But there’s another kind of violent film: the ones which make you weep: (The Passion of the Christ; Schindler’s List). These gritty films are much harder to watch. They aren’t fun. But they’re real. And that’s exactly why you should watch them – they’re truthful.
Hacksaw Ridge is the epitome of this second type of violent film. For the first time in a decade, Mel Gibson is back in the director’s chair for this latest Hollywood blockbuster. The movie, which is based on a true story, follows Desmond T Doss (Andrew Garfield) as he enlists for the US army during World War Two. The Seventh Day Adventist wants to serve his country, but as a pacifist he refuses to touch a rifle, requesting to work only as a medic and not as a soldier.
Doss would go on to save 75 wounded soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa – World War Two’s bloodiest fight, and Hacksaw Ridge is a fitting tribute to his heroism.
Doss’s deep-seated Christian faith inspired his pacifism. The opening words of the film are from Isaiah 40: “The Lord is the everlasting God…” and it closes with the real-life Doss talking about prayer. In between we see the young man reading his Bible and keeping the Sabbath. He is ridiculed and mocked for his beliefs, but he perseveres.
The film, which is tipped for Oscar nominations, is a healthy reminder to secular audiences that the Christian faith is nothing if not lived out. Being public about your faith doesn’t always win you friends, as Doss discovers. But despite many temptations, Doss refuses to give in to what the world demands of him – namely, compromise. In sticking to his beliefs, staying true to his values and being willing to suffer for his faith, Doss ultimately earns the respect of his fellow soldiers. He would later become the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Hacksaw Ridge refuses to shy away from portraying war in all its brutality and meaninglessness. War is hell. And this film is relentless in its portrayal of this reality. It might even turn you into a pacifist.
Hacksaw Ridge is not your typical Christian film. For one thing, it’s far too bloody and violent (even more gruelling than Saving Private Ryan). The budget, not to mention overall quality of acting, scripting and direction, is at a level which the producers of God’s Not Dead could only dream of. And yet, when it comes to the themes of living out your faith and refusing to compromise on your beliefs (even when they’re controversial), this is one of the most Christian films Hollywood has ever produced. It should also challenge both believers and non-believers alike to reconsider their views on war.
Most war films portray soldiers as heroes. But in Hacksaw Ridge the hero is not the man who takes life. The hero is the man who saves lives. What could be a more Christian message than that? SH
Hacksaw Ridge is released in UK cinemas on 27th January