Hacksaw Ridge, with Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington. Directed by Mel Gibson.
HAVING already returned to acting after a troubled hiatus, Mel Gibson has done even better work in the director’s chair with Hacksaw Ridge, the true story of a conscientious objector who became one of the greatest heroes of World War II.
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was in a predicament when he volunteered to serve after the attack on Pearl Harbour, following his brother and against the wishes of his father (Hugo Weaving), who had seen many of his friends perish in World War I.
A Seventh Day Adventist, Doss held a personal pacifism beyond the view of fellow Christians. He believed the cause against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was just, and wanted to serve his country, but he was adamant he would not take a life and so refused to carry a rifle.
Leading up to his enlistment, we see Doss’ background growing up in a rural setting in Lynchburg, Virginia, during the Great Depression. Reinforcing his faith were two key moments that shaped his pacifism – almost killing his brother with a rock in a sibling fight resembling the Cain and Abel story, and confronting his drunken, violent father with the handgun he had threatened to use on Doss’ mother (Rachel Griffiths).
We also see how he meets and woos his wife, Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a young nurse he plans to marry on one of his passes from basic training. The full experience of an army bungalow is conveyed by the assortment of characters Doss meets, and he puts his heart into his training.
His goal is to be an army medic, but his pacifism creates problems for him when his company commanders Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington) are perplexed by his stance and seek to have him discharged for psychiatric reasons.
Found to be sane, but with deeply held convictions, Doss refuses to drop out at Howell’s insistence and is tasked with punitive KP. As collective punishment, his squad is denied a pass, resulting in Doss being beaten by members of his squad.
Still refusing to drop out or identify his attackers, he continues training until arrested for insubordination for refusing to carry a firearm. A court martial follows, but Doss’ father’s intervention frees him to go to war without a weapon.
Still distrusted and seen as a coward by his fellow soldiers, Doss’ time to shine comes at the Battle of Okinawa, when his unit is sent to fight the Japanese entrenched on the Maeda Escarpment, nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”.
The bloody carnage of war is graphically displayed. After seemingly successfully taking the ridge from the Japanese, Doss’ unit is pushed back and leaves behind many wounded. Already demonstrating courage under fire, Doss makes it his personal mission to find and bring back as many survivors as he can, one at a time.
It is a remarkable story of faith, bravery and compassion in the direst circumstances.