Vocation and conviction shine in Mel Gibson war movie, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Written for The Lutheran Witness
Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” tells the true story of Private First Class Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a World War II American Army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The twist in this war film is that Doss, as a faithful Seventh Day Adventist, was a conscientious objector or, as he liked to say, a “conscientious cooperator.”
Based on his religious convictions, Doss’ refusal to use or even hold a gun caused him considerable trouble during basic training and made it difficult for fellow soldiers to trust him with their lives.
The irony is that Doss, whose only desire was to serve as a field medic, was in fact there to do just that — save fellow soldiers on the battlefield.
While Doss’ religious convictions — including his refusal to work on Saturdays — act as the film’s heart and soul, Gibson is careful to point out that not all Christians share these same convictions.
Sadly, to create dramatic tension, Christians who didn’t share Doss’ pacifism are almost monolithically depicted as insensitive brutes and bullies.
While this is accurate, the trouble is that for dramatic reasons Gibson sets up a false dichotomy as a sort of straw-man argument during most of the film when, in the end, it’s the cooperation of Doss’ religious convictions with those of the combat soldiers that wins the day.
This becomes clear in the film’s last act, when the soldiers who had previously been set against Doss finally respect him and admire his valor.
The vocation of “soldier” is ultimately emphasized as being godly in a short scene where Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) holds off the final push to take Okinawa’s Maeda Escarpment (dubbed Hacksaw Ridge) on the morning of Saturday, May 5, 1945. Glover delays the final push until Doss finishes praying.
Christian viewers will want to remember that the vocation of soldier is not one that embraces murder. The Fifth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13), isn’t a blanket prohibition against all killing. So the vocation of soldier can involve killing that is not murder.
Soldiers operate under the governing authorities, and as such, they are God’s servants carrying out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).
Like all God-pleasing vocations, soldiers are expected to execute their work virtuously on and off the battlefield.
Doss’ optimism and faith are sent through the meat grinder of combat and they come out strengthened, not crushed.
When finding himself alone on the escarpment after the rest of the American army had retreated, Doss continues rescuing wounded men from the battlefield, lowering them down one by one, praying, “Lord, help me get one more.”
By the end of the night he’d saved 75 men — daring work that gains him the respect of his fellow soldiers.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is not for everyone. The gory battle scenes justify the film’s R rating.
However, this film takes Christian faith seriously and encourages viewers toward virtuous and ethical living within their vocations. By valuing conviction, the film could challenge reflective viewers to think about whether their personal convictions in life are defensible.
Christian viewers also might want to think about that, based on the whole counsel of the Word of God.