From the opening frames, you can see this isn’t going to be an easy watch.
It took me a while to work up to watching this movie. I find images of war profoundly disturbing, and I know Mel Gibson’s talent at portraying horror and man’s inhumanity to man. In this movie – he did nothing less. He’s a master at it.
But – incredibly – this is not a war movie at its heart.
I’m going to give some important plot details now…go watch the movie if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss. Raised by a Christian mother, Desmond grew into a devout young man who decided to shun violence. When war broke out – the patriot within him longed to fight for America’s freedom. But – he could not bear to take up arms himself. Rather – he dreamed of entering the Army in a non-combat role – as a Medic.
This got him into all sorts of trouble during his Army training. His refusal to use a rifle almost landed him in an Army prison for the rest of the war. Yet through some profoundly moving circumstances – Desmond was spared Court Marshall. And instead – he was sent with the 77th Infantry Division to the bloodiest theatre of war…Okinawa in the South Pacific…unarmed. The army men who had labelled him a coward for refusing to fight…began to see saw his bravery as Desmond faced the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge carrying nothing but medical supplies, and a willing heart to bring comfort to the wounded and the dying on the battlefield.
That any of Desmond’s Detachment survived Hacksaw was pretty miraculous. The Japanese counter attack was fierce. Gibson’s movie portrays events as follows. After the first day of fighting, the 77th seem to have survived and dug in on Hacksaw Ridge. They survive the night – yet at first light, the Japanese counter attack pushes them back to the edge of the cliff again. Those who can, scramble down the cliff face to safety, leaving dead and dying friends remaining on the ridge with scores of Japanese soldiers who wander the battlefield, finishing off the wounded men that remain.
The movie shows this as the pivotal moment in Desmond’s story.
As his buddies flee for their lives…he stands at the cliff edge…feeling he could have done more. He prays to God – “speak to me. Show me what to do.” And through the confusion…the cries of wounded men reach his ears. Desmond knows his next step.
Instead of climbing down the cliff face to safety, he heads unarmed…back onto the battlefield…carefully dodging Japanese soldiers on the grotesque, body strewn battlefield. One by one, Desmond drags wounded soldiers towards the cliff edge…lowering them down the ridge cliff face to safety. He even rescues some enemy soldiers that way. The movie shows him lowering each life down to safety…and returning to the horrors of the battlefield with a single prayer – “Lord, just one more…let me save one more.” In total – he saves 75 wounded soldiers who faced certain death on Hacksaw Ridge.
Actor Andrey Garfield was interviewed about his role, and he shakes his head at Doss’s heroic actions. “Whatever it was that gave him the power to do that…it was just incredible…” Some of the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers were quick to point out two interesting things about this true story.
First – that Desmond Doss shows that there’s a different thing between Religion and Faith. While religion is often seen as a defining demarcation line between people – often resulting in tensions and conflicts – faith is something different. It’s the power to trust, to look beyond yourself – and do incredibly acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. Whatever Desmond’s religious persuasion – he was a conservative Christian – Desmond showed how powerful faith in God can really be. I think there’s some truth to this.
The second point the filmmakers make – is that even though Desmond was a Christian, this principle he showed is not confined to Christianity alone. It simply shows the positive impact that spirituality in general can have in this world.
I am quite sure that people of all religious persuasion are capable of acts of bravery, self-sacrifice and honour. It’s happening around the world right now during terrible conflict. I’m in awe of every sacrificial person – whatever their religious background. And from my current place of comfort and security – I cheer each of these people on for their actions.
But – I’d like to point something out about Christianity. It seems to me that – there’s something uniquely Christian about Desmond Doss’s story. Why?
We consistently read that Jesus spent time with those in his Jewish society that were the lowest of the low. The religious establishment looked down their noses at Jesus for doing this. Yet Jesus made a point of explaining his actions. You can read his reply to them in Luke chapter 15 in the New Testament. He takes three instances where something of great value had gotten lost – and someone decided to go looking for that thing, even though it cost them greatly. The lost sheep…the lost coin…the lost son. There is something about Jesus that is just not content to stop when there’s even one lost person in our world…Doss echo’s the heart cry of Jesus Christ – ”give me one more…let me save one more.”
I’m suggesting – there’s something distinctively Christian about putting oneself in harms way to have the opportunity to rescue someone who is lost. We all reflect Jesus when we do it – whether we like that or not.
I’m grateful to the Hacksaw Ridge filmmakers who have helped me learn about how Desmond Doss modelled Jesus Christ in a moving and awe-inspiring way during the World War 2 battles in the Pacific.