Every year after the Academy Awards air, I watch each of the Best Picture nominated films. It’s a tradition, and one I enjoy. And every year, there is one movie on the list of eight or nine that I don’t look forward to watching. I usually get that one out of the way quickly. Most of the time, the movie proves to be stellar and I am grateful that I watched it.
This year, the movie that I didn’t think I would like was Hacksaw Ridge. War movies are at the bottom of my list, genre wise. I rented the DVD of this film with low expectations and a desire to see it and check it off my list.
Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn. This biographical drama, based on a true story, was directed by Mel Gibson. Rated R for scenes of war time violence, the movie has a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes. Hacksaw Ridge was nominted for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Gibson and Best Actor for Garfield. It won two Oscars, for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.
Desmond Doss (Garfield) grew up with an alcholic father, Tom (Weaving), a WWI veteran, and a Seventh Day Adventist mother, Bertha (Griffiths). A couple of family incidents make a deep impact on young Desmond, causing him to abhor weapons and violence.
Desmond, now grown, has a pretty fiancé Dorothy (Palmer) and lives with contentment. However, as WWII escalates, he decides to join the Army and protect his country, while adhering to his beliefs.
The Army, it seems, objects to a conscientious objector. Determined to prevent Desmond from serving as a medic, his superior officers, Sgt Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington), make military life difficult for him. He endures disciplinary actions, a beating, ridicule and discrimination, and yet never wavers in his decision to serve his country while not carrying a weapon. Killing someone is strongly against Desmond’s beliefs.
During a court martial hearing against him, for refusing a direct order to qualify with a rifle, Desmond at last receives permission to train as a medic and not carry a weapon. Desmond’s father, whose life has been so devasted by war and who did not want his son to join the Army, pulls himself together and pulls in a favor that allows his son to stay in the military.
Desmond and his comrades arrive in Okinawa, where the Japanese are entrenched and beating back battalion after battalion atop Hacksaw Ridge. The fighting is intense, bloody and horrific, with many, many casualties.
Beliefs are challenged.
Will Desmond, who has been called a coward for refusing to fire a rifle, be able to endure such a catastrophic battle? Can Desmond hold to his beliefs against using weapons? Can the other soldiers trust a man who would rather die than shoot?
The first half of this film caught my interest and held it. I was sympathetic to Desmond’s story and empathized with his plight. Garfield turned in a superb performance as the gentle, likable young man who had a patriotic desire to serve and an objection to killing.
I started off liking Desmond, and came to deeply respect him. He had a strong belief system, and he honored it, no matter what anyone said, no matter what happened.
The second half of the movie was extremely difficult for me to watch. The Battle of Okinawa was brutal, in every way. While I can appreciate the amazing special effects and CGI and editing, watching the battle scenes was like experiencing rapid punches to my gut. And yet…I could not look away. I had connected with these characters, especially Desmond. I cared about what happened to them.
Historically, no other conscientious objector has ever fought on the front lines without a weapon. Nor has one rescued 75 fallen soldiers, alone, behind enemy lines, without firing a shot. Medic Desmond Doss did both.
I was in tears by the film’s end. And deeply moved. This was a real story, about real people, with real results. I learned about grace and unswerving conviction, courage and trust, compassion and forgiveness. It was a big, messy, agonizingly powerful movie…and it was beautiful.
Hacksaw Ridge. I am so glad that I watched it.
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