My Rating: 8.5 out of 10
While it may not look like the sort superhero film we are all familiar with, the story of Desmond Doss told in Hacksaw Ridge is nothing short of superhuman. The movie was incredible due to the powerful raw emotion it was able to illicit. My heart was racing long after leaving the theatre and I couldn’t stop thinking about Desmond and the heroic things he did despite all the odds being against him. In reality, heroes are not men in capes with magical powers, but people like Desmond who are selfless enough to put others first and brave enough to be true to themselves in the facing of overwhelming odds. As the veterans who fought in WWII are quickly disappearing, it is more essential than ever to hear their stories, both to immortalize these brave men and to prevent ourselves from forgetting the hell of war.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), as I was before seeing Hacksaw Ridge, he was a pacifist who felt compelled to join the war effort despite his strong religious beliefs and conviction to never hold a gun. While he did not want to take the lives of his enemies, he understood why America was fighting and decided to serve as a medic in order to do his part to defend his country. After being mocked as a coward and physically tormented by his fellow soldiers during training, Desmond was eventually allowed to enter the battlefield in Japan without a rifle, where he proved everyone wrong with his immense bravery and saved dozens of wounded soldiers.
There are little surprises in the actual story since Desmond’s story is fairly straightforward. However, the tension throughout Hacksaw Ridge is immense and constant. It is a film that does such a great job of portraying the horrors of war that it was difficult to watch at times. With that said, I was so moved by the story that I would definitely see it again. While rewatching the film would be no less difficult, the emotion and the power would also be just as strong as the first time. Though I haven’t seen any other Mel Gibson films, I’ve heard that he is known for the brutal violence that he portrays in his works. Hacksaw Ridge is certainly a bloody and violent film, but not in a way that is over the top or distasteful. The violence is there for a purpose. In this case, the purpose is to highlight how terrible the battlefield was for these men and to accentuate Desmond’s bravery in the face of that horror. While the special effects weren’t always grounded in reality (for example, the use of slowmo in many sequences), they did a great job of accentuating the emotion of the action.
To elaborate on the construction of the film, I thought Mel Gibson managed to strike an excellent balance in several ways. For example, the scenes at the beginning of the film that show Desmond as a child and later when he meets his wife, we get an understanding of who he is and why he stood for the things he did. Unlike Desmond’s fellow soldiers, we knew that the place he came from was genuine and that he didn’t see himself as better than other people. He was a humble man that held firm to his convictions in a setting where that seemed impossible. In the hands of a less seasoned director, the story could have been told in a cheesy way, but Gibson managed to strike exactly the right notes. In addition, Andrew Garfield did a phenomenal job of embodying Desmond. I couldn’t believe that he was the same actor from the Amazing Spiderman movies, but I can see him becoming a truly iconic actor if he continues on his current path. Finally, for such a brutally honest film in regards to the horror of war, Hacksaw Ridge also has moments of levity that make it more realistic and remind the audience that these soldiers are still just young guys despite how heroic they are.
At the core of Hacksaw Ridge is a strong feeling of honesty. Desmond showed the power of selflessness and empathy in a world that couldn’t have been more unforgiving. Even in his personal life, he put others before himself. In today’s modern world, many people are so concerned with popularity and looking after themselves. I think that if more people held strongly to their convictions and exhibited more empathy, like Desmond did, the world would be a much better place. Instead of judging others on their beliefs, we should go out of our way to get to know them first. These seem like common sense ideas, but are not put into practice by the majority of people, which is why they see so incredible and superhuman in the film. For Desmond, his conviction came from his religion, but strong convictions can come from many different places. Unlike the majority of people, Desmond genuinely believed in the best parts of his faith and lived his life according to those principles. To quote the film: “some men believe, but not like you.”
After seeing the film, I was curious to do some research on the real story of Desmond Doss to see if Mel Gibson had embellished to make things more exciting. I was shocked to find out that the most fictionalized elements of the film were those that came before the fighting sequences. Gibson had changed some of the events from Desmond’s childhood and during his training, but the scenes on the battlefield were mostly taken from first hand accounts. What I found most fascinating was that some of the most unbelievable, but truthful elements of the story were removed so as not to many the audiences incredulous. For example, there were multiple accounts of Japanese snipers who had Desmond in their sights only to have their triggers jam. In addition, the final sequence were Desmond is rescued by his fellow soldiers was pretty straightforward in the film, but in reality was another example of Desmond’s heroism as he gave his stretcher away to another wounded soldier.
The scenes at the end showing the real Desmond Doss, as well as other soldiers from the film, really drove home the importance of the story. There is a big difference between seeing something being acted out and seeing real heroes talking about their experiences. I think these clips really highlighted the power of the film and made it all the more real to me. It is so important not to distance ourselves from the horror of war, so that we can try our hardest to prevent others from having to experience it, but it is also important to remember the wondrous things that humans are capable of. Hacksaw Ridge is not interested in telling a story about history or the geopolitical climate that led to WW2. Instead, it seeks to tell a story about brave men who fought both with and without weapons. The film is a bit like Desmond and his team in the sense that it is a bit of an oxymoron. Desmond is a pacifist who is also a great soldier, while Hacksaw Ridge is a beautiful film about choosing peace over war while showcase action-packed battle scenes for much of its runtime. In my opinion, the paradoxical nature of the film, and the story it tells, is just another example of how truthful it is. If you can get passed the violence and intensity, Hacksaw Ridge is a must-see film with a lot to offer.