Heroism, Prayer Prominent in Hacksaw Ridge
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2016 2 Nov
Old-fashioned in the best sense of the word—focusing on duty and patriotism—the film also feels contemporary in its post-Saving Private Ryan approach to war footage. Those who can endure it will find that Hacksaw Ridge pays off handsomely. 5 out of 5.
As a child, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) sees the consequences of violence up close, both through his own actions and those of his alcoholic father. Though World War II puts his beliefs to the test, Doss decides to enlist in the Army, believing that, as a medic, he can save lives while others take lives. His drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) and fellow soldiers are skeptical of Doss' convictions, but during the Battle of Okinawa, Doss saves numerous Americans and sees his prayers answered. Half love story, half World War II combat film, Hacksaw Ridge honors the values of both wartime bravery and pacifism while extolling theological conviction and love of country.
The first half of Hacksaw Ridge, while deliberately paced, establishes Doss' religious convictions and gives viewers a sweet, budding romance between Doss and Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). Compelling in its own right, this portion of Hacksaw Ridge also provides an effective contrast to the visceral quality of the battle footage comprising most of the film's second half.
The blend of old-fashioned love story with you-are-there style combat footage accounts for much of the film's power, but the carnage and intensity of the battle scenes will be too much for some viewers.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
- The film opens with an on-screen text from Isaiah, followed soon thereafter by mention of the sixth commandment in relation to an act of violence.
- The family's religious life is depicted mainly through Doss’ mother, who tells him murder is the worst sin of all. Lying is also said to be a sin, and we see some hymn singing in church.
- When the boys are older, we hear Doss’ brother say the prohibition against killing doesn’t apply in wartime, and we see Doss struggle with his father's behavior, particularly toward their mother. At one point, Doss says of his father, "I hate him." Later, after Doss decides to enlist, his father says Doss needs to sit and think about what military service entails, and pray about it. His mother says she's praying for her sons.
- A Seventh Day Adventist, Doss refuses to fight on Saturdays (his Sabbath Day) and says he promised God he wouldn't ever touch a gun. Doss defends his convictions by quoting Jesus' new commandment and, asked if he's ever killed anyone, confesses that he did in his heart.
- Doss is challenged to consider whether he’s confusing his will with the Lord's.
Doss struggles with whether to enter the battle on his Sabbath Day, and is shown in prayer before the fight. During combat, Doss beseeches God to allow him to save more troops, asking, "Please, Lord, let me get one more." He gives all credit for his accomplishments to God, and other soldiers seek Doss' forgiveness and admit that they were wrong in their judgment of him.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images
- Language/Profanity: Foul language; a "your mom" joke; racial epithets; "where the hell"
- Sexuality/Nudity: Kissing; a nude soldier covers his private parts with his hands; passionate kissing leads to implied sex, although the film cuts away before anything is explicitly shown.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Brothers fight as their father watches, and one boy seriously hurts the other; corporal punishment; a leg wound; a needle is inserted to draw blood; a husband and wife fight verbally and physically; description of a soldier shot from behind; a man's foot is shown with a knife protruding from it; Doss is slapped and hazed by other soldiers; numerous dead soldiers shown, some with terrible wounds and separated from body parts, and some being eaten by rodents; fire from a flamethrower envelops soldiers; in a dream sequence, a man is bayoneted; a Japanese commander is killed.
Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking/alcoholism; smoking.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Christian viewers who long to see their faith presented in respectable ways on screen; Hacksaw Ridge gives them something to cheer. Explicit in its faith element while artful in its technical execution, Hacksaw Ridge is the kind of film Christians don't have to apologize for admiring. It should be equally pleasing to pacifists and hawks.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Some squeamish viewers might enjoy the faith elements, romance and father-son story that dominate the first half of the film but likely will struggle to endure the combat footage. The fighting leads to an edifying finale, but getting there could be too much to ask for viewers who fear being desensitized to violence, or who simply choose not to look upon the film's numerous corpses and severely wounded soldiers.
Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, opened in theaters November 4, 2016; available for home viewing February 21, 2017. It runs 131 minutes and stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths and Vince Vaughn. Watch the trailer for Hacksaw Ridge here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: November 1, 2016