Dona Nobis Pacem: A Brief Review of Hacksaw Ridge

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I don’t know about you, but I love a good action film. GladiatorDie Hard, the Bourne movies, any of the billion superhero flicks from the past 30 years or so. Really, one of the best formulas for a good movie is to create something with a lot of explosions.

That being said, though, I sometimes can’t help but feel at least a slight sense of self-contradiction whenever I watch these sorts of movies.

Hopefully it does not come as too much of a shock for me to openly reveal here that I consider myself to be a pacifist. I am against war and am ultimately not too fond of guns (though I will still admit that they are plenty fun to shoot). Like most people, I am opposed to both police brutality as well as violence against the police, and I unapologetically oppose the death penalty.

These beliefs are rooted in my Christian faith and how I interpret the Bible. The sixth commandment given to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 20 states not to murder, and Jesus takes this commandment even further in his Sermon on the Mount when he proclaims that one shall not murder another person even in one’s heart. Among other things. As a practicing Christian and aspiring pastor, these are commandments I want to do my best to take seriously in my life. And to go along with that, just from what I’ve seen in attempts to take a sober look at our world today and throughout history, violence has frequently been used to try to end violence, and, so far, it has never worked.

But I digress.

When I first heard about the movie Hacksaw Ridge, I was excited, albeit a little nervous, to see how it would turn out. For those who might not have heard about it yet, Hacksaw Ridge (the trailer for which you can see here) is a movie based on the true story of World War II medic Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist who enlisted in the army but stirred up some controversy when he said he refused to fight on the front because of his beliefs. “I will still be proud to wear the uniform and salute the flag, but I cannot carry a gun.” Doss, portrayed by Andrew Garfield, stated in the movie (quoted from memory, so it is probably not exact).

Without wanting to go too in depth into the plot line, Doss goes on to win a Medal of Honor after having saved hundreds of soldiers on both sides of the war, becoming the first “conscientious objector” in American history to be given such an award. All without firing a single bullet.

So you can probably guess why I was so interested in seeing this movie. It is, essentially, an anti-war war movie (complete with all the explosions and gore you’d expect to see in a movie directed by Mel Gibson, the same man behind Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ). I also decided after finishing the movie that I would discuss its significance here in my blog, so that’s what I’m going to do now.

This movie is important simply because of what it is. Having a mainstream movie that focuses on nonviolence in the literal middle of a war zone is, needless to say, rare, and Hacksaw Ridge addresses this complex topic in a compelling and thought-provoking manner.

It is most certainly not perfect, however, but it is still, in my opinion, a fantastic representation of the story it seeks to tell. Yet it is, “unfortunately,” also realistic in that all of Doss’s comrades continue to fight and kill in the midst of his active passivity.

Even so, the impact that Doss creates in the movie is evident. His presence sticks out like a sore thumb, and the hostility that his actions initially received eventually turned into respect and awe at his upstanding, if not troubled, character.

What’s more, it is continually relevant in a climate such as ours that is war-weary (or, more accurately, war-complacent) and is sometimes hostile toward particular races of people. Honestly, I don’t imagine a hefty portion of Americans reacting all that kindly to a story about one of our soldiers who offers aid to, say, an Iraqi soldier, as Desmond Doss did for a Japanese soldier in the movie.

In regards to genre, it is interesting to note that, in a lot of ways, the movie addresses conflict in a manner much like how a lot of stereotypical Christian movies–most of which I utterly despise–would address it. In the movie, Doss is a lone wolf. He’s the only Christian in his unit, and he’s essentially “persecuted” for standing up for what he believes in. It is as though non-Christians are all incredibly awful sinners who want to kill each other, and it’s the one devout man from the Bible Belt who shows everyone else the “right way” to live.

However, it goes without saying that a large number of our country’s veterans and supporters of our military are Christians. While I felt like I could relate to Doss easily because we are both faith-driven pacifists, I’m also quite aware that I’m likely in the minority among other Bible Belt-area Christians. The potential reaction that someone whose opinions differ from my own might have to this movie or this topic goes beyond my realm of understanding. But at the same time, one of the greatest legacies this movie already has to offer is a platform for conversation among those from all different sides of the spectrum: the Christian pacifist, the Christian veteran, the moral atheist, the Japanese Americans and even the Muslim Americans. Each of us, and then some, has our own unique perspectives to provide in light of the issues brought about by this film. And, really, what more can a filmmaker ask for (aside from money and job offers)?

Ultimately, I hope that the story of Desmond Doss helps further pave the way to peace in our world today, and I don’t believe that is too ridiculous a goal to maintain. Most of us would agree that we don’t like war, but we’re also not so naive as to think that complicated and dangerous situations can always be solved with simple, civil discussion (but on the other hand, why do we think that they can be solved with members of the military killing each other?). Even so, I hope that we, as a human race, can one day successfully get to that point.

And until then, I hope to be an active member in the fight against violence. I pray that I can be a light in this dark and chaotic world. And I pray to be an instrument of the peace of Christ. Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace, O Lord.

And right now, I want to encourage anyone reading this to take the time out to watch this movie. If you attend a church, I want you bring some of your church friends with you. Invite that relative you always fight with at Thanksgiving to watch it with you while y’all are both in town together later this month. And get a conversation started. Come in with an open mind, but come in critical, as well. This is something bigger than any one person, and yet it is something that affects each and every one of us. The smallest wars are the ones that impact us as individuals the most: the wars fought within our own hearts.

 

*Warning: Rated R. For a reason. Violence and gore and racial slurs and naked man butt. Not for the faint of heart. But I would still encourage you to go see it, if you can.

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