Film of the Week: Let There Be Light (1946, John Huston)

The great filmmaker John Huston once said: “If I ever make a picture that’s pro-war, I hope they take me out and shoot me.”

War is certainly a recurring theme throughout his oeuvre and it is the topic of his only feature documentary, Let There Be Light. Produced in 1946, the film was deemed too controversial and suppressed by the U.S. government for 30 years after it was made.

The film, narrated by John’s father Walter Huston, follows a group of mentally traumatized veteran patients as they go through mentally psychiatric treatments.

While some parts remain shocking and eye-opening to this day, Let There Be Light does make use of some clever if outdated and simple melodramatic devices to sweeten the pill of the revelation of war as a terrible thing.

It is also done via a meticulous camerawork, complete of tracking shots, odd camera angles and other expressive techniques borrowed from fiction cinema (or quite simply closer to the older forms of Grierson-like documentaries than the direct cinema of the late ’50s and ’70s).

John Huston

The importance of the sweetening process is nothing to take for granted. For many years during World War II, American men, as men all over the world, were convinced through all media that war was righteous and that men should stand up and fight. Let There Be Light opposes this propaganda statement outright.

Its depiction of vulnerable masculinity even stretches beyond the subject of war. The suggestion made throughout the documentary is that men are taught to be fierce and competitive, and never show their weaknesses. Much of the treatment revolves around that it’s okay for them to be vulnerable.

Intrinsically, the film is therefore a plea for the healing of society of a whole by getting rid of toxic masculinity.

NOTE: The film can currently be watched for free on YouTube. You can view it via the player below.

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