“Let There Be Light”


“Let There Be Light” (US Army, 1946), directed by John Huston.

Let There Be Light is a documentary film commissioned by the United States Army Signal Corps, and directed by John Huston. It examines the fate of 75 U.S. soldiers suffering from debilitating emotional trauma, at the end of World War II. Huston chronicles their time at a large psychiatric hospital (Mason General), their treatment — particularly using psychoactive drugs and hypnosis, of which Huston himself became an enthusiastic practitioner during the period when the film was being made.  The film portrayed emotional trauma as the most common kind of wartime casualties, amounting to twenty percent of wartime casualties. This thesis also made the film controversial. Just before its release, it was banned by the Army and was not publicly accessible until Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander Jr. released it in the 1980s. 

Related films: “Battle Exhaustion” (1945), “Shades of Gray” (1948), “Combat fatigue irritability” (1945), “Combat psychiatry the battalion medical officer” (1954)

Grinker, Roy R., and Spiegel, John S., “Brief Psychiatry in War neuroses,” Psychosomatic Medicine April 1, 1944 vol. 6 no. 2 123-131
Grinker, Roy R., and Spiegel, John S., War Neuroses (1945).
Grinker, Roy R., and Spiegel, John S., Men Under Stress (1945).
Leys, Ruth, Trauma: A genealogy (Chicago: 2000).
Winter, Alison, “Film and the transformation of memory in psychoanalysis, 1940-1960,”  Science in Context (2006), 19 (1), 111-136.
Winter, Alison,“Screening selves: sciences of identity and memory on film,” History of Psychology, November 2004, 367-401.
Canby, Vincent, “‘LET THERE BE LIGHT,’ JOHN HUSTON VS. THE ARMY”, New York Times,  (January 16, 1981).

 

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