Theme: The Red Cross
Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of Pvt. Desmond Doss; the only man to win the Congressional Medal of Honor without lifting a rifle. Doss, a conscientious objector, served in the Army as a medic and saved seventy five men during the horrific Battle of Okinawa in World War II.
Returning to the Director’s chair after a ten year absence, Mel Gibson has accurately depicted Doss’s historical story while framing it within the context of a much larger story. Besides the battle between the Allied forces and the Japanese, there is a cosmic battle being fought on Hacksaw Ridge. It is between the God who gave His Son’s life on a bloody cross to save His creation and the god of death who was bent on its destruction. Hence the Red Cross in the movie’s title symbolizes the stories of both the life saving medic, Desmond Doss, and the Savior of Life, Jesus Christ.
There are two ridges in Hacksaw Ridge which bracket the story. Both ridges are scaled and what is found at the top is symbolic of two different places. The movie opens with scenes looking down on the carnage of Hacksaw Ridge. This brief glimpse of the movie’s end sets it in stark contrast to where it begins on the Blue Ridge of Virginia.
The ridge the young Doss brothers climb, and later Desmond with Dorothy, represents beauty, innocence, love and adventure, all God originally planned for His image-bearers in His good creation. The Blue Ridge is a picture of Eden. It is interesting to note Virginia means virginal and pure.
Hacksaw Ridge is anything but pure, it is land polluted by the blood shed on it. As Mark Twain once wrote, “then ensued a scene of riot and carnage such as no human pen, or steel one either could describe”.1 Carnage comes from the Latin word carnaticum which means “tribute of flesh”. A terrible tribute of flesh has been made to the god of death. Hacksaw Ridge is his abode, a place called Hell.
A hiker, upon seeing the young Doss brothers playing on top of the ridge, makes an ominous statement to his companion, “They are as crazy as their old man”. The scene shifts to Tom Doss standing in a cemetery talking to his old buddies who died in World War I. Angrily breaking his bottle of booze on a grave, he cuts himself shedding the first blood in the film. War and death have entered Eden and brought its dismemberment to the Doss family.
The alcoholic abusive father eggs his fighting sons on until Desmond hits Hal on the head with a brick, and now the shedding of blood has passed to the children. Bertha Doss comforts her son telling him Hal will be alright, but instructing him that murder is the worst sin because it “hurts His (God’s) heart”. Hatred of the father has entered into the heart of the young boy and it will take something more powerful than hate to extract its deadly poison.
Years pass and the boy becomes a young man, transformed outwardly and inwardly. The audience discovers later in the film through flashbacks about an incident which changed Desmond forever. Suffice it to say God has exchanged Desmond’s hate for His own love and made him a man of peace. So it is no surprise when seeing an accident out the church window he automatically moves to help save the man’s life. This one act of kindness leads Desmond to his life calling and to his soul mate.
The hospital is the place where Desmond is invited into God’s adventure. It is a place where blood is given, not taken. Here he finds beauty, love, holiness, and purpose. The doctor’s word, “You saved his life”, confirms the deepest desire of his heart, to be a healer.
Prelude to War
For one whose deepest desire is to bring the reconciling love of Jesus Christ and be a healer (for that is what it means to be “a Christian”), a world at war is not an easy place. Yet it is the very place Christ calls his followers to go. Desmond answering the call enlists in the Army, believing he can serve his God and his country as a medic. He soon learns the life of a disciple means picking up his own cross and entering into suffering.
From the time he arrives at Fort Jackson and is discovered to be a conscientious objector, Desmond is subjected to humiliation, physical abuse, all sorts of opprobrium and contempt. His platoon, his Sargent, his Captain and Colonel all want him gone, each tempting and threatening him with different scenarios. Powerful scenes capture Desmond’s inner strength and courage to stand against the men who were meant to be his brothers and not retaliate. This testing of Private Doss comes to a head when he is accused and ordered to stand trial for refusing to obey his Commanding Officer’s order to pick up a rifle.
Desmond’s plight awakens something in his father, Tom. Putting on his old uniform, he seeks help from his former Captain now a Brigadier General. Carrying the General’s letter declaring it is Desmond’s Constitutional right to serve as a medic, he arrives just in time to change the trials outcome. Desmond won’t go to prison, he will go to war.
Desmond’s walk has mirrored the path of Christ’s with his calling, testing, betrayal, accusation, and trial. The only place left for him to go is the cross. Making the ascent of Hacksaw Ridge with the blood dripping down is like standing at the foot of The Crucifixion and then entering vicariously into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Hacksaw Ridge is the satan’s stronghold; impregnable until a man without sin filled with the love of the Father in his heart entered to redeem all those held captive by hate and fear and, in so doing, destroyed the power of the enemy once and for all.
Gibson has made a masterpiece in the truest sense, a work of art which tells truth and pierces the heart in ways words cannot. Desmond is his Christ figure. He stands as the last one atop the ridge, crying over the dead. Asking the Father “What is it you want from me?” Saying, “I can’t hear you,” and then hearing the cry of the Father’s heart in the screams of the broken, the wounded, the left behind. “Alright” (meaning verily, truly), he straightens himself and walks back in. All day and night he carries them out one by one like the Good Shepherd with the lost sheep over his shoulders. He enters into the enemy’s house and binds the strongman, not with ropes of anger, hate, and swaggering pride but with bandages of love and compassion.
When he finally comes off Hacksaw Ridge, his body is washed and cleansed. He has undergone the baptism of Christ and, like Jesus coming down from the cross, the men now see for the first time who he truly is. His Captain makes a beautiful confession and asks for his forgiveness while making one last request (not an order). Will he go back with them tomorrow even though it is his Sabbath, for the men do not want to go without him? They believe that he believes and that is enough.
Waiting for the Lord
Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary and tired,
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength,
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
- Isaiah 40:28-31 (NAS)
The movie began with the words of the Prophet Isaiah and the movie ends with Desmond waiting for the Lord, yet not alone. Others now wait with him and together they finish the battle for Hacksaw Ridge.
The last scene in the film is of Desmond lifted up on a stretcher suspended over the earth.
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself. - John 12:32
Mark Twain Sketches New and Old, Complete