Not since Olympic runner Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire refused to run on Sunday, has there been a film of such extraordinary conviction as Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson powerfully directs the true story of U.S. Army Corporal Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who saved 75 men in Okinawa. Des’s father is an alcoholic WWI veteran who beats his wife and sons and doesn’t want them going off to war after Pearl Harbor. In spite of his father’s objection, Des decides to enlist with no intention of bearing arms.
Saving a man’s life brings him to a hospital and the beginning of a romance with a beautiful
nurse, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), reminiscent of the young lovers in “Notebook.” Des learns about medicine from her work and decides to serve as a medic. While at Fort Jackson, his wedding plans are deterred by Des’s arrest for insubordination for refusing to compromise his beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist, neither to carry a rifle nor to train on Saturdays. Surprisingly, his father intervenes, the charges are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and the soldiers torment Des because of his religious beliefs. Yet no amount of suffering succeeds in deterring the young soldier from serving as a medic on the front lines. The harassing continues even in the Battle of Okinawa while taking on the Japanese forces stationed there. Vaughn and his troops were convincing in their roles as jerks.
As the battle ensues, Howell and others from Des’s squad are injured and abandoned on the battlefield. Des spends day and night carrying wounded soldiers to the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment (Hacksaw Ridge). By rappelling them down on a rope, he is able to rescue over 75 soldiers. His prayer was a simple one: “Please, Lord, help me get one more.”
Gibson did not hold back showing the gruesomeness of the battlefield. The footage was not spared of men with their legs or heads blown off. Truly this is not a film for the faint-of-heart. The battle is won and Des’s courage noted. He was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Before the credits roll, Desmond Doss appears in an interview before his death in 2006 saying that what kept him going was prayer. Who knows that Gibson’s delivery of this story may just change the course of some who are tempted to abandon their convictions?