Mel Gibson has built a filmography that combines bloody violence with spiritual lessons – cases in point, The Passion of the Christ, Braveheart, and Apocalypto. In his latest offering, Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson once again digs deep into his thirst for chaos and his hunger for faith, a combination that both served him well and invited controversy. With Gibson, it’s hard to hate the uplifting message but equally hard to like the unrelenting gore.
A Pacifist in a War
Hacksaw Ridge is the true-to-life story of Desmond T, Doss (Andrew Garfield), a devout Seventh-day Adventist Christian whose strongly-held pacifist beliefs are at odds with the war’s motives. He was awarded the Medal of Honor when he single-handedly saved the lives of 75 of his fellow soldiers. He was an Army medic who refused to bear arms, much less shoot at the enemies, even while he was saving his comrades under constant enemy fire.
Yes, it’s such a touching story of the bravery of a man whose solid faith in God made him fearless against extreme odds. No wonder then that the film received a 10-minute standing ovation at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, as well as received generally favourable reviews from the critics. You cannot argue with the largesse of Doss’ bravery, as well as the ingenuity of his plans in saving his fellow soldiers from the Japanese during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II
Andrew Garfield also put in a commendable performance. He portrayed Doss as a human, not as a hero, one whose anguish about war is tempered by his unshakeable faith in God. He has certainly made a better job here than he did in his turn as Spider-Man.
A War Movie, Nonetheless
But lest the audience forgets, this is a Mel Gibson war movie and a war movie it gets. Gibson apparently wants to up the ante over the already-iconic Saving Private Ryan opening scene as well as the Band of Brothers battle scenes.
If sheer nastiness of the explosions was the exclusive measure of comparison, then Hacksaw Ridge can win. Gibson has a way of focusing attention on the perforating of the flesh and bone, even in jamming it into the audience’s face for good measure, resulting in blood-and-gore over and beyond that in The Passion of Christ.
What does Doss think of the film that depicts his life since childhood, a life with an alcoholic and abusive father? We will never know for sure because he has met his God in 2006. We can, however, remember his heroism by watching Hacksaw Ridge in one of the Regal theaters.