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In Hacksaw Ridge, faith a beacon of hope amidst grisly realities of war

(Image courtesy of Lionsgate Pictures. Photo credit: Mark Rogers)

What role does a man’s faith play when he goes off to war? And how closely can he adhere to his beliefs and values before endangering his life or the life of others? These questions and more are explored in the latest film from director Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge.

Hacksaw Ridge recounts the true story of Desmond Doss, an American Army medic who served in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. Heeding the call of duty to serve his country in tumultuous times, Doss enlists in the army. However, one thing separates him from the rest of his fellow brothers in arms: he refuses to kill. A man strongly convicted by his faith in God and obedience to the 10 Commandments, Doss will not so much as pick up a gun.

By sticking to his guns and simply refusing to compromise his beliefs, Doss endures a wealth of trials and tribulations, from the guys in his own unit, from a stubborn commanding officer, and from the United States Army. He perseveres, though, and is granted the right to go into battle without carrying a single weapon.

The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles in all of the Pacific Theater of WWII, and the film takes no liberties in shying away from depicting this. The battle scenes atop Hacksaw Ridge are intensely jarring and at times, very difficult to watch. However, it is not done in a gratuitous, unnecessary way; war is brutal, war is ugly, and much like Saving Private Ryan before it, Hacksaw Ridge succeeds in showing it as a necessary element to the story it’s trying to tell.

As the character of Doss is revealed more and more, it becomes readily apparent why Gibson sought to tell his story. Though he didn’t carry a weapon, Doss was no less courageous than his brethren in the carnage of battle. Doss was responsible for saving the lives of upwards of 100 wounded soldiers single-handedly by lowering them down off the ridge to safety, and as a result, he became the first and only conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor during WWII.

As Doss’ deeds play out, questions arise of what it means to be Christ-like in a war. Doss heeds closely his faith, asking the Lord to help him “find just one more” man to save, but he still struggles, and questions what the Lord is asking of him. One particularly powerful scene shows Doss caring for a wounded Japanese soldier, echoing Christ’s command to “love your enemies,” brought to a whole new meaning in the context of war.

At its surface, moments like these make Hacksaw Ridge a great war film, but the film has a deeper, more spiritual level as well. In a media culture that often portrays Christianity and faith as some kind of delusion, it’s refreshing to see the story of Desmond Doss, a man who exemplified true child-like faith and leaned on his very real understanding of God to rise to the call of duty and become an inspiring hero.

Aaron Lambert
Aaron is the Managing Editor for the Denver Catholic.
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