War is the single-most devastating atrocity that men can perpetrate on each other. Disease and natural calamities are forces of nature that aren’t based on anyone’s choice while war is founded upon stringent belief systems that lead men to willingly choose to take up a weapon and kill others. Through the decades, film-makers have strived to show us the ugly face of war through its effect on soldiers and their families. Young men and women leave their futures behind and jump into an abyss which would scar them for life, which they would bravely carry with them as a badge of honor. Sure, their countrymen would laud them for their service to the nation but the price they have to pay is irretrievable. Films like Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the gates, Black Hawk Down and others have been a true testament to the horrors of war. However, they have all been told from the perspective of an average soldier, an ordinary human being who is forced to trample on his morals and become a killing machine.
Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is almost a spiritual take on the definition of war. The story based on true events is about a young man named Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) who is an oddity among men owing to a strong belief system he has developed after a childhood incident. While tussling with his brother as a little boy, he accidentally hits him with a stone and almost kills him. Even though, his brother is saved, the gut-wrenching moment leaves a deep influence on his character. Growing up in a deeply religious family, he starts to understand the true meaning of one the ten commandments hanging on the wall – “Thou shalt not kill.” and silently takes a vow of non-violence for life. His father, who had once served in the Army and lost all his friends to it, loathes wars and doesn’t want to lose any of his family to such unnecessary evil. However, fate has a different plan for them. World War II manifests itself like a dark cloud that threatens to engulf their nation. The attack on Pearl Harbor leaves little choice for the young men as their nation calls for their help. Desmond is moved by the fact that other men were fighting on the lines so that he could live his life and decides to enlist as well. However, he is faced with a strange conundrum. He is assigned to a Rifle company which is to be trained in all forms of combat, specializing in rifles. Desmond still holds his childhood vow of non-violence true and refuses to even touch a rifle, or any weapon for that matter. What starts as a laughable miff with his company seniors, soon turns into a moral dilemma when they realize the sincerity with which he holds his resolve. His story, from hereon, becomes an inspiring journey to do right in a world which is tearing itself apart.
Hacksaw Ridge is a unique take on the moral aspect of war. We have been conditioned to believe that war is required and killing another person is justified as long as its the question of national security, and maybe it is. But it does not change the fact that one has to murder another person in cold blood to gain victory. Gibson brings out this unrealized moral dilemma accurately through Desmond’s internal struggle. Garfield brings about a unique balance in the character who stands unto his stern father, played by Hugo Weaving, telling him that he was going to war one way or another but at the same time refuses to pick up any weapon. The principles displayed by this 20-something young man remind us of Gandhi. He led a whole nation to liberation without letting anyone’s blood be spilt. He was beaten, starved and imprisoned for days yet his resolve never wavered. Garfield’s thin physique and mild-mannered voice, brings in a lot of authenticity to his character. His unassumingly simple resolve of non-violence makes him a giant of a man as we see him in the heat of battle, fighting shoulder to shoulder with his mates just with a medic bag and a helmet. As they fight the Japanese to capture the entry to Okinawa, we get to see one of the most realistic battle scenes after Black Hawk Down. And yet you have this realization that war is not won only by the men who kill, it’s equally won by the doctors and nurses who work constantly behind the scenes without weapons saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The true horrors of war are realized only on the operating table.
Gibson’s grounded perspective speaks for itself. His knack of telling unique stories has duly been recognized in this year’s Academy awards where it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor categories among others. There are few Director-turned actors who can be counted as great film-makers. Clint Eastwood has become a legend as a Director after a slew of astounding films, completing a successful career as an Actor. Gibson’s understanding of cinema is becoming the substance of legend and we can’t wait for his next venture. We are sure it would be as unique and profound as this one.
gobblpoint: One of the most unique and meaningful war-films we have watched in a long time. If you’re not someone who watches war movies, this story will still appeal to as the journey of a young man who never gives up on his beliefs.
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