Twelve years ago (MMIV AD), Mel Gibson’s anti-Jewish take on Jesus’ martyrdom was anointed with $612-million at the box-office. After an exile in the wilderness for making anti-Semitic comments to a police officer, Gibson returns for his latest braveheart-warrior passion-play, Hacksaw Ridge. Once more, guts and gore glorify a saintly, self-sacrificing hero, only this time the Japanese are vilified.
The movie’s first half is rife with tableaux and slo-mo, meant to engrave in our visual cortexes Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) seriousness of moral purpose and latent heroism. The boy climbs a ridge near home in West Virginia, foreshadowing his grit and endurance atop the titular ridge in a hellish assault during the Battle of Okinawa. He has a quasi-revelation about pacifism after savagely hitting his brother in a fight. As a young man, he both glimpses his higher purpose as a medic and sees his true love, nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), at a hospital. And then this Seventh-Day Adventist’s Christ-like trials and tribulations at boot camp begin . . . climaxing in a ludicrous court-martial scene (his conscience forbids him to carry a gun), where Doss’ father—the most speechifying, openly honest WWI veteran ever—arrives to save the day.
The Hacksaw Ridge battle’s riddled with brutality (shot-through faces, intestines hanging out, body parts flying at us) intended to shock and awe (plus horror-movie tricks to startle us when we’re not wincing or recoiling) and ultimately consecrate Doss’ bravery. The Japanese swarm up from underground like rats or advance like a demonic horde. Some later wave the white flag, but it’s a ruse (they don’t fight fair, boys!); one’s shown strangely, eerily committing harakiri and getting decapitated by a subordinate (they won’t even die like us, boys!). Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed Our Great American Hero save dozens of wounded (even one Japanese!) on his own, lowering them to safety—it’s “a miracle” and all those recruit-disbelievers who spurned him are now comrades looking upon him with reverence. A sunlit baptized-by-battle image is soon followed by a shot of Doss on a stretcher which makes it look as if he’s ascending to Heaven. Beatified and blessed by the camera, Doss is another holier-than-thou hero in another of Gibson’s violence-as-a-means-to-salvation big-screen sermons.