I love going into films blind. I had nothing but the positive hearsay of a colleague to go off of for “Hacksaw Ridge,” and I knew nothing of what it contained except for the setting of the Pacific Theatre of World War II. Going in, I remembered why I have gone to theaters less and less; having to sit through nearly 15-20 minutes worth of movie trailers, for movies I couldn’t give a toss about, gave me an irritated feeling early on.
[The film will be discussed in detail from this point on. Read at your own peril.]
Alleviating my irritation immediately, the film begins with two young brothers exploring a forest. They climb on top of a mass of boulders to overlook a beautiful valley, playing as boys did, albeit in a terrifying location. We then meet their father in a military cemetery, as he speaks his piece to his fallen friends with the taste and wounds on his hands from a bottle of alcohol. He returns home and watches his sons as they fight. The fight escalates as Desmond knocks his brother off of him, and hits his brother’s head with a brick, nearly killing him. The horror of his actions traumatizes Desmond, with this act ending with Desmond’s trauma fixating him upon a poster of the commandments in their home, specifically number six: “Thou shalt not kill.”
We jump 15 years later to Desmond working in his local church when an accident occurs outside. A car has fallen upon a man, who was under it, with car parts digging into him. After lifting the car on a block, Desmond wraps his belt above the wound of the man and rides with him to the hospital. It is here that Desmond finds out his interest in medical care, and also finds a nurse which he quickly develops a crush for. Perhaps it is the nature of filmmaking where events need to be shown quicker than reality, but it felt that Desmond and the nurse Dorothy started dating and got engaged bewilderingly fast. Regardless of the quickness to tie the knot, we gradually enter the room with the elephant waiting for us. There’s a war happening, and men all across town are enlisting, including Desmond’s brother.
Desmond also enlists, for the role of combat medic. Here we are presented with Desmond Doss’ major character trait: with his religious convictions, he refuses to carry a firearm. As he affirms his state of mind as a Conscientious Objector, he is put at odds with his fellow soldiers in boot camp, and with his superiors who think he is mentally ill.
Unable to have him discharged under section 8, Doss’ superiors try to make him leave on his own free will. This is carried out through shame and corporal punishment, to which he resists. He will not go against his principles, even with the prospect of imprisonment via military court martial looming. Doss narrowly avoids imprisonment, thanks to his father and the connections he has as a result from his days serving in the previous World War. Desmond can now serve as a combat medic, without a weapon to protect himself.
We jump to the Pacific Theatre, specifically the Land of the Rising Son. Doss’ unit is absorbed into the 77th Infantry Division, with their objective being the capture of the titular Hacksaw Ridge. They take Hacksaw, they take Okinawa, and they take Japan. Remnants of the previous attack force are integrated with their unit and relay just how much of a bloodbath it is up there. There aren’t many medics left, and they’re being targeted specifically. Despite their fears speaking rationally, they set off to hopefully capture Hacksaw Ridge.
I will stop here with the play by play of the film, with the intention of leaving the real meat of the film for you to see. I must speak about the violence in this film, as I really like war films that have been made with the horrors of war in mind. Death is putting on display some of his most disturbing methods of ending your fellow man, and the violence is visceral; body parts are blown off, chunks of human bodies are shot off, and humans are immolated.
Doss’ actions saved 75 men in that battle, and the way the film portrays them was a nonstop series of terrifying intensity. Other than his wounded comrades on the battlefield his unit retreated from, Doss is the only one left on top of Hacksaw Ridge. That is if you don’t count the Japanese forces who still occupy the area and are scouting for survivors to execute. When he returns after a day of rescuing both friendly and enemy soldiers, he is hailed by his fellow soldiers as a miracle man.
The film does an immaculate job of showing how heroism affects his fellow soldiers, in terms of both opinion and morale. It actually made me a little emotional; the soundtrack of the film accented the moment quite well. Later, to his commander’s irritation, Desmond’s unit wouldn’t commence the counter-attack until he was done praying. But with a heightened morale resulting from having a hero fighting with them, the unit takes Hacksaw Ridge—the Japanese in the area surrendering.
The acting prowess from the cast is nothing short of stellar, and they portray quite well what any man would feel like in their situation. Some are determined, some are fearful, some have given up. The only thing that binds them together is their duty to their uniform and the fact that they wear their emotions prominently but charge in anyway. Hell, even before Doss went to war, the cast was excellent. Doss’ veteran father was played with such accuracy for a veteran who is still suffering from his service that I got chills when his dysfunction came to a head.
Most importantly, commendations must be given to Andrew Garfield for his performance as Desmond Doss. His range in this film is broad, from a very awkward young man who meets his love to a devout man running back and forth being a literal lifeline. The words, “Please Lord, let me save one more,” will undoubtedly be one of the more remembered lines from the movie, and it perfectly encapsulates the near end of the movie.
If you cannot handle seeing the insides of your fellow species members, you will be terrified of this film, but it is important that you watch regardless. This film may have the point of making glory of a man who committed superhuman acts, but it is definitely not making glory of where his actions took place. Death is but an instrument to show you how terrifying that period of our history was, and you would be doing this film and the actual soldiers who perished a disservice by not learning anything from their sacrifices. I personally put this film on par with “Saving Private Ryan,” and I heartily recommend it. Go see this film.