In The Best Years of Our Lives dissolving exemplifies the incongruousness between the ease of the dissolve from one shot to another and perhaps one time to another, and the painful disjunctive nature of each main character's transition back into society. As Veterans returning from World War II, the three men that the story revolves around can no longer find their niche in society and turn to alcohol, adultery, and giving up. Though this is predominantly Hollywood Continuity Style, there is a
seemingly analogous use of dissolves from one shot to another that allows for the audience to follow along easily, almost too easily, while the character's go through intense struggles to become re-acclimated to everyday societal activities.
In the beginning of the movie there are a series of dissolves that set the tone for the story. From sleeping in a military airplane to their shared taxi ride home, Al, Fred, and Homer re-enter their civilian lives in what seems to be a quick and smooth series of shots that assume the passage of time. Unfortunately, as the film goes on there are certain instances in which the irony of the dissolves starts to reveal itself.
Al, a father of two and husband, decides that he wants to go out with his wife and daughter soon after he gets back, the shot dissolves to them in a night club, then to the car where he is singing drunkenly, and then to a bar where he meets his two friends and dances with little decorum but serious conviction. Unfortunately
this series of dissolves is a precursor to his future reliance on alcohol, and the use of dissolves throughout the rest of the movie simply reinforces that time easily passes by and he, with so great effort, yet still cannot return to the father, husband, and friend he once was before the war.
Homer, who lost both of his arms during his military career, came home and fought the battle against time. Ashamed of his appearance and mortified at the way he was treated as if he was a child, he too was in desperate battle to turn back time, or at least catch up with it. In conjunction with this, the dissolves sped forward through different moments such as when he had to have someone else button up his shirt in the morning, to the moment in which he spent time with his family during the day and felt the reality of how time had changed things. Or even when he feels ridiculed by children mocking his hooked hand-pieces and breaks through the windows of a shed to scare them, and then after the shot is over, it fades to him doing his best to wash before dinner, and then it dissolves into his father helping him get dressed, button by button for bed. Unfortunately, the dissolve started to seem like a way of exposing each of the men as even more out of the rhythm of everyday life because they were each so changed during their time fighting in the war.
Lastly, the smooth nature of Captain Fred Derry seemed to be all that he needed to comfortably re-enter society at large. During the beginning of the movie he is the only character
that seems to follow the natural rhythm of the dissolves and is not fighting the swiftness of time passing and not morning the pace of his world. However, as the movie continues it becomes
evident that he is only as smooth as his opportunity allows him, and is thrown from his ability to keep up with the swift passing of time when he feels he has failed as a business man and in choosing a wife. One dissolve in particular is a strong representation of his new-found loathing of the loss of time. Fred has to tell his new wife that he is broke and has to keep her from leaving to go and spend money, then the shot dissolves into another shot of him working as a perfume salesman in a department store. He no longer has the care of his wife, a good job, or the power of a captain... yet time keeps dissolving by without regard to his hardships.
In relation to the editing choices, The Best Year of Our Lives uses a great deal of dissolves as exemplified in these examples and adheres to a high level of verisimilitude. Also, it seems that each of these dissolves have an analogous purpose that contrasts the agony of the characters, and the ease of the shot transitions. The brilliance of this editing choice allows the audience to see from their own perspective as average citizens into the lives of struggling Veterans who are in a seemingly impossible race against the time they have lost, and the life they have known in the military.