The black-and-white definitiveness of morality plays no longer convinces the contemporary viewer. With alarms of “wars and rumors of war” sounding 24/7 in the media, and a non-stop feed of bitterness and virtual tomato throwing online, we feel in our guts the ill-ease of our times. For the casual observer, the world looks crazy. For the discerning spirit, it looks as though Western civilization stands with its toes twiddling over a cliff’s edge. There are no easy answers with too many ready to give them. And, so, we slip into either a bloodthirsty anger – anger against ISIS, or Clinton, or Trump, or that guy whose dog always “fertilizes” our driveway – or a beige apathy that flits about from experience to experience, directionless. Mel Gibson’s movie accepts this riven, barb wired world of shadow not as a place of despair, but as an arena for the courageous, and a theater for light. With poetic genius, Gibson delivers something much more than a “morality play” in Hacksaw Ridge. He balances upon a tightrope in a way that so few directors can: He hits our stomach with raw, wounded humanity, and, then, compels us to strive for greatness. And, he does this pointedly in the gore and hell of the battle on Hacksaw Ridge in WWII, Okinawa.
Gibson places the 77th Infantry Division upon that tight rope that dangles between fractured reality and the undying goodness of God. In our world, there are people who desire to destroy others’ ways of life. WWII was no different. Men were called upon to serve their nation and defend our freedoms. And, those brave men – frightened and young, bold and leery – took up arms and dropped into the crack of gunfire and dread of violence. And, this is what is so incredible about the film, Hacksaw Ridge. In it, Gibson upholds the courage of these men while also holding up the courage of the Conscientious Objector, Desmond Doss. That tight rope twists around the heart of the viewer who finds themselves in something much more than a “war movie.” The director leaves us amazed at both the soldiers who fought and the protagonist who didn’t. Gibson amazingly, skillfully, and poetical does not simplistically reject the sad fact that, at times, war is necessary. Yet, Doss becomes a beacon of courage that says: Hope is real, love saves lives, tender-strength can heal something in the bomb-pocked ridges of our scarred earth.
This healing strength, this courageous tenderness of Desmond, reignites the heart of the 77th for its last push on Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond does “good on the Sabbath” and heals them with his own worn body that speaks the words: “I will not leave you, I am with you.” They must fight. And, their bravery continues to inspire us today. But, they knew through the stigmata of Desmond’s persevering love that somewhere, below the turbulence of that satanic ridge was a deeper, lasting, truer, enduring goodness for which they fought. The entire final battle scene becomes a Calvary moment. The horrific ability of humanity to rip itself to shredded, rat eaten pieces meets the immortal diamond of one gripped by God’s goodness. Light and darkness, hope and terror, war and freedom all meet. Like the best of poetry, Hacksaw Ridge will not soothe us with the easy balm of moralism. Rather, Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge will demand that we enter into the mystery of the Cross that “heals as it wound.”