Starring: Richard Gere, Jodie Foster, James Earl Jones and Bill Pullman
Jack Sommersby left to fight in the Civil War leaving his wife, Laurel, and their young son living on their farm. As the years go by the presumption amongst many is that, after 6 years having gone by, Jack has most likely been killed. Much to the shock and disbelief of his friends and family, he returns home after six years, greeted with joy and jubilation. However, as time passes, suspicions arise over the true identity of this man who claims to be Jack Sommersby.
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Sommersby is an American adaptation of the French film Le retour de Martin Guerre (Dir. Daniel Vigne, 1982), based on the real life case of Martin Guerre in the 16th century.
The film takes place in America at the end of the Civil War. Jack Sommersby (Richard Gere) returns home after six years away. He is greeted with joy from his town folk, but one lady who seems slightly uncertain is his wife Laurel (Jodie Foster). Her uncertainty isnít based on any doubt about who this man is, but rather the fact that her life without her husband in the six years he was gone, were arguably better than those when he was present.
It is made clear that before Jack went away the two of them were sleeping in separate rooms and that he was physically abusive towards Laurel. Her apprehension concerned with the worry that her life will return to the way it was before he left. She is expected by both religious and social obligation and influence to stand by her husband, and from an outsiders perspective this is what she appears to do. In the privacy of their home things are rather different. Laurel makes it clear when Jack returns home that that all is not forgotten from their previous years spent together when he mistreated her, sending him to the room he slept in before he went away.
The film touches upon aspects of the constraints of life in the mid 19th century (the time in which the film is set), regarding the influence of religion in peoplesí lives mainly concerning moral obligation, and also gender expectations in society. Orin (Bill Pullman) states correctly that Laurel had no choice whether to choose him or Jack (Orin and Laurel had decided that if Jack didnít turn up within the next year the two of them would get married). That option was not open for Laurel.
Much to Laurelís surprise, the Jack Sommersby that has returned from the war appears to be a changed man, or according to some, a different man pretending to be Jack. Laurel says herself he has changed for the better so much that it scares her sometimes, and as the film progresses situations arise ever more increasingly to waver your belief concerning the true identity of this man. In light of these however, Laurel is adamant that he is the man she married, but is this so that she can stay with the man she has fallen in love with?