Old Movies, New Eyes: The Best Years of Our Lives

You know, I had a dream. I dreamt I was home. I’ve had that same dream hundreds of times before. This time, I wanted to find out if it’s really true. Am I really home?

Welcome to the opening of a new series! Better yet, a new series that I hope to make at least semi-regular (we’ll shoot for monthly and see how it goes). This one has been a long time coming. Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved old movies. Now, I finally have the space and time to share this passion with you, my readers. For each installment, I will hand-pick a film no fewer than 40 years old that has stood the test of time, conveying a thought-provoking story in an honest and meaningful way. The selections will by and large be serious works, some better-known than others, some grappling with very weighty subjects indeed, all providing excellent food for thought to Christians who want to engage with the arts. As I revisit them from a young movie critic’s perspective, my simple goal is, in the words of author Joseph Conrad, “to make you see.” May you enjoy reading as much as I will enjoy the writing process.

It seemed fitting to begin with a classic that celebrates a round-numbered anniversary this year: William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, released in 1946. It won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Director. Weaving together the stories of three returning World War II veterans and the women who help them heal, it remains one of the best movies about marriage and the meaning of love that I’ve ever seen. Consequently, it will double as an addition to my series Marriage in the Movies.

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A Far More Pleasing Countenance

…Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds

Or bends with the remover to remove

Oh no, it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests, and is never shaken…

— Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

Alan Rickman in Sense and Sensibility

It’s been a bad year so far for 69-year-old British celebrities. David Bowie and Alan Rickman have both gone to their final reward in quick succession, prompting numerous fan tributes. For Rickman, many moviegoers love and remember him as Snape in Harry Potter. Myself, I am most partial to his turn as Colonel Brandon in the Ang Lee adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. He brought such sweetness and wisdom to the part, providing a deliberate contrast to the dashing but untrustworthy Mr. Willoughby. He is almost painfully self-effacing, but as the story unfolds, he emerges as its true hero. In a culture that has long lost all conception of love and honor towards women, Jane Austen’s classic tale and Brandon’s role in it are well worth revisiting.

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Marriage in the Movies: Regarding Henry

Now that I’ve spent two weeks talking about the discouraging realities of homosexual “marriage,” I think it’s time for something uplifting about real marriage. What better way to provide that than by reviving a series my readers have probably forgotten about? As a quick (re)-introduction, this series looks at various Hollywood films and judges how well they handle the topic of marriage. I eased in with a Christian film (Fireproof), and have since tackled the Robin Williams classic Mrs. Doubtfire and the modern documentary-style film Boyhood. I was planning to add a lot more entries, but it just never happened. I’m hoping to start freshening it up a bit more regularly, because I think it’s a very timely topic to explore.

My featured film for today is a little 90s picture called Regarding Henry. And yes, if you’re looking at the promo shot on the right and thinking, “Is that… Han Solo?” you get a cookie. Indeed, many critics (myself included) rank this film among Harrison Ford’s strongest performances. But it’s not just Ford’s work that makes it memorable for me. It’s the movie’s surprisingly insightful treatment of marriage and the family. In fact, if the script threw in some references to God or church, it might even pass as a Christian movie (except with much better acting and writing). I like it so much that I was even inspired to put together a little music video for it, which you’ll get to watch if you read to the end of this article. (Unless you cheat and skip there, of course.) Spoiler alert, as usual.

Here’s the premise: Henry Turner (Ford) is a hotshot, cutthroat lawyer, a workaholic who maintains a cool relationship with his wife and daughter. One night, he steps out to buy cigarettes and happens to blunder into a hold-up. The trigger-happy registry robber fires two shots, and in a few seconds, Henry’s life is changed forever. His wife is shattered with the news that even if he recovers speaking and motor skills, most of his memories have been erased. He is forced to start fresh. But as the movie shows us, that may not be such a bad thing. (And for those who think that premise is just too implausible, Harrison Ford has said that while preparing for the role, he actually met and interviewed an actual lawyer who experienced this very process.)

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Marriage in the Movies: Boyhood (Patheos cross-post)

Earlier this week, I contributed a guest piece to a blog at Patheos called “Watching God.” It’s maintained by Paul Asay, who is the editor of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In outlet. As some of you know, Plugged In keeps parents informed about objectionable content in popular film, games and music of the day. “Watching God” is a spot where Asay gets a little deeper into the craft of certain films that have interested him.

I’ve always liked Paul’s writing, so I got to know him a bit better when I saw that he had a new Patheos spot. I found out that he’s a really nice guy, and he’s given me some graciously complimentary feedback on my own writing. When I asked him if he’d like to host an article I’d written on Boyhood, the year’s front-runner for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, he said yes. This film has been getting a lot of press for the fact that director Richard Linklater used the same cast for 12 consecutive years, so that you can watch a whole family age on screen together. I was very interested in how the film handled marriage and divorce, so I thought it would be a thoughtful and current addition to my ongoing “Marriage in the Movies” series. You can read the entire piece here. In my opinion, it ultimately did a better job than a movie like Mrs. Doubtfire (read my take on that film here), because there’s a very strong implication that the dissolution of the main marriage is a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. I get this sense both from the movie itself and from the way the actors talk about it. In one in-depth interview, they argue compellingly that because the characters can’t share the love of their children, they never see any side of each other besides the side they choose to see.

I originally intended to embed a clip from the movie, but Paul said there was a goof in the upload process. In this excerpt, the divorced father tries to strike up a conversation with his kids on one of their weekends together. It’s humorous, yet poignant at the same time:

Thanks for reading, and thank you Paul for allowing me to write a guest post! I’m also working on a guest piece about heroes and superheroes, but we might wait until the next Marvel movie comes out to share that one with the world. 😉

Marriage in the Movies: Mrs. Doubtfire

Mrs. Doubtfire

“Once the father of your children is out of the picture, the only solution is total and lifelong celibacy. And if you violate that, heaven forgive you. Good luck!” — Mrs. Doubtfire


After watching this film for the first time in my little Robin Williams marathon of a couple months ago, I knew it was an important one to address if I ever did a series like this. So today, we’ll continue our series on Marriage in the Movies with Mrs. Doubtfire.

The movie tells the story of an eccentric actor named Daniel Hillard, who goes to extreme lengths to stay in touch with his children when his wife files for divorce. “Extreme,” in this case, means applying for and getting a job as their nanny…in disguise. His new persona is a gentle, twinkle-eyed Scottish grandma, whom he hastily christens “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Turns out, “Mrs. Doubtfire” is Mrs. Hillard’s dream nanny—firm, kind, wonderful with the children, and constantly doling out little nuggets of life wisdom on a variety of topics, including marriage. But when another man enters the picture, things get very awkward very fast, and the question becomes not “whether” Daniel will lose his cover, but “when.”

The film, which became one of Williams’s most popular roles, is billed as a comedy. But it winds up feeling more like a tragedy, as the shattering effects of divorce are very convincingly presented. However, I wouldn’t mind so much if it stopped there. It may be depressing, but at least it’s truthful. What’s really pernicious about the thing is that by the end, it’s trying to sell audiences on the lie that maybe divorce isn’t so bad after all. That’s where it goes Importantly Wrong.

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Marriage In the Movies: Fireproof

Welcome to the first installment of Marriage in the Movies: a new series wherein I survey what the art form of film can offer on this all-important topic. The movies I will feature stand out because marriage, as opposed to mere romantic affection, is absolutely central to the story. Without it, none of them would have a plot. Some may state their message clearly, others may let the story do the talking, but all of them have something to say about marriage.

That’s where I come in: First, I briefly explain the premise of each film, for those who may be unfamiliar with it. Then, I look at it from the perspective of a Christian who also loves movies, and I judge whether what they have to say is Importantly Right or Importantly Wrong—or perhaps, in interesting cases, some of each.

My first installment is an unapologetically Christian film that many of you have probably seen: Fireproof. (Most of my selections will be more mainstream, although many will still get a lot of things Importantly Right.) In this film, a fireman struggles with the pressures of work while waking up to the reality that his wife is ready to divorce him. While at first he is not a believer, his believing father and friend both challenge him to fight for his marriage. In the process, he discovers a faith of his own that sustains him even when it appears that his efforts aren’t bearing fruit.

I remember vividly when this film first came out. Actually, I remember vividly the year before it came out, when I was eagerly following every scrap of B-roll and production blog update as the finished product slowly came together. This was motivated partly by my enthusiasm for Sherwood Pictures’ faith-based film-making, partly by my rapidly growing and very spiritual interest in Kirk Cameron. Continue reading “Marriage In the Movies: Fireproof”