“Lord, please help me get one more.” – Army medic Desmond Doss, rescuing soldiers in “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Corporal Desmond Doss, receiving the Medal of Honor from President Harry S Truman
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, tells the true-life story of Desmond Thomas Doss, a World War II veteran who was the first U.S. conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, enlisted in the U.S. Army as a medic. While serving in the Pacific theater, Corporal Doss single-handedly carried dozens of wounded soldiers across the battlefield to safety while being exposed to enemy gunfire. He did so without firing a shot, because his religious beliefs prohibited him from using firearms.
The plot of Hacksaw Ridge is divided into two parts. The first half of the movie concerns Doss’ life in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia, and time in basic training prior to being shipped to battle. The much superior second half concerns fighting on Okinawa. Here we witness bloody, graphic battle scenes which communicate the immediacy of combat. Throughout all of this, Corporal Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) wends his way among the debris and dead to pick up one soldier after another.
My primary quibble about this movie is that director Gibson does not spend enough time in the first half establishing what enables the main character to do what he does in the battle scenes. Specifically, Gibson references but does not discuss at length two qualities which explain Doss’ heroism: His profound religious faith, and his dogged determination and stubbornness in adhering to his principles, regardless of pressure from those who would prefer that he do otherwise.
These issues are satisfactorily addressed in a wonderful 2007 documentary about Doss, The Conscientious Objector, directed by Terry Benedict. The film tells the story of Hacksaw Ridge through interviews with the elderly Doss and other veterans who served with him. As one listens to Doss, one gets the impression of a simple, sincere man who is profoundly grounded in his faith. Other veterans, many of whom spent time with Doss in basic training, paint a picture of a stubborn nonconformist who refuses time after time to let his peers and superiors force him to use firearms or forfeit worship on Saturdays (Seventh-Day Adventists do not worship on Sunday). Many of these interviewees served with Doss in the Pacific theatre, and were saved by his heroic actions.
In summary, Hacksaw Ridge is a fairly solid war movie. However, I would strongly suggest watching The Conscientious Objector, so that you can hear from Doss himself and other veterans. You can rent or buy The Conscientious Objector at amazon.com at the following link:
Pluses: Good battle scenes
Minus: Plodding first half; beware of extreme violence in second half of film.
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving
Director: Mel Gibson
Rating: R for extreme violence
Length: 2 hour, 11 minutes