Let There Be Light (1946) is a documentary film commissioned by the US Army that depicts returning soldiers being treated for war neurosis. It has been recently launched on Netflix. One interesting fact is that the movie ended up being censored by the army at the time, purportedly to protect the patients' privacy.

After watching it, as much as I admire the director's work, it feels staged. The scenes are "too perfect" to be true and the interactions look artificial. I could not find any discussion about the veracity of the movie, hence my question: is "Let There Be Light" (1946) a real documentary?

  • According to everything I've seen and read, there is no indication that it's not a documentary in the truest sense of the term. Nothing has indicated that any of it was staged. Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 3:24

2 Answers 2


The terms "real documentary" and "staged" are not, in fact, mutually exclusive. Most documentaries are staged to a greater or lesser extent. You can't really make a documentary by filming everything that moves and hope to catch something significant as it happens.

The film starts with several vehicles arriving at the hospital. The doors open in unison. Men exit the vehicles and walk past the camera without a glance. I have no doubt that this shot was choreographed and rehearsed, but the men are genuine patients.

Next comes a shot of the men sitting in rows of chairs. In the front row, a man is shaking. The narrator says "Here are men who tremble." This is probably a real patient with a real medical condition, but they deliberately arranged for him to sit in the front row.

Shortly after that, they show a Doctor talking to a patient. I'd guess that the Doctor had already had several sessions with that patient, and then suggested to the filmmakers that this particular patient might make a good subject for their film. It's a real patient, telling a real story, but likely a reenactment of a session they've already had.

And so on, throughout the film.


If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

The same applies to Let There Be Light, it's a documentary film in all the senses. Even if there is any staged scene there is no claim and proof for it present anywhere.

Also, the ban was due to demoralizing effects on war time army recruitment.

  • My point is precisely that it doesn't quack like a duck.
    – guest
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 17:17

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