Last night, I finally had an opportunity to watch Hacksaw Ridge, a Mel Gibson film based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector during World War II, who served his country without a weapon:
HACKSAW RIDGE is the extraordinary true story of Desmond Doss [Andrew Garfield] who, in Okinawa during the bloodiest battle of WWII, saved 75 men without firing or carrying a gun. He was the only American soldier in WWII to fight on the front lines without a weapon, as he believed that while the war was justified, killing was nevertheless wrong. As an army medic, he single-handedly evacuated the wounded from behind enemy lines, braved fire while tending to soldiers and was wounded by a grenade and hit by snipers. Doss was the first conscientious objector awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Featuring an exceptionally talented cast, with Andrew Garfield in the role of Desmond Doss, the film portrays the horrors of war and its effect on everyday people in multiple ways. Desmond’s father, who harbors resentment and bitterness over losing his buddies in World War I, directs his anger in violent ways toward his wife and sons; Desmond’s mother, who deals with her husband’s cruelty with grace and strength while protecting her sons; and Desmond himself, who recognizes the call to fight evil and protect freedom, but stands strong in his convictions to do it in his own way.
He almost never gets his chance, thanks to unforgiving higher-ups within the military. Even members of his own unit scorn his aversion to guns and doubt his usefulness in the “hell-fire of war.” Among other things, he endures physical abuse, serves time in a military prison, and misses his own wedding before he is cleared to accompany his unit to Hacksaw Ridge, where he earns their respect through his unyielding acts of courage, which result in 75 lives saved.
Gibson does not sugar-coat the atrocities of war, even when justified – his graphic portrayal of blood, guts and severed limbs makes you feel as if you’re right there in the middle of the battle. In one scene, when the enemy comes out waving a white flag in what turns out to be an act of deception, you can almost feel the conflicted emotions of the American soldiers in the seconds before they realize they must return fire. It provides a stark contrast to another scene in which Desmond shows mercy toward a severely wounded enemy soldier who regards him with suspicion. One of the most poignant scenes in the film comes when Desmond’s former nemesis, now in awe of the man he once considered a coward, asks for his forgiveness.
With all of the insanity currently unfolding in our country, Hacksaw Ridge was a great escape, even if it pulls no punches about the brutality of conflict and the existence of evil. Above all, it celebrates true heroism and a man who refused to let anyone interfere with his calling to serve. Desmond didn’t organize an anti-war protest, nor did he ridicule or spit upon the men who took up arms in the defense of the United States Constitution. He saw clearly the distinction between good and evil, and held firm to his mission to serve in way that was compatible with his conscience. He stands out among The Greatest Generation.