‘I’ ON CULTURE
Hacksaw Ridge is a violent, powerful film describing the events that led to Desmond Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector during World War II, receiving the Medal of Honor despite never holding a weapon.
The war scenes are horrifically violent, and the language and attitudes, although correct for the time, seem wildly outdated today. Throughout, however, the fundamental goodness and beliefs of the central character shine through even when immersed in a warrior environment. It is strong, and it is the best movie I have seen so far this year.
Doss (Andrew Garfield), born into a horrific home environment that forced him to battle for his own existence, is shocked into action by Pearl Harbor. Unlike many others with similar beliefs, he not only goes into the Army but demands to be allowed to serve as a medic even though he is unwilling to use guns. That puts him at odds with his own comrades who don’t understand him, as well as his drill instructor, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn). Even more to the point, his commanding officer, Capt. Glover (Sam Worthington), brings the force of the whole Army to bear, threatening him with prison. Finally, he is allowed to serve with his fellow troops without carrying a weapon.
He is sent to Okinawa with the rest of the troops, who face a horrific struggle to conquer — what else? — Hacksaw Ridge. Director Mel Gibson pulls no punches in the depiction of battle scenes; they are horrific. Bodies pile up, limbs are missing and wounds are terrible. Doss starts carrying wounded men to safety, constantly praying, “Please God, help me get one more.” Eventually he rescues 75 men.
The cast is quite good. Garfield is brilliant. He will remind old-timers like myself of Gary Cooper in Sergeant York, but his background, warped by a monster of a father (Hugo Weaving), makes his faith seem only more powerful. He is a compelling figure; he goes into battle armed with a Bible instead of a rifle. And somehow he makes it work. Teresa Palmer is charming as his fiancée/wife. Vaughn comes on a bit too strong at first but eventually becomes a real presence. The soldiers are played realistically, although Australian accents occasionally slip through.
Most critics have praised the film, with a few exceptions. Some hate the movie simply because Mel Gibson made it. I do not like the guy at all, but this is an excellent, although very tough, film. The violence shown is extreme, but fighting on Okinawa, in truth, was brutal.
Gibson unflinchingly goes through battles, possibly killing off more men in the fighting shown than might have happened in fact. We can only watch, stunned. Gibson has stated that without understanding the horror of war, we cannot understand PTSD. And we might get a touch of it just from watching this film. But that sets off Doss’s actions even more strongly. He doesn’t threaten or curse; he saves.
Other critics have not been kind about stressing Doss’s religious faith. They point out that there can be many reasons for heroism. But for this man, his faith did lead him through the valley of death. His courage, not only on the battlefield but in dealing with his life, was remarkable.
It is not easy to describe the complications of faith in the man; most conscientious objectors either refused to do anything or took safe jobs. Doss was the exception, which makes it more interesting. He could have taken an easy way out, but he did not. He faced up to discrimination, up to beatings, and in the end, was a true hero. The Medal of Honor is not awarded casually, certainly not for medics.
At the end, there is a brief interview with the man (who died in 2006), and he seems as interesting as he was in the film.
This was the best movie I have seen this year. Of course, we are moving into the time of year when the top movies come out; but, still, this is an exceptional film. It is a throwback — the kind of film where intense patriotism and deep religious conviction are considered good things, instead of things to be mocked. But the power of the film, like Doss’s faith, shines through. Gibson has made one hell of a tough film, but one that will leave you thinking. It is worth your attention. Go see it.