Memories based on everyday and momentous experiences form the basis of human development and identity. Their formation and foundation can create an environment of empowerment and growth of knowledge. Conversely, their presence can sometimes traumatize and significantly regress one’s path to self-actualization. The wish to eradicate some painful memories has been held by all at some instance. However, I could not fathom anyone yearning to erase joyful recollections imprinted for years in their brains. Some individuals living with neurocognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, are robbed of the grandest and most beautiful memories with no mercy. Random Harvest is a 1942 drama-romance film directed by Mervyn LeRoy which explores the potentially devastating effects of memory loss on individual identity and surrounding relationships.
“John Smith” (Ronald Colman) has been hospitalized at Melbridge County Asylum for over a year following his harrowing experiences on the battlefield of WWI. His diagnosis would fit with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but he has dissociated from the raw emotions of his experiences to the point where he cannot remember his own identity. While wandering away from the psychiatric facility on the night of WWI’s end, he meets Paula Ridgeway (Greer Garson) in the town of Melbridge. She is a local actress and dancer who empathizes with “Smithy” to the point of finding a home in the countryside to escape authorities and unwitting family members. As in many classic films, the two rapidly fall in love and marry. Smithy’s newly discovered writing talent blossoms into a job proposal, but a head injury inflicted via automobile accident allows Smithy to remember and slide into his previous life as the wealthy Charles Rainier. Paula is inevitably obliterated from his memory with few reminders of her once great impact. Themes of abandonment, jealousy, anger, detachment, frustration, and never-ending hope engross the remaining intertwining journey of our lead characters. This leads to an ultimate tear-jerking finale which will melt even the coldest, steel-engulfed hearts.
“Random Harvest” is an interesting and multi-faceted title for this film. Paula and Smithy meet during the typical harvest season (Autumn) randomly it seems in a tobacco shop. The estate to which Charles Rainier and his siblings are entitled is called “Random Hall”. Separately, these words and their place in the film could definitely account for its title. However, the definition of the word “harvest” lends to growth and cultivation, which is what led to Paula and Smithy’s glorious bond and millions of other relationships. As well, the two were randomly brought together, and their relationship was randomly taken away. Hence, their growing interconnected maturation was inadvertently interrupted for varying reasons. Others may beg to differ, citing that no event or association is truly random. Regardless, the atrocity of the events occurring in these characters’ lives is incomprehensible, and we greatly empathize with them.
These drastic impediments yet intermittent delights in the film create a harrowing atmosphere leading viewers to the edge of their seats, fabricating major peaks and valleys of emotion. Our own fears and relatedness to memory heightens the concern and sentimentality in the film. We feel overwhelmed, frightened yet optimistic for the characters’ resolutions. Overall, I feel that “tear-jerker” is an understatement for this beautiful film.
I do not own the photos in this post. As well, this post is a part of the “No, YOU’RE Crying” Blogathon hosted by Moon In Gemini! Please check out the other posts related to tear-jerker films over the coming days!