After receiving a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge quickly became one of the most anticipated films of the year. It doesn’t disappoint. In a year where Superman and Batman both were deconstructed into morally ambiguous big screen figures, Hacksaw Ridge gives us a hero who is unafraid of plunging into the jaws of death, not because of some inner conflict, but simply because he knows what his mission is.
“Lord, help me get one more.”
Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a combat medic who refused to carry a gun, became the first conscientious objector to earn a Medal of Honor after he single-handedly saved at least 50 (some accounts have up to 100) wounded soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.
Make no mistake, this is a horrific look at the reality of war. This was the most deadly battle in the Pacific theatre of war, taking place on top of an escarpment nearly 350 feet high. The Japanese Army had dug trenches and tunnels that honeycombed the ridge, and were well entrenched when the Americans reached the shore. So when the battle goes poorly for the good guys, its less like a retreat, and more like a descent from another world.
At grave risk to himself, Doss pulls soldier after soldier off the front lines, going back time after time with one prayer on his lips: “Lord, help me get one more.” It isn’t mentioned in the film, but after the war, a Japanese solder recalled having Doss in his sights, but that every time he tried to pull the trigger, his gun jammed.
The Bigger Picture
So often, faith is thought of outside of action, like it is all about sitting around, waiting for something to happen, but never putting your money where your mouth is. There’s a clear line in Hacksaw Ridge where Doss’ faith gets put to action. This isn’t about being content to let God take care of everything, it’s about putting your faith into action because you know God will take care of things.
The tone of the film takes that step over the line with Doss. It feels almost like a Southern romantic drama at first, even complete with a humorous bunkhouse confrontation between a Sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and his men. But when they hit the battlefield, reality sets in that the world of war is an alien one, dehumanizing, degrading, and deadly.
Andrew Garfield is spectacular as Doss, and while his fellow actors (especially Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer and Hugo Weaving) hold their own, its Garfield’s world they are living in, and he plays Doss, from his Virginia roots to bloodied boots, superbly, with his wide-eyed faith and hope shining through the grisly battle. He may have played Spider-Man before, but now he plays a real-life hero, in a film where Mel Gibson somehow makes the fog of war artistic, while bludgeoning the viewer (in a good way) with its finality and doom.
Speaking of Gibson, it’s been a long road for him, and folks have forgotten how talented he is. Hacksaw Ridge showcases his eye for detail and mastery of human emotion, and, as the man himself recently said, it’s time for forgiveness.
For a civilization supposedly so tolerant, our world is quite hostile to anyone with opinions outside the “norm,” which is interesting, because how often is “the norm” actually the best way to go? (McDonald’s and Justin Bieber, for example.) This isn’t just true of religion and faith, but about politics, business, athletics, and pretty much everything.
But when you stand and actually let someone live out their faith in a virtuous way, with conviction, amazing things are bound to happen, as it did on Hacksaw Ridge many years ago.
So no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many bullets fly, or how many insults are thrown, we should all hope we will have the courage of Desmond Doss to say “Please, Lord, help me get one more,” and go back out on the battlefield for our fellow man. Oh, and if you want to know what that looks like, go see this film when it hits theaters this weekend.