By Nick Boyd
“Hacksaw Ridge,” based on a true story, is a triumphant film about a conscientious objector during World War II named Desmond Doss, played superbly by Andrew Garfield in a moving portrayal. Doss wound up saving numerous soldiers as a medic, despite never firing a weapon. It redefines the concept of heroism.
As a child growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, Doss has a traumatic incident that greatly shapes his pacifist views. To the distaste of their father (who previously served in war and lost friends of his), Doss’ brother decides to enlist in the war. Doss’ father is a troubled alcoholic and Doss cannot wait to escape their town. Before enlisting, Doss meets a nurse at a hospital. (Using his belt, he helped saved a man who injured himself while working on a car and went to the hospital to check on the man’s condition.) Upon laying eyes on the nurse, he is smitten with her and on the spot he decides to give some of his blood. (She works in the blood donation part of the hospital.) After mustering up the courage to tell her what he thinks of her (which she is flattered by), they decide to go on a date. Eventually, he proposes to her (which she accepts) and keeps a photo memento of her while serving in the army, along with a copy of his bible.
When Doss gets to the army reserve unit, he is ridiculed by his drill sergeant, played by Vince Vaughn, and his fellow soldiers, for his pacifist beliefs, which he firmly stands by. Vaughn delivers a pretty clichéd, but well-performed, humorous performance, with how he addresses the soldiers. Those in the army think that it is just an act and that Doss is not being serious. Some of the men even try to start a fight with him and see how he will react. At one point, he is court-martialed because his superiors claim that he is disobeying orders. The other soldiers and officers see his behavior as cowardly.
The movie effectively explores issues of bravery and religious conviction. By putting himself on the battlefield without a weapon, Doss is truly being brave with bullets and grenades flying every which way. Doss’ religious conviction is what motivates him and keeps him going on the battlefield, as he sees himself performing selfless acts for the greater good. The battle scenes, while very graphic, add a strong sense of realism to the story.
As the movie progresses, Doss’ comrades and superiors, who once mocked him, come around and see him for the altruistic and heroic individual that he is. Despite the brutal nature of warfare that the film depicts, it is ultimately an optimistic view of humanity on display.
A powerful experience, this is a picture that very much sticks with you.