Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 12:56 am | Fair 47º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’

4 Stars — Profound

In the midst of Hell, sometimes you meet God. Hacksaw Ridge may be one of the most realistic and bloody war movies of all time, but this true story of one man of faith who profoundly changes and saves the lives of countless numbers of men is easily one of the best pictures of the year.

Produced and directed by Mel Gibson, who brought the controversial film, The Passion Of The Christ, to the screen, has returned with a remarkable story of faith. Gibson, who himself descended into an alcohol-induced personal journey through his own hell, has emerged after 10 years of sobriety to produce a masterful story of one man’s ability to transform the worst of humanity into a model of sacrificial love for others.

Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who served during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II and volunteered to go into the Army despite being a religious Conscientious objector, became the first man in U.S. history to earn the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Doss was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, a Christian sect that celebrates the Sabbath on Saturday, and whose members are encouraged to adhere to a strict diet and not take the life of anyone for any reason. Even so, he felt it his duty to stop the axis of evil that was represented in Germany and Japan.

After enduring derision from his fellow soldiers and the military establishment, the Army gave him a chance to serve in a way that many considered a death sentence — entering the battlefield without a weapon.

When Gibson brought The Passion of The Christ to the screen, many were shocked at the graphic level of brutality that was displayed. Did he really need to show so much blood and gore to make his point?

Gibson argued that unless you understood what Jesus endured, you would never understand his sacrifice and level of commitment to love God and all of us.

In Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson takes the same tack. The level of brutality that these young men witnessed and endured is breathtaking in its horror. Honestly, you could get “post-traumatic stress” from just watching this! Nevertheless, it gives you a realistic perspective to understand what Doss had to endure to save the lives of so many men.

After one of the most horrific battles of the war, no one knew whether any of the soldiers left behind on the battlefield had survived. With Japanese fighters still wandering through the war zone shooting and killing anything that still had breath, Doss crawled among the bodies and dragged 74 men to the cliffs of the island and lowered them to the beach level with a rope using only his weakened body as a counter-weight. When the remaining Army personnel saw these survivors “descending from heaven” they were stunned!

Saving the wounded was not the only miracle of Hacksaw Ridge. From his commanding officer to his fellow grunts, one by one these men who had hurled such contempt onto Doss were transformed into believers. Toward the end of the story as the unit faced another big battle, a call from headquarters questions why they are delayed and waiting, and the answer comes back that they will not proceed until the medic is through praying for all of them.

The real Desmond Doss is shown at the end of the movie in a documentary clip that was filmed some time ago before he died in his old age, and he reflects on what drove him to do what he did.

There was no question that he was scared just like everyone else, but each moment along the way he kept praying that before he died he could save just one more man. Once one was saved, he would repeat the prayer, never realizing how many he actually saved.

The example he related is a great metaphor for life. We rarely know the overall impact of what we do in our lives, but God calls us in each moment to make this moment count.


» The question of whether it is “just” to take another life is answered both ways within Christianity. The Just War doctrine explains that in rare circumstances it is morally justified to stop evil with evil. In Pacifism, both within Seventh-day Adventism and other Christian and religious traditions, there is never a justification to take another life. How have you decided this question for your own life and actions? How did you arrive at that belief?

» The courage that it takes to follow Christ’s explanation of love as being willing to “lay down your life for another” (John 15:16) is shown clearly in this time of war. How is that same love expressed in daily life where we put the life of another before our own?

» It is not the purpose of war to demonstrate love and yet the juxtaposition of Desmond’s love of God and others is shown in striking contrast to the hatred of war. How better do you understand both love and hatred by his actions?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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