Mel Gibson's new war film, Hacksaw Ridge, is the true story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the Nation's highest military honor. It's a given that, between Braveheart and The Passion, Mel Gibson is the master of his craft. On that front this film absolutely delivers. It's sweeping, emotional and entertaining on all levels. But here is what struck me above all:
A Christian Hero
Let me ask you a question? When was the last time you saw an affirming, authentic and heroic portrayal of a Christian in a mainstream movie? The simple answer to that question is: rarely if ever. That is where Hacksaw Ridge just blew me away. In my opinion, not since Chariots of Fire has there been such an authentically honest and heroic portrayal of a Christian on film. In fact, it might possibly be the best portrayal of a Christian in the history of cinema.
The movie begins with Desmond quoting Isaiah. His pocket Bible is a central plot point. He endures mistreatment for his faith. He will not yield on his convictions. And in the end, this absolute conviction and authenticity wins over his entire company, so much so that they have him pray before a final assault. Just like his fellow soldiers, he wins the audience over as well. You can't help but root for him. You can't help but love him.
Why does this matter? Because as Christians in America today, let's face it, we have an image problem. Stigmas and stereotypes, far from accurate, are plaguing us. What's the answer? Well, one of the big ones is affirming treatment in the mainstream media. We are sorely lacking in this area. And suddenly, along comes a mainstream war film with a loaded cast of A List talent in front of, and behind the camera. In my opinion, this is exactly what we need right now. We should support it.
The Legacy of the Medal
My grandfather received the Medal of Honor in WWII. Oddly enough, later in life, Desmond Doss used to come over to his house for an occasional visit. There are so few living recipients of the Medal of Honor it's a very tight nit group. I remember sitting with Gary Littrell, who was then the President of the Medal of Honor Society. He told me that most of my generation had no idea what the Medal of Honor was, what it stood for, or the ideals it embodied. He said a generation was in desperate need to be reminded and educated of the legacy and meaning of our highest military honor.
Hacksaw Ridge does this better than any war film I've ever seen. It embodies the idea of going "above and beyond the call of duty" or as Christ said "greater love has no man than the one who would lay his life down for his friends." As a county and as a generation, we need this movie. It reminds us of who we are and the values that we are meant to embody as Americans and as Christians.
"They Believe How Much You Believe"
My favorite line of the movie comes from Sam Worthington (Avatar, The Shack). Late in the movie he says, "A lot of these guys don't believe how you believe, but they believe how much you believe." He then asks Desmond to pray over the company before a final assault. The soldier they despised becomes the one they most respect. As one of them says, "I had no idea who you really were." It reminds me of the life we are supposed to live as Christians. We are supposed to win people over by our actions. By our kindness. By our conviction.
It also reminds me of something I heard Christopher Nolan say about a film and it's audience. He says the audience can feel a filmmaker's conviction. He says the audience is smart enough to know when a filmmaker is taking the emotional journey of the film for himself, or when he's using a bag of tricks to try and make the audience feel something he himself does not feel. They audience can sniff out a fake. Hacksaw Ridge explodes off the screen with authenticity, conviction and respect for the character of Desmond Doss. You can feel it in every frame.
Spending a couple hours with Mel after the movie ended, it's so obvious that this is something he deeply cares about. When it comes to Christianity and it's portrayal on film, he just gets it. He understands and respects us. As a filmmaker and as a Christian, the fact that someone of his caliber and talent would give us such a gift as Hacksaw Ridge represents a rare anomaly in entertainment. No matter what you believe, it's impossible to feel the same way about Christianity when you leave the theater. My opinion: we should wholeheartedly support it.