Strength. Terror. Honor. Sacrifice. Brutality. Conviction. Every man—–from the most seasoned and war-hardened, to the first-day recruits—–learned under the most terrifying of circumstances what those words meant in their truest form. Strength: to charge into certain death. Terror: what they encountered. Honor: putting thier fellow soldiers before themselves. Sacrifice: either their very lives or, if fortunate enough, only a piece of it. Brutality: the thing that changed them forever. Conviction: something truly embodied by a man named Desmond Doss.
Summary: (No spoilers)
When the world becomes engulfed in its 2nd world war, young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield—–The Social Network, The Amazing Spider-Man) feels lead to enlist and aid his fellow man. He enlists, but with one stipulation: he will not use or even wield a gun, using his medical skills to save lives instead of taking them. Despite overwhelming derision from his unit and an eventual court-martial, Desmond remains steadfast in his beliefs. It isn’t until his deployment to Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa that his fellow soldiers realize how utterly wrong they were in assuming his cowardice.
Also starring: Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths, and Hugo Weaving
Conviction is a characteristic inherent to every human being. It’s something we all live by. Even those who don’t adhere to strict religious beliefs have conviction. We all live with personal beliefs; the belief in hope, the belief in better times, the belief in human goodness. But I wonder who has convictions so deep-seeded and steadfast as Private First-Class Desmond Doss had.
His convictions were simple: God says do not kill. While humanity has been riddled with death and tragedy over the centuries, Desmond was someone who refused to perceive his own life above someone else’s, no matter how heinous the other person was. This moral decision caused him a great amount of strife within his unit.
Hacksaw Ridge poignantly describes the situations from Doss’ own life that turned him into such a pacifist. It also highlights something about him that we all must utilize in our lives—–he didn’t expect others to adhere to his same convictions. So many people today who follow certain religious practices or follow certain lifestyles expect others to live by those same standards, when it ultimately only causes unnecessary strife and anguish. Desmond realized that in an army of men training to kill that his own worldview would be looked down upon, to say the least. But he remained faithful to his convictions. Even if you don’t agree with his notions, you should always admire someone who sticks to their beliefs in the face of ridicule and persecution.
It’s what Hacksaw Ridge accomplishes in its last third that makes it such a massively moving film. Never before has a war film been so brutal and stark in its demonstration of combat violence. Imagine the opening beach scene from Saving Private Ryan and then nearly double that in terms of graphic depiction. Of course it’s no surprise that a film from the director of The Passion of the Christ would depict such explicit brutality, but it comes no less shockingly. As the camera pans over strewn bodies of men ripped apart from explosions, your eyes fill with tears realizing that these are not images from some fictional imagination.
But it’s on a deeply personal level that this film hits such emotional chords. It’s in the heroic and often miraculous efforts of Desmond Doss that you realize how much more a man with a satchel of gauze and morphine can accomplish than a man with an assault rifle and flamethrower. When the attack on Hacksaw Ridge concludes and his men retreat to safer zones, Private Doss, under the cover of smoke, scours the battlefield and rescues man after man after man. “One more,” he keeps on saying, “God, just let me get one more.” Though it’s uncertain what the final number was (with the real Doss saying around 50 and most of his men saying 100), it’s estimated that the “coward” Desmond Doss rescued 75 men in the course of a night. 75 men returned home to their families.
In a nutshell:
It’s rare that a war film of this caliber comes along. Very rare. In fact, the last film of its kind that I would compare it to in terms of film-making and grit is Saving Private Ryan. Stark and bitter in its presentation but containing just enough base humanity to keep us engaged, Hacksaw Ridge is a pure example of brilliant film-making. Not only do I smell Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, but the performance by Andrew Garfield is one of the year’s best and certainly deserves a Best Actor nomination. In the wake of such political turmoil, how awesome it is to watch a film of this kind and be truly humbled.