NEW YORK — Ever since the success of 2004's "The Passion of
the Christ," viewers of faith have waited anxiously for a follow-up from
the film's director, Mel Gibson.
Recently, Gibson revealed that he is indeed planning a sequel —
centered on the resurrection of Jesus — but its debut is still several years
In the meantime, fans will find at least a thematic successor to
Gibson's Bible-based work in his latest movie, "Hacksaw Ridge." This
new release could easily be subtitled, "The Passion of Desmond T.
A committed Seventh-day Adventist and World War II conscientious
objector, Doss (portrayed on screen by Andrew Garfield) was unwilling to take
lives but anxious to save them.
Overcoming derision and abuse from his peers — and a push by his
superiors to expel him from the Army with a dishonorable discharge — he was
allowed to remain in the service as a medic. During the bloody Battle of
Okinawa in the closing months of World War II, Doss saved scores of wounded
soldiers in a manner so courageous that Congress eventually awarded him the
Medal of Honor.
"Hacksaw Ridge" marks Gibson's return to the director's
chair after a 10-year absence.
"It's a very inspiring story and it seemed to be perfectly
suited to the cinema," Gibson told the audience at a recent screening of
the drama held at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, a forum for
discussion and the arts run by the Archdiocese of New York.
"It's a love story, not a war film," he explained.
"I wanted to accentuate who Desmond was in the midst of this maelstrom of
violence that reduces most men to the level of animals."
"He was armed only with his faith, and went in and put his
life on the line for his brothers. Who could possibly go into a situation like
he did without something bigger to believe in?"
Gibson brought his signature visual style, laden with religious
imagery, to the movie, which is told in two acts: Doss' youth in rural
Virginia, and the ferocious combat on Okinawa atop a cliff nicknamed
"I had this vision of a Norman Rockwell painting jammed up
against a Hieronymus Bosch painting," he explained. "You had ideal,
sweet innocence, and then you had hell. You take the same people into the other
painting. It's the death of innocence, and I wanted to give people an idea of
what that feels like, and what our veterans suffered as a result of combat
"Hacksaw Ridge" draws parallels to "The Passion of
the Christ" in Doss' perseverance, remaining true to his Christian faith
despite extraordinary obstacles, and winning the respect of his comrades in the
"Desmond's biggest hero was Jesus, and he was trying to
emulate him in any way he could," Gibson said in an interview with
Catholic News Service. "'Greater love hath no man than to give up his life
for his friends,' which is what he did — again and again and again.
"He crawled into very dangerous and perilous situations to
save others, which is the most selfless act of love you can have," Gibson
continued. "In that sense he emulated Christ perfectly."
Wounded on Okinawa, Doss died in 2006 at age 87.
Joining Gibson at the Sheen Center was Pulitzer Prize-winning
playwright Robert Schenkkan ("All the Way"), who co-wrote the
screenplay for "Hacksaw Ridge" with Andrew Knight.
Schenkkan praised Doss as a positive role model, especially for
men: "He embodies the Christian ethos, which is all about subordination of
self to a higher power, compassion, and self-sacrifice," Schenkkan
observed. "And I think that is a really important image of masculinity to
put out there right now."
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.