From Here to Eternity

AFI Rank: #52
Year Released: 1953
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Actors: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra

With so many World War II movies focusing on the traumas of war, it's fascinating to see one which barely even mentions the war. From Here to Eternity is set in Hawaii in the time leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. We, the watchers, know it is coming, looming like a gigantic thunderstorm on the horizon. But for the characters involved, they are wrapped up in their traumas of their daily life, blisfully unaware that what they currently think is vitally important will soon not matter at all.

Clift is a soldier-musician who gave up boxing following a tragic incident - but his commander tries to break him and force him back in the ring. Kerr is a wife traumatized by her husband's repeated cheating and the destruction of her dreams of a family. Reed lost the man she loved due to being poor, and she's determined to earn cash and status to prove him wrong. Finally, Clift struggles to hold everything together and do what's right.

Life is twisted and tormented, and each character pushes along towards what they want in life. But as much as they feel frustrated in their own lives, they also end up trying to shape and mold those around them at the same time, not realizing it's exactly what they don't want to happen to themselves. Kerr is upset by her lot in life - and yet she tries to force Clift to change HIS dreams to match what she wants.

The clock keeps ticking, the calendar pages keep turning, and the audience is expected to know that at 7:48am on December 7th it would all begin.

It's fascinating to look at this snapshot in time. The soldiers on their off-days wear "Hawaiian shirts" - but they look quite different than what we often consider to be that style today. The women all expect their aim to be to get the richest guy they can, and that's that. It doesn't occur to them to think of other options. It simply wasn't what was done. Kerr doesn't ever talk with other officers' wives - it's just her and the men around her. Reed barely talks to her female boss - her world is the mob of soldiers who vie for her attention.

I do have a question, though. Why didn't Clift identify himself as he runs to join his fellow soldiers? Surely that's a key part of training, and doing so would logically leap to mind to anyone in that situation. Clearly it had to happen for plot reasons, but with it being so important, I think it would have helped if they made the character-driven reason more clear.

Well recommended.

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