Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of US Army medic Desmond T. Doss. Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a Christian (Seventh-day Adventist) conscientious objector who refused to bear arms, yet was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for single-handedly saving the lives of over 75 of his comrades while under constant enemy fire at Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Directed by Mel Gibson, the film costars Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn and Hugo Weaving.
Though the film is ultimately inspiring, Gibson didn’t want to shy away from the horrors of war, even if that meant including the violence any soldier on the front line has experienced.
“I wanted it to be realistic in a war situation. Okinawa had the greatest loss of life in the South Pacific. The Japanese described it as a steel rain of bullets. Napalm was used. It also highlights what a man of conviction endures when thrown into this situation. Was reduces some men to the level of animals. In the midst of this maelstrom, this man is able to hone his spirituality. He goes in and commits acts of love in the midst of this hell. That’s the beauty of his story. It’s the pinnacle of heroism. I think it’s a love story, not a war film. It’s not a religious movie. It’s a movie about faith.”
The movie has been receiving rave reviews since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Gibson thinks the film is so powerful due to its strong cast.
“I think the contribution made by everyone in this cast is the best work any of them had ever done. I was proud and pleased to be able to stand back and watch it happen. They had to tread fine lines like Vince Vaughn and our own Sean Bean Jr., Luke Bracey [laughs]. They had to do some things that wouldn’t make you like them. You could see it very subtly done – the turn to Desmond who they all at first despised and ridiculed. You could see it happen and it was very subtle. It was deftly done by all the performers. I just want to applaud all of them for making me look good.”
Many actor/directors often direct themselves in a part. Though he doesn’t have an acting credit in the film, he did direct himself, sort of.
“My shadow is in it. Also, my arm is in it. I said, ‘Hugo, come make this film’ and he said okay. The scheduling was such that he couldn’t do the scene in the courtroom so I did it. It was my hand and my shadow and we green screened him in later.”
He won an Oscar for Braveheart which also included battle scenes. That shoot, however, didn’t totally prepare him for the Hacksaw Ridge shoot.
“It’s a different thing. Medieval conflict is different. This had bombs and bullets. The degree of difficulty goes way up. And I had like 25 per cent less of a budget of Braveheart and half the time. And that was twenty years ago. This is an independent film. It looks pretty good for what we made it. It looks like [it cost] $100 million, but I think $40 million is what it ended up being. It looks like a hundred to me.”
Though Gibson is appreciative of the film’s critical acclaim, there was one particular critic whose opinion mattered more.
“I talked to Desmond’s son and he said, ‘[Andrew] was my dad.’ He was totally blown away. I talked with him for like an hour and was totally eating it up. It’s true though. Andrew did embody that character very truthfully. This film is kind of riding on his shoulders. One of the most flattering comments I got after people watched the film was, ‘wow, this is the way people used to make films.’ I’m like, ‘yea, you mean like in the 30s and 40s?’ And he said, ‘no, I mean the 80s [laughs].’ It really made me laugh, but I don’t think they were kidding around.”
2016 has been one scene of horror after another. From Yemen and the Middle East to daily violence on the news and a particularly ugly presidential election, we can all use more positive respite in our lives. Gibson thinks Hacksaw Ridge could provide just that respite.
“Real superheroes don’t wear spandex and tights. What Desmond shows – and what I find the most inspiring – is that he managed to transcend the war and find a way to love. That’s a vital message. The world is in a pretty bad way. It’s been this bad before. It’s going to get this bad again. We seem to learn our lesson and behave for like 20 or 30 years and then we’re back at it again. History regurgitates itself. This is hopefully a little reminder about that – the brutality and viciousness of war. In the midst of it, hopefully some good can be extracted.”
Hacksaw Ridge opens in theaters November 4.