Hacksaw Ridge – A Christian Movie Review

I did not watch all of Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s recent World War 2 movie.  I stopped about halfway through and frankly wanted to turn it off earlier.

It is not a faith based movie.  It is not a Christian movie.  It is not even close to a family friendly movie unless you consider the works of Quentin Tarantino family friendly.

Hacksaw Ridge is simply a case of false advertising.

It was sold as a faith based movie to Christian audiences.  I first learned about it from watching an interview at an evagelistic outreach, of all places.  It was pitched as a good movie to grow your faith.

It is simply not that.

Rather, it is a confused, violent and sickeningly gory representation of the life story of a man who may have been motivated by faith to undergo the trials of World War 2 as a combat medic.

From beginning to end (or at least when I turned it off), there is very little that can be recommended from the movie.

I don’t recommend it to anyone unless you are looking for nightmares and confusing faith statements.

I have a lot to be thankful to Mel Gibson for as a person who loves Christian movies.  His Passion of the Christ contributed to a huge change in how Hollywood treats Christian cinema.  A film about the crucifixion of Jesus becoming a huge blockbuster hit opened doors that had been previously shut.  Some of my favorite Christian movies likely were made and released as a result.

So when Mel Gibson started appearing at Christian venues promoting what he says was a new faith based movie, it was seen as a positive thing.  When he disclosed it would be a World War 2 movie, I was further excited.  My love of that subject stretches back to my childhood.  The story that Gibson chose is also a really interesting one.  Hacksaw Ridge is essentially a biography of Desmond Doss, a medic who won the Medal of Honor during the battle of Okinawa.

So it is a faith based story about World War 2 from the director of the Passion of the Christ.  How can a Christian movie loving, World War 2 fan go wrong?

Well, the warning signs were many.

Mel Gibson seems to be a pretty confused guy.  He is stated to be Catholic of a traditionalist variety that chooses a latin mass over one in an understandable language.  As has been obvious over the last decade, his struggles with life, addiction and marriage have also been many and very public.

In interviews about the film, Gibson further never seemed to focus on the faith aspect of the life of Desmond Doss.  Even at times when it was obvious that the interviewer was trying to prod him to focus on the Jesus angle, he seemed to shy away.

The faith and life of the director is normally not an issue with a movie.  The person directing a film does not have to be perfect by any means to present a good movie or one that glorifies the Lord.  The problem is in Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson’s seeming confusion is reflected through his telling of the story of Desmond Doss.

At the outset of the movie, it is established that Doss’ father served in World War 1 and was greatly scarred by it.  He is an abusive alcoholic as a result of the war.  He seems to regularly beat Desmond and his brother and generally be a wreck from his time in the Army.  The two boys are also wild and unruly.  Desmond is shown hitting his brother with a brick early on with his brother almost dying.  These are the foundations upon which the movie builds Doss’ non-violent position.  These are all good reasons to dislike violence and turn to non-violence.

The confusion comes when the movie then presents Doss as totally reliant upon “the book” as the justification for avoiding violence.   He points to the Bible as his reason for choosing not to fight.  Non-violence is a legitimate position to take based upon the Bible and many Christian groups have taken that stand over history.

The confusing issue with the movie is that it seems to present Doss as using his personal experiences, his Dad’s violence and his past to dictate his Biblical position on the question.

Doss was beaten by his dad who suffered in the War therefore Thou Shalt Not Murder means we are not allowed to touch a rifle.  It is this type of reasoning that often leads to bad theological positions.   It is also extremely insulting to Doss and those who have advocated the non-violent interpretation of the Commandment.

Despite this, the early portion of the movie is quite sweet.  Doss meets and then is engaged to be married to his wife who is working as a nurse inducting soldiers into the Army.  Though Andrew Garfield presents Doss as all “aw shucks” and silly grins, they are a likeable couple.  You genuinely like them both and root for their success.

It is when Doss arrives at basic training after enlisting that the movie really starts to go astray.  One of the first scenes in the Army presents a full on view of a man’s backside as he does naked pull ups in the barracks.  He then is shown running around with only his hands covering himself. This may have happened to Desmond Doss, I don’t know, but it is a strange completely unnecessary choice for a movie pushed at Christian events.

Though far from terrible, as a history buff, the presentation of the unit was lacking in authenticity.  They looked like guys from 2016 given old uniforms and asked to play to stereotypes.  Vince Vaughn is also an interesting choice to play the drill sargent for Doss’s unit.  He looks nothing like a World War 2 soldier and his interactions with the men are at times amusing and at times profane.  He seems like he is doing his best R. Lee Ermey impersonation and not quite pulling it off.

Doss faces a court martial after basic training for his refusal to follow orders and touch a rifle.  It seems like this is supposed to be a dramatic moment in the narrative but as portrayed it seems just off.  While you can sympathize with Doss, the transition from training to aquittal is over pretty quickly and you know that he is getting off so that there is no real drama involved.  Doss’ motivation is also clouded by an appearance by his Dad his war scarred outlook.  It is not wrong to hate war if you have lost so much in war, it just confuses the narrative.

Regardless, if the movie had ended here, it could have been a decent film.  Not great, somewhat confusing and still requiring a warning for content but generally interesting.  It is when Doss’ unit shows up on Okinawa that the movie gets downright gross.

When my wife and I watch the Passion of the Christ these days, we make liberal use of the fast forward button to skip over the worst of the scenes .  Mel Gibson’s love of explicit violence and heavy handed gore even in that movie was obvious.  In Hacksaw Ridge, well, it is just disturbing. I watched a short portion of the first battle scene and regret doing so.

Though I understand that war is violent and bloody, as the movie Dunkirk recently showed, you can tell a war story without reveling in the death and destruction.  My review of this movie is Here.  

I have no desire to watch realistic depictions of horrible injuries complete with close in shots of the battle damage.  I know war is awful and appreciate the rave men who fought and died for freedom.  I do not wish to watch even fictional versions of them being torn apart.

Some of the action shown was worse than the horror movies that scared me to death from before I was a Christian…and I just watched a short portion of it.  I cannot imagine sitting through an additional hour of that.

I am frankly shocked that this movie would be pushed at Christian venues.  We are told to think on things on heaven and not below.  Even if there is a great story of heroism, there is no need to willingly subject yourself to it being told like that.

I am not sure what Mel Gibson was going for with Hacksaw Ridge.  It is a great true story that could have inspired others.  The result though filled with a gore that I seek to avoid was just not worth sitting through.  I highly recommend that you skip it.

 

 

 

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