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Let There Be Light (1946)

7.7
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Ratings: 7.7/10 from 541 users  
Reviews: 13 user | 9 critic

The final entry in a trilogy of films produced for the U.S. government by John Huston. This documentary film follows 75 U.S. soldiers who have sustained debilitating emotional trauma and ... See full summary »

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Title: Let There Be Light (1946)

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The final entry in a trilogy of films produced for the U.S. government by John Huston. This documentary film follows 75 U.S. soldiers who have sustained debilitating emotional trauma and depression. A series of scenes chronicle their entry into a psychiatric hospital, their treatment and eventual recovery. Written by Kieran Kenney

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Documentary | War

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16 December 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Es werde Licht!  »

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1.37 : 1
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This film is included as an extra feature on the Blu-ray release for The Master (2012). See more »

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Narrator: However different the symptoms, these things they have in common: unceasing fear and apprehension, a sense of impending disaster, a feeling of hopelesness and utter isolation.
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Alternate-language version of The Master (2012) See more »

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User Reviews

 
As important (and unseen) in its way as SALT OF THE EARTH.
12 July 2000 | by (dublin, ireland) – See all my reviews

This film was commissioned and promptly banned for 35 years by the US War Department. It exposes the violent mental effects of the Second World War on returning soldiers undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital. It is truly harrowing to watch these beaten men, especially in the context of offensive RAMBO-like propaganda movies churned out in the previous half-decade, strong men who fought for their country, who won medals and purple hearts for bravery, breaking down, in tears, paralysed, ashamed, gibbering, shellshocked, haunted by terrifying recent memories, family problems etc.

It is completely understandable to see why this was banned. America was gearing up for two of the defining moments of its history - McCarthyism, with its fascist vision of what it meant to be American; and the post-war consumer boom, embodied in conformity and the nuclear family. Here is a film that dares to show the horrors, neuroses, psychological pressures of the military, of family, of conformity, horrors directors like Nicholas Ray could only allegorise. As such, the film is a rare breath of literal truth in a period of evasion and necessary sublimation, and is, thus, as inspirational as SALT OF THE EARTH.

Huston has claimed that in his war documentaries he didn't intrude his directorial stamp, just let the stories tell themselves. This is a nonsense in any film, but especially so here. The credits claim that no scenes were staged, and the patients were made aware from the beginning of the presence of cameras (Huston says that their own personal demons meant that they barely even noticed them, and indeed, the patients who were filmed were more successfully treated than those who weren't! This IS America!).

This many be true, but the manipulation of effects, the spacious camera movements expressing alienation, the leading narration, the neurotic score, the dreamlike compositions, the heightened cinematography (by the great Stanley Cortez, who would use his experience here to harrowing effect in Fuller's SHOCK CORRIDOR) all cohere to create a very definite vision, one that is probably more truthful than 'straight' observation would have been, and one that undermines the script's attempts at all-American optimism and hope.

Maybe they are just stiff in front of a camera, but the psychiatrists seem to me unnecessarily abrupt, intrusive and authoritarian, their so-called cures and explanations deeply unconvincing, displaying an almost Messianic arrogance in one sequence, where one tries to make a man walk after one trick (is the title, God's life-giving injunction in Genesis, therefore ironic?).

Some of these traumas would later appear in some of the great American films of the next decade, such as BIGGER THAN LIFE and WRITTEN ON THE WIND, and as Huston well knew, documentary could never reach the insights of fiction, but it is bracing to see such traumas in the raw.


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