Josh Larsen, in his book, Movies Are Prayers, explores the notion that a film can function as a “prayer of lament.” Larsen traces the sentiment of lament from the African American spiritual songs of the 1800’s, all the way back to the Old Testament Hebrew prophets. A lament, he contends, is “an expression of despair in hope of being heard.” Both parts are important: the honest and unblinking look at injustice and suffering in the world, and the need to express it, to deal with that which is so exceedingly wrong with these things. There is a sense in which Huston was led to this place through the course of his tenure in the war. He felt the need to fully and poignantly express the incredible tragedy of war, and in spite of pushback from his superiors and the risk of being discharged or damaging his career, concluded that this lament needed to be heard.
Larsen contends that while the prayer of lament is focused on injustice and suffering, and therefore by design, dark and depressing, there is always an element of hope embedded in the act of expression. If Huston were to truly despair, he would of course not bother to make another film. But the fact that he found the resolve to continue speaks to some sense of hope that he was able to tap into. The difference between despair and hope, according to Larsen, regardless of circumstance, has to do with an implicit or explicit view of the universe, either as “indifferent and arbitrary,” or perhaps inhabited by, “something-someone-out there who gives a damn.” Is there someone who “gives a damn” about all these young soldiers who suffered incredible psychological trauma? Huston appeared to think so, and made the film because he thought others would too.
– from the upcoming book “How to Film the Truth: The Story of Documentary Film As a Spiritual Journey” to be released in the Summer of 2018 by Wipf & Stock