Brave New Pacifist: “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016)

This film flirts with the ‘too new’ line I’ve drawn for this project, but when a friend told me it was “one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in my life,” I had no choice but to bend my loosely defined rules: I needed to see “Hacksaw Ridge,” and I needed to see it as soon as possible.

Set in World War II, Mel Gibson directs this historical epic about Private Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who enlists in the United States Army as a Conscientious Objector with the intention of serving as an unarmed medic. In true Mel Gibson fashion, this film spends the better part of its first half humanizing the character, helping you understand his motives and showing the struggle of his youth that changes his faith and the man he is when he marches into war.  Mission accomplished: I was wholeheartedly rooting for Doss through every trial and tribulation, and I experienced that amazing feeling of losing myself in a film so much so that I am momentarily suspended from my own reality.

The film features performances from Vince Vaughn as Sgt Howell, Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths as Desmond’s parents, Tom and Bertha Doss, and Teresa Palmer as his love interest, Dorothy Schutte. I was pleasantly surprised by Vaughn’s performance; when he first came on screen, I felt a wave of dread roll through me like it did when I saw David Schwimmer in “Band of Brothers,” and thought he was about to be the thorn in the side of an otherwise fantastic movie. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried; he was fantastic. I have a new respect for Vince Vaughn as an actor in serious roles, and without his performance, I don’t think this film would be as great as it is.

This film triggered a perpetual wave of goosebumps on my skin; at one point, I had to get up and make sure the thermostat in my home showed the usual 72 degrees rather than the 40 degrees I suspected. Truly powerful, this film illustrates a man who faces incredible adversity because of his beliefs but refuses to lose faith in God, the men who surround him, or himself. He solidifies his place among the highest ranks of the bravest men in history. It’s always startling when you encounter a story that makes you question your own moral character, and it was enough to bring a tear to my eye.

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