The movie “Hacksaw Ridge” documents the apparently true life story of a US Army medic in WW2 who was the first person serving in that job category to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Going beyond the bare facts, it is a story one man’s journey from persecution to redemption and beyond. The tale is all the more remarkable given the initially implacable opposition to his interpretation as to what it means to be a conscientious objector.
After a traumatic childhood experience and on somewhat ambiguous moral grounds, the hero swears to never again wish harm to anyone. The difficulty is that he feels equally obligated to serve his country, not to exclude risking his life, in time of war. The apparent solution is to enlist in the Army as a medic for the express purpose of being able to save, rather than take, lives on the battlefield. Unfortunately his moral sensibilities forbid even touching his Army issued assault rifle, which requirement he incorrectly assumes to have been waived on enlistment.
Conflict flares when unsophisticated, but well documented, Army regulations require everyone, including those slated to later become unarmed medics, to complete basic training which includes developing proficiency with the standard infantry rifle. When surprisingly well meaning suggestions of cowardice and mental instability are not sufficient to deter his singular struggle, the Army resorts to a formal court martial for a failure to obey direct orders.
Emotional appeals result in an extraordinary leniency, reinforced by a self-congratulatory feel good sense of American ideals and liberties. The net result is that the main character is granted a unique dispensation to complete his training on his own terms. Refreshingly, friends and family stand by him throughout creating a fully sympathetic view that might otherwise have been muted.
It stark contrast to thoughtful moral struggles waged on the home front, the second half of the movie devolves into a pointedly thoughtless horror show depicting the WW2 Battle for Okinawa. Dramatic license is stretched to the limit as interminable and truly intense combat scenes are staged without regard for normal infantry tactical dispositions which might more realistically disperse the carnage across time and space. Nevertheless the concentration of blood and gore does serve to emphasize the dedication and heroism of participants on both sides, not the least of whom is our hero, the odd duck medic. Quiet heroism triumphs in spectacular fashion, winning the hearts and minds of every skeptic.
The movie was notable in that it avoids insane stereotypes of the military, which are prevalent in most Hollywood imaginations. Rather the Army is refreshingly portrayed as ordinary people honestly and humanly, albeit in fits and starts, struggling to come to grips with a challenging situation; as perhaps befits a semi-documentary of real events. On the other hand, the scenes of combat in the second half of the movie are disturbing and perhaps more than were strictly required to advance the story.
Nevertheless the celebration of a respect for life even in the midst of war, the extolling of patriotic pride in the ideals of a free country, and finally the triumph of one man’s self-sacrificing struggle make this a good movie and one I could recommend, despite the caveats on the violence.