I couldn’t help but notice the underlying theme in Mel Gibson’s directorial work and this hit me in the very early hours this morning. Fairly random, I’m aware, but if you look at BRAVEHEART or PASSION OF THE CHRIST and HACKSAW RIDGE what do all of these three stories embody? A man’s will and fierce determination to defy the odds. A man essentially sacrifices himself through the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of the injustices any mortal soul may face. William Wallace, Jesus Christ and Desmond Doss all project this solo journey governed by a belief that is unshaken or put through vigorous trials to ultimately manifest in some great virtue.
HACKSAW RIDGE is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) who enlisted in the army as a Conscientious Objector served as a medic during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. He saved numerous lives single handedly without the use of a weapon or killing anyone. From a historical context this is a rare gem of a story that seems to be have left out in American History books, nonetheless it's awesome someone's shining a light on the subject matter.
This film takes you into Desmond’s earlier life as a kid and submerges you into the proceedings of his ideology; a man who is preserved in his relationship with God and a man who doesn’t believe in violence. The second half of this narrative throws you into the gnarly battle of Okinawa where Desmond’s belief is put through the ultimate trial. Gibson does an exceptional job depicting the harsh gravity of war in how it resounds with dire agony and dread. The stark contrast between the arrival of Desmond’s company and the troops returning from Hacksaw has an enormous impact on the psychological aspect of war; you go in wholesome and primed but come back shattered and destroyed. This idea of that person is indicated in Hugo Weaving’s character (Desmond’s father) who fought in the first World War and came back haunted by the tragedy of his fallen soldiers paralyzing him as a drunk. Personally, I believe this is an excruciating affective portion of the the story that has a genuine impact. We still deal with this problem on every level today because the shadow of war is always lurking in the background whether we choose to see it or not. We’re constantly grappling with mental health problems in 2017.
Getting through the violence is half the battle in this film but also the range of characters that are part of Desmond’s story will make you enjoy this story as indicated in the set up followed by a well written pay off. There’s a certain DIRTY DOZEN aspect of it that made me smile.
And regardless of your take on Mel Gibson, his true mastery shines in this heart-harrowing tale of courage synchronous to a war that tore so many lives apart also makes me question how did this only win two Oscars and not Best Picture?
According to film critic Roger Ebert, “It’s one of the few original action movies released in the last decade, and one of the only studio releases this year that could sincerely be described as a religious picture. This film is inept and beautiful, stupid and amazing. It doesn't have the words or images to express how deep it is. That's why it's more interesting to talk about than it is to watch. I wonder what the real Doss, who died in 2006, would have thought of it.”
Hollywood does loves to arm wrestle with religious and war hero subjects while embracing tough subjects of racism, sexuality, and sexism. I mean, I suppose things have changed in the past ten years. Remember when CRASH snubbed BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN for Picture Year in 2005? And MOONLIGHT won this year, but I have yet to see this film and am sure it is worthy of the win for what it is. So for now, I suppose Mel Gibson will always have BRAVEHEART that won best picture in 1995.
If you have an interest in war films and can stomach the gritty violence it portrays this one is for you.