The best years of our lives and the Reader are two films where the titles perfectly sum up the most basic themes of the two movies. When we consider the themes in the best years of our lives the film focuses on the return of three servicemen trying to piece their lives back together after returning home from World War 2. The title itself is an ironic jab the facts that the servicemen had the best years of their lives during the war and that their return to a peaceful society has revealed how separated them are from society. Another theme the title follows is that the men due to their separation from society have given the best years of their lives to the armed forces, thus giving up their hopes of dreams of integration in society (O’Donnell).
The title of the Reader shows its themes in two ways one which is obvious and another which is subtle. One theme that creates the title is how the character of Michael Berg reads to Hanna Schmitz various books during their affair. The second theme which is far more subtle in nature is found in the main character played by Kate Winslet. Her acting in the film though seemingly distant and cold has a great amount of depth that actually must be read by the viewer in order to fully understand the emotions that drive the film (Winslet).
There are three key scenes in both films that drive the themes of the titles of the two films. In the Best years of our lives they are divided among the three male leads. The first is when Al Stephenson gives a speech at his welcome home dinner in which he speaks about the hypocrisy of society which is embodied in his employer Mr. Milton. The second is when Homer Parrish returns home to Wilma, the girl whom he is engaged to only to find that her parents cannot accept the fact that he lost both of his hands in the war. In an effort to lessen her burden he pushes the girl he loves away not understanding that she has accepted the situation better than anyone. The third scene which also contains the title of this film in the dialogue is when Fred Derry loses his job and returns home to find his wife Marie committing adultery. Upon being confronted Marie reveals that she has been unfaithful during the time Fred was away at war. This is due to her feeling like she gave up the best years of her life (O’Donnell).
In the Reader the three scenes which form the theme of the title start with the one where Michael Berg reads various literary works to Hanna Schmitz. The second is during the trail of Hanna when Michael realizes that she is illiterate and has concealed this fact her entire life and is still concealing it. The third is when Hanna goes to prison and Michael sends her tapes for several years enabling Hanna to learn how to read and write and eventually writing back to him (Winslet).
The cinematography of both films is also brilliant and complements each film quite well. The best years of our lives has the look of a documentary with zero depth of field and deep close up shots of the actors to make the film in the vein of World War 2 propaganda films of the time (O’Donnell). While the Reader uses a sensitive tone, with several dramatic wide angle shots which are always focused on the main character of Hanna. The cinematography makes it clear the she is the focal point of the entire film (Winslet).
The Best Years of Our Lives. Dir. William Wyler. Perf. Cathy O’Donnell. 1946.
The Reader . Dir. Stephen Daldry. Perf. Kate Winslet. 2008.