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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who enlisted in World War II but refused to carry a weapon or kill, preferring to save wounded men as a medic. Director Mel Gibson doesn't shy away from showing extremely graphic war violence. Bullets pierce flesh in slow motion, explosions toss men in the air, bleeding leg and arm stumps are shown, throats are slashed, soldiers bayonet each other to death, and men are graphically gutted, disembodied, and beheaded, with entrails and ligaments left hanging. Doss is also beaten by his fellow soldiers during basic training due to his refusal to carry a weapon. And his superior officers jail and put him on trial. Doss kisses and marries a nurse; they're seen (him shirtless, her clothed) on their wedding night. Doss' father is an abusive alcoholic. Adults smoke cigarettes and use language including: "s--t," "ass," "t--ties," "bitch," and the racist terms "Japs" and "Nips." Ultimately, though the movie's message is one of courage, integrity, and sticking to your convictions.
A terrific movie and a very good story. A very realistic depiction of war. It may be frightening for younger and immature audiences.
What's the story?
HACKSAW RIDGE is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing 75 wounded men while under fire during World War II. Doss was the son of a violent alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) who beat his mother and encouraged violence between his sons. But the devout Doss renounces violence as he comes to believe that the 10 commandments speak directly to him. Because he loves his country, he enlists to serve in World War II, certain he can support the military as an unarmed medic on the battlefield. The Army doesn't agree and spends a great deal of energy trying to rid itself of a man who refuses to touch a weapon, never mind learn to shoot people with it. Eventually, though, a colonel allows Doss to become a medic without completing the weaponry portion of basic training. His company's first mission is to take a strategic, strongly defended Japanese ridge. Once on the battlefield and under relentless attack, Doss and the men he trained with are horrified and overwhelmed by the grisly and terrifying facts of war. But Doss darts from body to body, checking for life and treating the wounded. When his company retreats, Doss seeks prayerful guidance and then returns alone to the battlefield, unarmed, to begin an all-night campaign to save as many men as he can.
Is it any good?
Although this WWII action drama is a technical wonder, the soul of the movie feels at odds with itself. While director Mel Gibson fairly represents Doss' pacifist principles, he also simultaneously stages another movie, a stealth movie, that presents war as a glorious character builder, a nurturing ground for male friendship, and an expression of man's nobility and grit. Yes, Gibson dutifully records the severed limbs and the moaning, wounded, hideously disfigured soldiers. War is hell, the movie says over and over again.
But, the director also reminds us, it's not without moments of nobility and magnificence -- as evidence by the gorgeous slow-motion depictions of bombs landing on human targets, bursting into awe-inspiring flames, and killing and maiming who knows how many, just to prove his point (a point he previously made in Braveheart). So it's hard not to feel like Hacksaw Ridge works as hard to undermine Doss' position as it does to support it. Many of the soldiers and officers who at first abuse and look down on Doss for his refusal to carry a gun later apologize to him after recognizing his bravery and the depth of his convictions. All of that said, Garfield does a great job playing Doss with intelligence, charm, and a believable inner spiritual life.
Talk to your kids about ...
What does it mean to have a sense of duty? Why do you think Doss felt so strongly about going into battle, unarmed, to help the wounded soldiers?
Talk about how the movie depicts the historic events at its center. How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts? What are the challenges of adapting a true story for the screen?
War movies tend to take one side's perspective over the other(s). Why is it important to be aware of that? How might this story be told differently from the Japanese army's point of view?
- In theaters: November 4, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: February 21, 2017
- Cast: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving
- Director: Mel Gibson
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 138 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images
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