aubrey’s abuse of power. This culminates when the ship is heading toward the Galapagos Islands but first finds some men who survived a pirate attack, ultimately letting them know that the Acheron is nearby. The Surprise starts to turn around, which upsets Maturin, who was promised by Aubrey to get to look around the island for plant and animal life. Maturin goes to Aubrey and expresses his frustration.

MATURIN: Jack, have you forgotten your promise?

AUBREY: Subject to the requirements of the service.

MATURIN: Oh, I see. I see. So, after all this time in your service, I must simply content myself to form part of this belligerent expedition. Hurry past inestimable wonders, bent solely on destruction. I shall say nothing of the corruption of power or its abuse...

AUBREY: You forget yourself, Doctor.
MATURIN: No, Jack. No. You've forgotten yourself. You see, for my part, I look upon a promise as binding.

AUBREY: The promise was conditional. …We do not have time for your [cursed] hobbies, sir!

     It’s a tough scene to watch, as we’ve seen the two men interact as friends, even play violin-cello duets together on the ship. It feels as though Aubrey, who earlier joked about choosing the lesser of two evils, has become “subject to the requirements of the service” and feels no remorse about having to go back on a promise to his friend. But soon after, as a midshipman tries shooting at an albatross, he accidentally hits Maturin in the side. Maturin, as the ship’s doctor, is forced to take the bullet and the cloth from his shirt that was taken with it by himself.

     Maturin performs the operation successfully but needs much time to rest, and Aubrey postpones his pursuit of the Acheron to let Maturin explore the Galapagos for a time. Eventually, however, they do have to go back to sea and have one last battle against the Acheron, which seems successful until the end of the film, where Aubrey realizes that the man whom he thought was the Acheron’s doctor deceived him, and they must go back after them. The film ends as the crew gets ready once again, as more violin-cello music plays underneath (which, personally, I love).

     More than just being an epic adventure film, “Master and Commander” deals heavily with the idea of friendship, even just being a human, and how often our duties can get in the way of that and perhaps make us less human. I certainly can’t speak as a sailor, but I do know that as a student, I have found myself many times just trying to get stuff done for my classes or my jobs without being relational with other people. That’s an idea that I discovered finally when I started studying at the university level, and it’s something that I want to remember for the rest of my life.

     A certain passage of Scripture speaks on this kind of idea, more specifically on one’s relationship with Christ in contrast to their work. One day, Jesus goes to the house of a woman named Martha, who is making a lot of preparations for dinner and such. But Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t help with those preparations, but rather listens to Jesus’ teachings. Martha gets frustrated at this, but Jesus tells her words that I want to remember always: “‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

     My prayer for us is that in our relationships with God and with others, that we would not get so distracted from our jobs or activities that we forget where our focus should really lie.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


     The year after Orson Welles released “Citizen Kane”, considered one of the greatest films ever made, Welles wrote for the screen and directed “The Magnificent Ambersons”, the second film he made for RKO Radio Pictures over which he had complete creative control. Almost. Somewhere along the way, studio workers edited down the two-and-a-half-hour-long period film to about ninety minutes, which was the start of the slow downfall of Welles’ film work within a studio. Nobody knows what the original film was really like, since the deleted footage is surely long gone, but the film that remains is still, in my opinion, a masterpiece. Fantastic visuals, powerhouse acting, and a message that still hits home to this day, just as “Citizen Kane” did.

     The film centers on the Amberson family, a rich family in early 20th-century Indianapolis, and the daughter Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello) is perhaps the most beautiful woman in the city. Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten) surely believes this, but when he acts like a fool in front of her, Isabel decides to court and marry Wilbur Minafer (Donald Dillaway), a man who—though she does not love—at least has the decency of a businessman who won’t foolishly act so as to make her believe he doesn’t care about her. (It makes more sense when you see it in the film.) Eventually, Wilbur and Isabel have a boy, George Minafer (played as a young adult by Tim Holt), who treats everyone with disrespect. Even when he is sent away to school, he comes back with the same selfish attitude. The narrator, Welles himself, tells of the townspeople’s reaction:

NARRATOR: There were people—grown people they were—who expressed themselves longingly. They did hope to live to see the day, they said, when that boy would get his comeuppance.

     When George begins college and then comes home on break, a party is held at the Amberson mansion by Isabel and her father, known simply as Major Amberson (Richard Bennett). There, George meets Lucy, the daughter of now widower Eugene. It seems that now, Eugene and Isabel have made amends and are starting to fall in love. George himself starts falling in love with Lucy, but has a strong dislike for Eugene. When Wilbur passes away (and leaves a washed-up estate) and Eugene’s automobile plant meanwhile becomes more and more successful, the love between him and Isabel starts getting stronger. George finds out that his uncle Jack (Ray Collins) and aunt Fanny (a phenomenal Agnes Moorehead) that they were both surely in love while Wilbur was still alive, and that people are still gossiping about it, and George decides to do something about it.

     After Eugene tries visiting Isabel at home one day and George shoots him down, George decides to take his mother on a world tour, getting away from Eugene and the town gossip for a while. When he tries saying goodbye to Lucy, she seems to not care as he hoped she would, and he reluctantly goes on his trip. While away, Isabel gets sick, and they have to come home so she can be taken care of. Eugene tries to see her, but she is too sick, and he leaves shortly before she passes away. In the time that follows, Major Amberson also passes away, leaving nothing to George or the rest of the family. Eugene and Lucy start anew as Jack moves away and George is left to figure out how he and Fanny, who has practically gone crazy, are going to live.

     As George eventually finds a job at a factory, we see his point of view of the new, industrialized city, as the narrator reads:

NARRATOR: George Amberson-Minafer walked home through the strange streets of what seemed to be a strange city. …This was the last walk home he was ever to take up National Avenue, to Amberson Edition, and the big old house at the foot of Amberson Boulevard. Tomorrow, they were to move out. Tomorrow everything would be gone.

     The film dissolves to a dark shot of George kneeling by his bedside, praying quietly.

GEORGE: Mother, forgive me. God, forgive me!

NARRATOR: Something had happened: a thing which years ago had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last. George Amberson-Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.

     The film fades out, then fades back into a tacked-on studio ending where George has been in a serious car accident, and we see Eugene and Fanny talking at the hospital about how Eugene, George, and Lucy had reconciled. It’s a nice ending, but it doesn’t have nearly the impact that I feel Welles’ original ending would have had. And yeah, it would have been a much darker ending, but like “Citizen Kane” and several other Welles films, it ends as a downer because that’s the point he wants to get across. Some people live life with the wrong intentions, and they end up in a mess.

     And like “Citizen Kane”, “The Magnificent Ambersons” portrays this theme not in a way to explicitly reference Christianity, but it still resonates. Like Charles Foster Kane, George Amberson-Minafer had the whole world but lost his soul. Eventually, he pretty much lost the whole world, too! The whole Amberson family did, really. But there’s one scene where we see Major Amberson sitting by a fire contemplating what’s next, and wondering where he could have ever found wealth that lasts.

MAJOR AMBERSON: It—it must be in the sun. There wasn’t anything here but the sun in the first place. The sun… The earth came out of the sun, and we came out of the earth. So, wherever we are…

     The scene and the Major’s thoughts fade out, and it’s a beautiful moment in the film. And it reminded me of a certain passage of Scripture. Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes after he had searched the world over for something that truly lasts. And after he couldn’t find it, he repeats a certain phrase several times: “under the sun”. Chapter one verse nine, he writes: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Verse fourteen: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

     It turns out that on this earth, there is nothing that will truly satisfy. But if there is nothing for us “under the sun”, what is there “over” the sun? There certainly is something over the sun—Someone, to be exact—and that seems to be the thing that the Ambersons truly needed. I pray that we would recognize that need in ourselves too.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


     “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released in 1946, and although it’s considered a classic film today, it wasn’t well received upon its initial release. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Actor, and Director, but it didn’t win any of them. Instead, those awards went to “The Best Years of Our Lives”, an equally important and powerful film but probably more accessible immediately after World War Two than “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Personally, I love both films the same, but I haven’t gotten a chance to write about “The Best Years of Our Lives” yet. I’ll change that today.

     The film takes place after the war has ended and troops are heading home. We meet three people in particular: an Air Force captain named Fred (Dana Andrews), an Army sergeant named Al (Fredric March), and a Navy sailor named Homer (Harold Russell). All three of them end up flying back to the same area, Boone City (a fictional town), and they all have experienced some intense combat in the war. Homer, especially, had his hands burned when his aircraft carrier sunk, which got many of his peers killed. He now uses metal hooks for hands, which we see him use to pick up his luggage, drink a glass, and light a cigarette. (Russell, by the way, is a real WWII veteran who lost his hands, which makes the performance all the more impactful.)

     All three of them arrive to their homes. Homer gets to his house first to find his family and his girlfriend Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell) waiting for him. They are all shocked (quietly) at first sight of his hooks, but they pretend as if nothing happened and welcome him home. Next, Al arrives at his home and surprises his children, adult daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) and college-age son Rob (Michael Hall), and his wife Milly (Myrna Loy). It’s an early scene when he comes home to see them, but I guarantee you’ll get teary-eyed even then. Finally, Fred arrives at his parents’ house to find that his wife, a woman he met in training named Marie (Virginia Mayo), has moved into an apartment and now works at a nightclub. Fred finds the apartment and embraces her, and then starts trying to get his former job back at a soda jerk.

     Al, meanwhile, goes back to the bank he used to work at and resumes his position as a bank loan officer. The bank president Mr. Milton (Ray Collins) wants him to continue there to work with other veterans, but things don’t go as smoothly as Mr. Milton would want. When a veteran without collateral comes in and asks Al for a loan, Al gives him the loan simply trusting the veteran at his word. Milton disagrees with this, but Al convinces him that he must stand up for the other veterans who are having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.

     Speaking of which, Homer is especially a victim of this, as his family and other people around him seem to judge him for his hands. He used to be a football quarterback, but any hopes of continuing that path have vanished. He even wanted to marry Wilma, but he can’t seem to think that she would want him, even though Wilma does her best to be there for him now. Fred eventually offers to be his best man, and one night, Homer invites Wilma to his house so she can see what exactly she would be dealing with, helping Homer with basically every single human necessity. After showing the complicated process of putting himself to bed, Homer finally tells her:

HOMER: Well, now you know, Wilma. Now you have an idea of what it is. I guess you don’t know what to say. It’s all right. Go on home; go away like your family said.

WILMA: I know what to say, Homer. I love you, and I’m never going to leave you. Never.

     She kisses him, puts him to bed, and leaves Homer falling asleep crying with joy. Meanwhile, Fred has his own troubles readjusting to civilian life. He may be married to Marie, but they are both starting to realize that married life is harder than they thought it would be. And soon, Fred starts giving up on Marie and starts developing affection for another woman: Peggy, and she develops interest as well. One night, she goes out with Fred, Marie, and another young man to see how meaningless chasing after him would be, but she believes that Fred and Marie don’t love each other. She decides she’s going to break up their marriage. Al and Milly are against it, of course, and she laments to them that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in love because they never had any troubles in their marriage. And then Milly replies:

MILLY: We never had any trouble? (To Fred) How many times have I told you I hated you and believed it in my heart? How many times have you said you were sick and tired of me, that we were all washed up? How many times have we had to fall in love all over again?

     Milly comforts Peggy as she sobs (something Teresa Wright is very good at on camera), and Al tells Fred that he mustn’t see Peggy anymore. It hurts him, and her, but what’s worse is when he finds another veteran at his apartment with Marie, and she tells him bluntly that she is getting a divorce. Eventually, Fred finds another job, and as he acts as Homer’s best man at his and Wilma’s wedding, he sees Peggy and thinks about what is ahead. After Homer and Wilma kiss and wed, the guests go to congratulate them, but Fred and Peggy embrace and kiss.

FRED: You know what it'll be, don't you, Peggy? It may take us years to get anywhere. We'll have no money, no decent place to live. We'll have to work, get kicked around.

     But that doesn’t deter Peggy—or Fred—and the film ends with them finally together.

     “The Best Years of Our Lives” is a great post-war film that deals with the immediate effects of veterans coming home to civilian life and having to readjust. But I think a reason why it’s still so beloved is because it deals with the idea of continuing to love someone even after tough times have happened or are happening. Homer and Wilma experience it and overcome, as do Al and Milly, and even when Marie leaves him, Fred is committed to staying with Peggy.

     This is yet another romantic film whose message about love I’m using to relate to the love of God. No matter how much we stumble, no matter how much we may neglect God’s will, He will never neglect us, and that’s extremely humbling. Loving God through tough times is probably the hardest thing in the world to do, and many have ended up falling away from their faith because of this. But my prayer for you today is the prayer of the apostle Paul to the Ephesians: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19) Amen.