Hacksaw Ridge - The Destruction Of Us All

Thoughts On: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

The true story of a pacifist soldier who won the Medal Of Honour as a conscientious objector to WWII.

I'm over a year late in seeing this, but here we are. Hacksaw Ridge is a pretty flawless movie. There are few negatives I could point to with this picture other than the fact that there are a couple of weak performances and pieces of writing and that this film essentially lacks something that has it pop; something that has it jump from being a pretty great movie up to a masterpiece.

In regards to performances, I think Vince Vaughn as Sgt. Howell simply wasn't a good casting choice. He doesn't do a terrible job, and the lines he's given are some of the weakest in this entire movie, but nonetheless, the army sergeant - especially one that even remotely resembles R. Lee Ermey's Hartman from Full Metal Jacket - is one of the most actor-specific roles out there. If you can't cast the position well, the character just won't work. We see this in almost every movie that basically isn't Full Metal Jacket. So, just like Jamie Foxx couldn't pull it off for Jarhead, Vaughn doesn't pull it off here. Moving past performances, the writing does come close to tasteless sentimentality at times, but never quite devolves. The direction has strokes of brilliance to it, especially around the action scenes, but is largely pretty standard. And lastly, before we move onto the positives, this is an ok looking film - some special effects shots do not work and come off as ugly though.

The biggest positive that most will pick up on is, of course, the action scenes. I have never seen war look like what Gibson portrays it to be in Hacksaw Ridge. The manner in which bullets fly, pound, pierce and eviscerate skin, flesh and bones is especially visceral and like no movie that comes to mind. The effect of this is pretty horrifying, as, more so than an extra just falling, more so than the extra just flipping to the ground with a spray of blood, the soldiers in these war scenes really seem to die; they have the life ripped and torn out of them. Whilst the CGI depicting this isn't always flawless, this is a hugely striking element of this film that really took me by surprise. So, whereas the wider staging of battle scenes isn't particularly awe-inspiring, it's the small details like how bullets go through bodies and how soldiers engage in hand-to-hand combat that reach out of the chaos and not only make the battles feel real, but unique.

The main feature of this narrative though is of course the predicament of our main character, Desmond T. Doss. He conscientiously objects to murder, but nonetheless wants to aid in the war effort against the Japanese as a medic on the battle field. This brings about much debate concerning morality and combat, but this is actually a very simple film that is more about a right-of-passage and the proving of ones own bravery despite prejudice than it is a religious, anti-war lecture. The basis of Doss' pacifist ideals is, as implied, religion, but it is also presented to be predicated on the recognition that violence destroys everything and everyone. This can be thought of literally and figuratively. Figuratively, violence, such as a war, can change a person; it can turn a good man, a good father, a good husband, into a monster in the household. And that is seemingly what Doss sees when he looks to his own father: who he once was has been utterly destroyed, and all because of murder and killing. Doss' father's self-destruction brought him to the brink of destruction too. We see this when he fights with his brother, almost killing him, but also where he holds a gun to his father. Despite the present conflicts and dangers in each of these situations, Doss saw himself to be betraying his values and perception of self, and in turn was about to destroy who it is that he has cultivated himself to be.

When Doss joins the war effort he is then putting into practice his true self; he will not deny himself the perceived moral right of going to war despite his anti-violence values. Doss then means to bring an element of preservation into ultimate chaos and destruction. And the fact that he means to be abnormal is what makes this film so philosophically simple (in an intricate way). Doss is an exception to the rule of war; he believes that it has its purpose and that he should aid it, but in a way that is unique to himself. He does not condemn others for killing or want others to be like him, he just wants to be doing something true to himself and ultimately not too different from everyone else. His actions are then not very radical at heart, and nor is this film's message. There is no real condemnation of war - especially the Pacific War of WWII. If we even glance back at Gibson's filmography we will see the likes of Lethal Weapon, The Patriot and Braveheart. None of these films carry a particularly anti-war or anti-violence statement. Whilst war isn't entirely romanticised (though it is to a good degree) in films like The Patriot and Breaveheart, it also isn't entirely condemned. This sentiment carries over to Hacksaw Ridge; war is shown to be necessary and a relative good from the Allied side.

Hacksaw Ridge, if anything, is a highly patriotic film in celebration of American Amendments giving people the right to the freedom of religion and religious expression. Gibson then celebrates the individual hero through this narrative, and this is what makes the story such a captivating and meaningful one. As a statement on narrative forms and society, Hacksaw Ridge is then all about the importance of the unique and virtuous individual and he who carries his cross whilst injecting goodness into the world.

So, all in all, I think Hacksaw Ridge is an excellent movie - though not a masterpiece or an exceedingly great film. And with that said, have you seen Hacksaw Ridge? What are your thoughts?

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