RELEASE DATE: 3 November 2016
There are times in life when we discover whether or not our faith in God is real. Hacksaw Ridge is built on a series of realisations like that. It is the true story of a Christian man who had to test his faith in trying circumstances, right up until he carried it into the furnace of World War II.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Desmond T. Doss, an American Seventh Day Adventist who refused to carry a gun but still wanted to serve his country in the Pacific. Australian acting icon Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair to tell a tale likely to take its place alongside Chariots Of Fire and The Passion Of The Christ as one of Christianity’s most stirring stories of belief.
Hacksaw Ridge is not just a story that involves a CHRISTIAN; it is a story about the daily STRUGGLE to be a Christian.
Gibson uses rising star Andrew Garfield to introduce us to Doss in small-town Virginia, where we’re made privy to events that shaped his life. Rachel Griffiths plays Doss’s mother, a source of quiet, determined faith; Hugo Weaving his father, a troubled alcoholic shattered by World War I. Doss is repelled by violence and attracted by the thought of saving lives. He enlists to be trained as an army medic, but his refusal to carry a rifle throws him into conflict long before he reaches a transport ship.
Hacksaw Ridge is not just a story that involves a Christian; it is a story about the daily struggle to be a Christian. The persecution Doss undergoes comes in a variety of extreme but sadly familiar forms. His commanding officer tries to reason him out of his faith, telling him, ‘You won’t win wars by giving up your life’. His fellow soldiers are more direct, mocking and beating him: ‘I don’t think this is a question of religion. I think this is cowardice, pure and simple’.
More poignantly, Desmond’s father assures him he’ll find no joy in following the path God has set before him. ‘If by some miracle you survive, you won’t be thanking God.’
To this day, Christians face similar challenges from authorities, peers and parents. Yet Doss perseveres, not because of an iron will, but because his faith is his identity.
Doss’s baptism of fire comes on the shores of Okinawa, the island chain where American troops first set foot on Japanese homeland. Gibson pulls no punches in conveying both the brutality and pointlessness of war. But neither does the director indulge in elevating one viewpoint over another. There is enough bravery, cruelty and futility to challenge and shame both sides.
But it’s Doss’s moment of decision that the story turns on. Terrified and alone, he calls out to God, ‘What do you want from me? I can’t hear your voice!’ Silence ensues … then he hears the desperate scream, ‘Medic! Help!’
It will in no way spoil this heart-rending tale to include that Doss was awarded the Medal of Honour for single-handedly saving 75 of his comrades in one night.
When the lights came up on Hacksaw Ridge at the Venice Film Festival it received a 10-minute standing ovation. However, what I will remember most is the three times it brought me to tears: the first, for the sheer horror that soldiers were asked to endure; the second, for the terrible choices mere men were asked to make; and finally, for the sheer beauty of one man’s realisation that serving his God was more important than any safety this world might offer.
This review comes from The Lutheran November 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.