Liberty at the Movies: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most inspiring and one of the most disturbing films I have seen in awhile.

The film tells the story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to win a Congressional Medal of Honor. Doss's story of how he overcame many obstacles to fulfill his goal of serving as an army medic without violating his religious beliefs by carrying a firearm is inspirational. The disturbing part comes from the film's refusal to pull punches when it comes from showing the horrors of combat, including showing rats devouring the corpses of the fallen. No wonder this has been described as the greatest anti-war movie ever.

The film takes its time to get to the battlefield scenes, showing how Doss develops his convictions, which are rooted in his family's Seventh Day Adventists beliefs. Doss's father does not always practice non-violence, a fact his mother blames on his experience serving as a solder in WWI. When Desmond asks his Mom why she stays with him, she says "You didn't know him before the war?"

One of the film's most powerful movements is when Desmond's father takes him to the cemetery where his friends who did not come back from the war are buried. Despite this, Doss's father not only comes to support his son's decision, he played a major role in stopping the army from discharging him for refusal to carry a firearm.

Doss is motivated to join the army by a sense that it is unfair to remain safe at home while all the other young men in his town go to war. So he decides to volunteer as a medic, where he can save lives instead of taking them.

Doss's superiors and fellow soldiers are not thrilled by the thought of having someone who refuses to even touch, much less fire, a gun, going into combat alongside them. So they launch a effort to drive him out of the army.

While the audience cannot help but sympathize with Doss and cheer him on as he refuses to comprise his principles or give in and quit under tremendous psychological and physical abuse, director Mel Gibson treats Doss's opponents fairly. Even the drill sergeant, played by Ron Paul supporter Vince Vaughn, who orchestrates much of Doss''s ill-treatment  is shown to believe he is only acting on what he believes is his unit and Doss's best interest.

Doss eventually wins the right to remain in the military as a conscious objector and is deployed with his unit to Okinawa. There he joins his unit on a battle to Hacksaw Ridge. Again, I would caution anyone with a weak stomach to be very cautious in viewing these scenes. If you can stomach the scenes, you will be treated to a remarkable story of true courage as Doss repeatedly risks his life -- even after his unit has retreated -- to literally pull his wounded comrades to safety.

Hacksaw Ridge features several strong performances, starting with Andrew Garfield as Doss. Other standout performances include Hugo Weaving as Doss's father, and, as already mentioned, Vince Vaughn as Doss's drill sergeant.

Hacksaw Ridge is an inspiring film that also raises some interesting questions about the tensions between a free society where individuals can live according to their religious beliefs and a warfare state.

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