Note: Minor plot spoilers to follow. You may want to watch the movie before reading this post.
I had the chance to catch Hacksaw Ridge the other day, and it is an extremely powerful movie. I was a bit leery after reading the very positive reviews because they highlighted the presence of the bad husband/father trope in the movie. From: Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Is the Best War Film Since ‘Saving Private Ryan’
…incidents in early sections of the film showing Desmond’s challenging family life with a loving, overly religious mother who was often savagely beaten by his drunken, abusive father…
I went anyway, and am glad that I did. The trope is certainly in the movie, but the father is not shown as a one dimensional drunken abuser. After watching the movie I checked out History Vs Hollywood, and it appears that Gibson used more than a little creative license in this regard:
The Great Depression left their father, a carpenter, despondent and turning to alcohol at times (though the movie greatly exaggerates this and makes him abusive).
But even with this in mind, Gibson doesn’t display the abject contempt for fathers that the Kendrick brothers do. As I noted the father is shown as a real (but deeply flawed) human being who is suffering and loves his family.
With the failing father trope out of the way, it is astounding that Hacksaw Ridge is the first non documentary movie to tell the incredible story of Desmond Doss. Doss after all was heroic in WWII, the only war in which Hollywood is truly comfortable portraying American fighting men as as heroes. It is also not coincidentally the only war where the US was allied with the Soviet Union. But while Doss was fighting on the right side of the war from Hollywood’s perspective, his story can’t be told without honoring his incredible faith. Gibson deserves great credit for fighting the Hollywood current and making a major production about this truly extraordinary man.
I mentioned above that Doss’ story is incredible, and in a way it may be too incredible. Aside from exaggerating the failures of his father, the movie also in many ways understated how extraordinary he was. For example, in one scene it shows Doss and his unit as having to climb up a cargo net to enter their first battle. Given the timing of the battle where this took place (Okinawa), it struck me as unlikely that this would be their first action. Hollywood Vs History confirmed that not only was Okinawa not their first action, but that Doss was one of three men who climbed the cliff to place the net there in the first place:
…medic Desmond Doss was one of the three men who volunteered to go up the ridge and hang the cargo nets (something not shown in the movie). They were the same cargo nets that the men had used to climb down from the army personnel carriers into the landing crafts that took them ashore. In the photo below, Desmond is seen standing on top of the ridge. The photo doesn’t convey the sheer danger he was in up there. The photographer refused to get any closer for fear he would be hit by Japanese fire. -The Conscientious Objector Documentary
The same article notes there was another incident that Gibson changed because he felt the true story was too difficult for the audience to believe:
Director Mel Gibson decided to leave this out of the movie because he felt audiences would find the heroic circumstances under which it happened too hard to believe…
It also mentions yet another incident which Gibson left out:
…the Japanese had a clear shot at Desmond Doss. Though it’s not depicted in the movie, one Japanese soldier recalled having Desmond in his sights, but every time he went to fire, his gun jammed. -The Conscientious Objector Documentary
After reading about the real story, as is so often the case I find the real story to be more compelling than the dramatized version. Still, Gibson has made a fantastic film and I highly recommend it.