By Cynthia Biddlecomb
“Hacksaw Ridge” is Mel Gibson’s latest film glorifying suffering and canonizing a hero. The gore and realism of the battle scenes may not be tolerable for all viewers, but if you think you can hack it, this film is certainly worth your time.
The hero of this true story is Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield, whom we recognize from Spiderman). Doss was raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We see him as a young boy tussling with his brother Hal and climbing up a familiar mountainside. We meet his gentle mother (Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under) and his deeply troubled father (Hugo Weaving, Elrond in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), a veteran of World War I, living with survivor’s guilt.
As a young man, Desmond helps save a victim of an automobile accident, indicating to us his character of service. In the movie, he meets his future wife, Dorothy in the hospital that day. But when he comes of age, Desmond joins the army, serving in the Pacific Theater and leaving his girl Dorothy behind.
What makes Desmond Doss a different kind of war hero is his faith as a Seventh Day Adventist. He will not touch a gun, choosing to serve as a medic alongside those who do. Understandably, this is a problem in boot camp. He denies being a Conscientious Objector, calling himself instead a “Conscientious Cooperator”. His determination comes under fire by the men in his unit, the 77th Infantry Division out of Fort Jackson. The film shows them treating him pretty badly, in fact. Desmond is considered a coward or just plain crazy.
Despite these challenges, Desmond does get to serve as the medic for his unit, heading into the battles without a weapon, even for self-defense. Desmond Doss becomes a hero by saving the lives of 75 men, soldiers who were wounded and had been left to die on the battlefield. For this feat, he earned the Medal of Honor, the only Conscientious Objector to do so in World War II.
The crux of this story takes place on that battlefield, on the island of Okinawa. Desmond’s division is sent to take an escarpment, nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge for the devastation experienced there. The scenes of this two-day battle are gruesome and realistic, with dead bodies and parts thereof scattered across the field that these soldiers must cross. The enemy has been dug in for years, living in tunnels and underground bunkers, and shooting from fortified pillboxes. Such harrowing scenes set the backdrop for Doss’ repeated acts heroism.
Hacksaw Ridge is “Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.” Those with weak stomachs ought to avoid the film and read about Desmond Doss on Wikipedia or elsewhere. Those who can handle such scenes of carnage really ought to see this film.