Screened Out – Hacksaw Ridge

By : Stephen Miller
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Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington

Continuing my coverage of the Oscar-nominated…

Let us forget for a moment that director Mel Gibson hates “Jews” and other minorities. Let’s talk about his oeuvre as a whole. Wow, Mel sure LOVES his violent films where one moral person stands against prevailing culture. Braveheart, Apocalypto, and especially The Passion of the Christ – all thoroughly bloody and with a martyr as the hero.

Hacksaw Ridge continues that. In fact, this might be the bloodiest, goriest WWII ever made (putting the first minute of Saving Private Ryan to shame). And yet right in the center is an unflappable hero standing up against the world for what he believes in.

In 1945, Harry S. Truman pinned the Medal of Honor on Desmond Doss; Doss was the first pacifist to receive the medal.

In 1945, Harry S. Truman pinned the Medal of Honor on Desmond Doss; Doss was the first pacifist to receive the medal.

It’s way past pathological, Mel…

That’s not to say Hacksaw Ridge is a bad film. In fact, the Oscar nominating committee saw fit to overlook Gibson’s past transgressions and give the film five nominations – picture, actor Garfield, editing, sound, and directing for Mel.

Garfield beautifully portrays Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who enlisted into the war. (Garfield is really the best thing about this movie.) However, Doss not only refused to carry a gun, he refused to touch one. He was a medic. He launched into the most horrific battles and performed his duties. In 1945, Truman pinned a Medal of Honor on him.

However, it’s that Doss didn’t face violence before. Hacksaw show’s Doss’s alcoholic dad (Weaving), a WWI veteran, slapping around his wife (Griffiths) and beating his kids.

When Doss leaves that cheery childhood, he has to face off against his sadistic sergeant (a growly, gruff Vaughn). Then, he goes into the most terrifying, visceral battles of the Pacific. With bullets flying past him and his compatriots dying, Doss performed miracles of human fortitude.

I don’t want to give you the details. Because people who love war films like this love to find out what a human is capable of. We rally to see a single soul stand up to overwhelming evil and show his fortitude. It’s easy to love a hero when he is so damned noble.

However, I say “he” and “his,” because it’s always a man, Mel, isn’t it?

Director Mel Gibson directs a bunch of men in yet another film about a martyr taking on the world...poor misunderstood Mel...

Director Mel Gibson directs a bunch of men in yet another film about a martyr taking on the world…poor misunderstood Mel…

That’s not the only nagging problem I had watching Hacksaw Ridge (which, again, I note is a pretty good film). If I haven’t made it clear, Hacksaw is almost gratuitously violent. Though I appreciate that Mel’s film puts to work all these special effects wizards and stuntmen and makeup artists, I have to wonder. Because the few moments of relative peace are rushed, so we can get to the blood and guts and revulsion.

The bigger problem I have is that there is no gray in Mel’s worldview. How did Doss think we were going to win the war if everyone were as Godly as he? Would he have used a gun if he’d seen in Europe what Hitler was doing to the Jewish people? (Oh, that’s right; Mel and the “Jews” have a problem with each other…)

Gibson is a firm Catholic, and this film also shows the strength of religion in guiding our heroes.

In fact, I begrudgingly give Hacksaw four stars (mostly for Garfield, the rest of the cast, and the special effects), though it still bothered me. Great films are supposed to also be empathy inducers. I feel Mel only wants empathy for himself and his very Christian, male, and gory view of life.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

What Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t show is any subtlety, sensitivity, or much-needed complexity. Maybe if Mel would once direct and non-bloody film about, say, a Jewish lesbian, I could get with Oscars and root for him. As it is, he’s sticking with the white, male martyrs surrounded by bloody viscera.

I’ll say Gibson has a comeback when he shows a little more variety.


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