Hacksaw Ridge, rated R
This powerful film tells the incredible story of Desmond T. Doss, a pacifist World War II medic who would become the first conscientious objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in the Battle of Okinawa. I recently read about Doss’s heroics in Bill O’Reilly’s and Martin Dugard’s excellent but equally brutal book Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan. You can read my review of that book here.
This film is directed by controversial two-time Oscar winner Mel Gibson (Braveheart). This is Gibson’s first feature film since 2006’s Apocalypto, which received three Oscar nominations, but made only $50 million at the box office, compared to $370 million (in the U.S. alone) for his previous film The Passion of the Christ. This film will be of interest to Christians and is written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight. The musical score is by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
The film opens with excerpts from Isaiah 40. We see the young Desmond (played by Darcy Bryce) growing up with his family in Virginia. His father Tom (Hugo Weaving who starred in the Lord of the Rings films) is a bitter and mean alcoholic World War I veteran. His violent behavior pushes Desmond toward his eventual pacifist beliefs. According to his 2006 obituary in the New York Times, Doss was guided all through his years by a framed poster of the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer that his father bought at an auction when he was growing up in Lynchburg, Va. That poster depicted Cain holding a club with the slain Abel beneath him. “And when I looked at that picture, I came to the Sixth Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ ” Mr. Doss told Larry Smith in Beyond Glory an oral history of Medal of Honor winners.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Desmond (Andrew Garfield, Golden Globe nominee for The Social Network), volunteers to serve his country in the war as a medic. He had promised God that he would never carry a weapon or kill anyone. This immediately causes him problems in basic training. Doss is a Seventh Day Adventist and is portrayed reading the Bible often. Sarge (Vince Vaughn, who normally appears in comedies) does not care for the skinny Desmond, and nicknames him “Cornstalk”. His commander, Captain Glover (Sam Worthington, Avatar) is not a fan of his either. Doss is seen as a coward, and they encourage the other soldiers to harass and beat him so that Doss would quit. But Doss will not quit. As a result, this leads to a court martial hearing. Doss receives strong input from his fiancée Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) because she does not want him to be sent to prison, but he stays true to his ideals. And we know from the trailer that the decision is made to allow Doss to remain in the military and that he will not be forced to carry a weapon.
The second half of the film takes us fully into the Battle of Okinawa, which took place toward the end of World War II, on an island about 340 miles from Japan. Germany has already surrendered, but the Japanese vow to fight on with tenacity. Corporal Doss was a member of the Army’s 77th Infantry Division.
The film is rated “R” for some of the most brutal, horrific war violence that I can recall, some soldier nudity (not portrayed in a sexual manner), and some adult language (Gibson removed any “F-words” and abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names).
This film had a 14-year path from idea to production and a budget of approximately $45 million. It shows the incredible, inspiring, and mostly unknown story of Desmond Doss, a hero who stays true to his beliefs. Garfield is superb as Doss, with a performance that I believe is Oscar-worthy. Vaughn and Worthington also turn in strong performances.
Unfortunately, many will not be interested in sitting through the brutal violence that Gibson portrays here (think of the violence portrayed in Gibson’s Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, or the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan) of the Battle of Okinawa, which had more than 14,000 Allied deaths (mostly American) and incredibly more than 77,000 Japanese deaths. Those who are interested in Doss’s story, but not interested in sitting through this brutal film, may be interested in one of the books that tells Doss’s story, such as Desmond Doss: Conscientious Objector, published earlier this year by Doss’s second wife Frances.