A Bloody Mess of a Movie
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is not the worst war movie. It is incredibly violent and jarring at times, but war is an ugly thing. It is well acted and generally tells a fascinating story. Desmond Doss is an American hero. The main issue with Hacksaw Ridge is it is confused as to its identity. It claims to be a faith-based movie when it is really not. It is certainly not a Christian movie. It is not even close to a family friendly movie. Hacksaw Ridge is 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 evangelistic outreach, of all places. It was pitched as a good movie to grow your faith.
It is simply not that…unless your faith likes nightmares.
Rather, it is a confused, violent and sickeningly gory. It tells the 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, there is very little that can be recommended from the movie from a Christian perspective or really from a war movie perspective. There are much better Christian movies. There are much better war movies. A great Christian movie involving World War 2, for example, is Unbroken – Path to Redemption.
I don’t recommend it to anyone unless you are looking for nightmares and confusing faith statements.
Full Review – A Confused Faith Statement
We have a lot to be thankful to Mel Gibson. 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, I was excited When he disclosed it would be a World War 2 movie, I was even more so. My love of that subject stretches back to my childhood. I have been reading of Rommel, Patton and the bravery of the Greatest Generation since I was a small boy.
The story that Gibson chose is also a really interesting one. Hacksaw Ridge is a biography of Desmond Doss, a medic who won the Medal of Honor during the battle of Okinawa. Doss’ bravery was amazing as repeatedly risked his life to save a member of his unit during some of the worst combat of the Pacific Campaign. A faith-based story about World War 2 from the director of the Passion of the Christ should have been in my wheelhouse. How can a Christian movie loving, World War 2 fan go wrong?
Well, the warning signs were many.
A Confused Director
Mel Gibson is a confused guy. He is stated to be Catholic of a traditionalist variety that chooses a Latin mass over one in an understandable language. The Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost and miraculously translated the Word of God into many languages to reach people individually for God. They are translating it back. As has been obvious over the last decade, Gibson also has his fair share of struggles with life, addiction, and marriage that have also been very public.
The faith and life of the director are 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 issues are reflected through his telling of the story of Desmond Doss.
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 Jesus, he seemed to shy away.
At the outset of the movie, it is established that Doss’ father served in World War I 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. This family background molds Doss into the man he would become. He hates what the war did to his father and to his family. Desmond is also shown as a child hitting his brother with a brick during a fight. The blow almost kills his brother. This further reinforces his committment to avoiding war and violence. These are the foundations upon which the movie primarily builds Doss’ non-violent position. These are all good reasons to dislike violence, but they have nothing to do with faith.
This presents a contradiction when the movie then presents a different reason he chooses to be a conscientious objector during the War. Doss is depicted as totally reliant upon “the Book” as his justification for avoiding violence. He points to the Bible as his reason for choosing not to fight. I have no issue with those who choose non-violence based upon the Bible. It is a legitimate position to take and many Christian groups have taken that stand over history. The problem is there is no foundation in the movie for his Biblical position. It seems Doss is shown with his personal experiences, his Dad’s violence and his past dictating his Biblical position on the question. He 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 just this type of reasoning that often leads to bad theological positions.
It is also extremely insulting to Desmond Doss. He is a Seventh Day Adventists and I disagree with some of their theology, but the man was sincere. Those who have advocated the non-violent interpretation of the Commandment mean it based on their reading of the Bible rather than their experience.
Despite this, the early portion of the movie is quite sweet. Doss meets his future 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 likable couple. You genuinely enjoy 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 trial to acquittal is over quickly. There is very little actual tension as you know that he is getting off. Doss’ motivation is also again clouded by an appearance by his Dad his World War I scarred outlook.
It is not wrong to hate war if you have lost so much, 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 was obvious in that film. In Hacksaw Ridge, it is just disturbing.
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 gore. 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 brave men who fought and died for freedom. I do not wish to watch realistic fictional versions of them being torn apart. Some of the action shown was worse than the horror movies that scarred me from before I was a Christian.
I am 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. Desmond Doss’ life is one great true story that could have inspired others. The resultant movie, though, is filled with a mixed message and unnecessary gore of the type I seek to avoid. It was just not worth sitting through.