“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” – Character in “Hacksaw Ridge”
If you are lucky enough never to have served in war, take a moment to picture the following. Standing between you and the enemy – who are described as unstoppable and 100 percent committed to their task – is a massive natural wall that can only be scaled by a series of rope ladders. At the top, walls of flame periodically detonate, and platoons that have been there previously come back wounded and bearing grim witness. The lucky ones that is; most don’t make it. Oh and imagine you will have to scale that wall and face the enemy without a weapon – as you’re serving as a medic because you’re a Conscientious Objector.
This is what is facing Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and his platoon as they arrive on the grounds of the ongoing Battle of Okinawa in World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Andrew, like his fellow townsmen, is fired up by the injustice and is keen to defend his country. Having grown up in a family in which his father (Hugo Weaving), a veteran himself with what we would call anger issues today, that is no stranger to violence, Andrew has made a vow not to touch a gun again, so this poses a puzzle. Men he knows who have been judged “unfit” to serve have committed suicide, so the stakes are high. His beautiful first love (Teresa Palmer) is not too happy, but eventually concludes that Andrew must do what he feels is best. So after his older brother (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists – despite facing opposition from Hugo – Andrew joins with the stipulation that he can serve as medic. However, this becomes the first of many misunderstandings between him and the Army, as we soon see.
At first, Desmond gets along fine with his fellow enlistees – until the moment in basic training when they are ordered to choose a “girlfriend,” i.e. the gun that they will be carrying with them at all times. His refusal earns him ostracism and bullying from the crew, and then a court martial – luckily averted when his father shows up in uniform with an eloquent argument. One senses that there might be future conflicts, as Andrew has stated that he won’t fight on his Sabbath – Saturday. But after arriving, there are more immediate concerns, as his platoon passes another straggling back from their ultimate destination with horror stories. Sure enough, their ascent over that fateful wall will bring trauma – but ultimately. a chance for Andrew to prove his valor, as his real-life inspiration was the first Conscientious Objector to be awarded a Medal of Honor.
“Hacksaw Ridge,” is well worth seeing on the big screen because of the scope of the battle itself, and because of the outstanding across-the-board performances – with apologies to “Wayne’s World II,” I saw “Oscar clip” flashing multiple times when Andrew was the focus. It’s understandably grisly – in one scene, a soldier uses half a fresh corpse as a human shield as he advances on the enemy. Obviously, no surprise if you’ve been there, but if you’re like me, you’ll be nodding along wide-eyed with one member of Andrew’s platoon who points out, “This isn’t Kansas, Dorothy.” And be grateful that you get to do so.