NEW YORK — In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples,
"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's
That statement is vividly realized in "Hacksaw Ridge"
(Summit), which recounts the extraordinary heroism of Army medic Desmond T.
Doss (Andrew Garfield) during the Battle of Okinawa in the closing days of
World War II.
A committed Christian and conscientious objector who refused to
bear arms, Doss was nonetheless eager to serve his country. He single-handedly
saved the lives of more than 75 wounded soldiers while under constant enemy
fire, earning him the Medal of Honor, awarded by Congress.
Director Mel Gibson, working from a screenplay by Andrew Knight
and Robert Schenkkan, presents his fact-based drama in two parts. The first
probes Doss' childhood and upbringing in rural Virginia, while the second
unfolds on Okinawa, atop a jagged cliff nicknamed "Hacksaw Ridge" for
the brutality of the Japanese offensive there.
War is indeed hell, as Gibson pulls no punches in extreme battle
scenes reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan." Awash in blood and gore,
with heads blown off and soldiers set afire by napalm, the violence is no doubt
realistic, but will necessarily restrict this film's audience to those adults
willing to endure such sights.
We first meet Desmond as a spirited boy (Darcy Bryce) who
is losing a fistfight with his older brother, Hal (Roman Guerriero). Desmond
picks up a brick and strikes Hal, knocking him out cold.
Recoiling in horror, the boy fears he has killed his sibling
(shades of Cain and Abel). He hasn't, but the incident shakes him to the core,
and inspires his steadfast pacifism.
"To take another man's life is the greatest sin of
all," his kindly mother, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), reminds her son,
citing their beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists.
Fast forward 15 years, and both sons have enlisted, to the dismay
of their abusive father, Tom (Hugo Weaving). A veteran of World War I, he knows
firsthand the horror and futility of war.
But Desmond is keen to play his part, despite the misgivings of
his fiancee, local nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). "While others
are taking life, I will be saving it," he reassures her.
Needless to say, Desmond faces ridicule and beatings by his
fellow recruits at boot camp, who regard him as a freak and coward. The
platoon's leader, Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn), and the company's commander,
Capt. Glover (Sam Worthington), make his life miserable, and lobby for his
But Doss holds firm, calling himself a "conscientious
cooperator." A military court rules that he may serve as a medic, and not
Once on Okinawa, Doss proves his mettle and earns the respect of
his platoon as he runs back and forth on the battlefield to remove the wounded.
His nearly superhuman actions would seem farfetched were they not true.
As might be expected with Gibson at the helm, "Hacksaw
Ridge" does not sideline Doss' religious convictions, which are integral
to his story and his performance on Okinawa. With Dorothy's Bible in his breast
pocket, Desmond utters the cry, "Please God, let me get one more," as
he repeatedly plunges back into the abyss.
References to baptism and the resurrection give "Hacksaw
Ridge" a transcendent, messianic quality that draws comparison with
Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." As did that film, "Hacksaw
Ridge" uses the pain and bloodletting it portrays to inspire viewers with
a redeeming Christian message.
The film contains graphic war violence with much gore, brief rear
male nudity, a scene of marital sensuality and considerable crude language. The
Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose
problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture
Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying
parent or adult guardian.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.