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Film Review: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Captures Struggle To Show Mercy During War

Desmond Doss, a company aid man with the 307th Infantry, 77th Infantry Division, was awarded the Medal Of Honor. He was the first conscientious objector to receive this award for single-handedly saving 75 American soldiers in Okinawa on May 5, 1945, and was drafted in 1942 but elected not to bear arms. He chose instead to join the Army Medical Corps.

Mel Gibson’s emotional film “Hacksaw Ridge” tells the story of Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, and his fight not to carry a weapon on the battlefield. “Please Lord, let me get one more” is inarguably the most moving line in this movie. Doss went back to bring soldiers down during one of the most unrelenting battles of the Pacific War. He repeated this phrase until there were none left,” as he revealed before his death in 2006.

Gibson’s film about a conscientious objector is what you make of it; your politics may very well shape your reaction to this story, and whether you consider it to be anti-war or not.

Twenty-six year-old Doss, despite not bearing arms on the battlefield, believed that WWII was a justified war and considered American soldiers to be sacrificing life and limb in the pursuit of a just cause. Yet, despite this, his unshakable adherence to the Tenth Commandment kept him from carrying a gun or a knife for the sake of not taking the life of another human being.

The violence in this film is harrowing, and unabashed, and so is the orientalism. The Japanese are presented to viewers through the eyes of American soldiers. They are almost phantasm-like. In one notable scene, US soldiers are under fire but unable to see those firing on them, and the trauma of an invisible enemy is drawn clearly across their faces. The patriotism that bleeds through this film is as prominent as the expressions of faith exhibited by Doss.

One indelible moment in the film is a scene in which Doss comes across an injured and terrified Japanese soldier in an underground bunker and proceeds to offer him aid, including a dose of morphine. After coming back up to the surface and bringing down U.S. soldiers, a member of his infantry says that Doss not only brought down injured Americans but also Japanese, the latter of whom “didn’t make it.” The phrase is conveyed in a way intended to show they were likely killed afterward.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a powerful movie that is expertly filmed. After watching documentary footage of Doss, one can see how masterful Andrew Garfield’s portrayal is—from the way in which he speaks, to how he captured Doss’s awkward and docile mannerisms. This film, beyond the blood and violence, leaves an impression on viewers by capturing man’s struggle to show mercy during times of war and what it means to hold true to one’s convictions against all odds.

Screen shot of graphic shared on Twitter by WikiLeaks.
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at Roqchams.com.