Sunday, March 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Let There Be Light (1946) ***

NR, 58 min.
Director: John Huston
Narrator: Walter Huston

“Let There Be Light” is a remarkable documentary commissioned by the Department of Defense after World War II and then suppressed by the Pentagon until the early 80s. It depicts the War Departments efforts to help returning soldiers deal with the psychological trauma of war. Director John Huston was given unprecedented access to military facilities and real treatment sessions between doctors and soldiers. Nothing is staged.

The film was one of three documentaries the legendary Hollywood director made for the government about the war. I suppose it was suppressed due to the disturbing nature of some of the soldiers’ conditions. One man can’t walk even though his legs haven’t been injured. One man can’t speak properly. Another man shakes uncontrollably. Others have crying fits.

The film describes the process the military takes to treat these men and shows some fairly miraculous recoveries for the men I described above. I’m sure the recovery rate wasn’t as successful in reality as it is in this film. Still, the treatments and the recoveries of these men seem authentic. It certainly paints the military in a good light, just not war.

The movie is included on the Blu-ray of the recent home release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “The Master”, in which Joaquin Phoenix plays a veteran who has been psychologically damaged by his service in the war. It’s a good companion piece for the film, showing that this phenomenon is not just a dramatic element dreamed up by the filmmakers. In more recent times, the posttraumatic stress that our soldiers experience has become common knowledge. After WWII, the depiction was that our soldiers had done what was right and so they came back feeling fine about it. A movie like “The Master” revises that history. A movie like “Let There Be Light” proves that revision as necessary.

Watch the doc below.

No comments: