Amid all the noise and rancor of Election Season, it’s easy to forget why we do this at all, but director Mel Gibson’s stunning World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” premiering Friday, Nov. 4, is here to remind you of the following things:
- Freedom is not free; it is bought in blood and courage.
- Faith in Christ is the most powerful weapon we have (whether or not you need to use an actual weapon, which you sometimes do).
- To be a true and faithful Christian is to face persecution, but Christ will give you the power to endure and persevere.
- There is evil in the world, both supernatural and human. We must mercilessly fight the first and always be ready to defend against the second, while never forgetting mercy.
- One man, with God’s help, can work miracles.
- Like a candle in the darkness, a spark of faith can shine out and light the world.
Andrew Garfield stars in the fact-based story as Seventh-Day Adventist Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector (or “conscientious cooperator,” as he puts it) to be a Medal of Honor recipient.
As a lanky young Virginian, he volunteers for the Army as a medic. Sent to a combat unit, he is hazed, abused and brought up on charges for his unwillingness to touch a gun, which makes his fellow soldiers wonder if he can be relied upon in the heat of battle.
But when his unit lands on Okinawa Island and faces an unimaginably brutal battle atop an escarpment called Hacksaw Ridge (because storming it is like running into a hacksaw blade), Doss shows extraordinary courage.
During one night, after an Allied retreat, Doss stays behind on the ridge, where he is estimated to have saved 75 wounded men (as happened in real life), lowering them one by one to safety, all while unarmed.
Along with Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge” stars Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington and Rachel Griffiths. Filmed on a tight budget and a tight shooting schedule in Australia, it’s garnering critical acclaim, starting with a 10-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
The story existed first as a documentary (some of the footage of the real people is at the end) then spent several years being developed into a feature film, under the watchful eyes of the Adventists, who held the rights to Doss’ story (he’s a kind of superhero among them).
Strangely, this modern interpretation of a classic World War II movie, with faith laced throughout, appears to be earning Gibson his way back into Hollywood’s good graces. In a recent piece for Patheos, I speculated on why:
So, why should this be the moment — and the low-budget, independent film — where Gibson is forgiven? Maybe somewhere, in its dark, shriveled heart, Hollywood yearns for a hero, for someone who can’t be bought or co-opted or bullied or shamed into being something other than what he is — or what God wants him to be.
And, perhaps, because the film isn’t directly about Jesus, if it’s a financial success, Hollywood can swallow that more gracefully than it did the boffo box-office for “The Passion of the Christ.”
Or, in a studio world of comic-book escapades, CGI fantasies, rubberstamp summer blockbusters and raunchy comedies, Hollywood is ready for a real movie about real people doing real things, with real stakes and real heart.
Either way, Gibson has made something rich and memorable, and it’s long past time that the Pharisees, Philistines and libertines of Tinseltown gave him his due.
“Hacksaw Ridge” has the graphic, realistic violence we’ve come to expect from Gibson, but it’s entirely appropriate for a movie about the horrors of the fighting on Okinawa. As announced at a faith leaders screening I attended, all f-words and blasphemy have been removed — I suspect for the sake of Evangelical viewers — which, considering what’s shown on screen, shows some odd priorities.
There’s still some rough language, but it’s on the milder side.
The movie’s also being marketed to veterans, some of whom have said they find the experience cathartic. At minimum, like “Saving Private Ryan,” it’ll give people who’ve never been in combat a small taste of what those who defend our freedom have endured.
Doss is a man of faith, but not all of his comrades are. But, they believe that he believes, and they believe in him.
In the end, that’s enough.
Click here to see a video I shot at a recent press event, with comments from Gibson and Garfield.
Images: Courtesy Lionsgate