War is hell, we are told, and no one can depict that truth better than Mel Gibson, who has the unparalleled ability to convert violence into an art form in his films (think Braveheart and Passion of the Christ.) But for Gibson, the violence is never an end in itself. Redemption is actually the theme of his best films. For him, hell is a place from which souls can be rescued. And nowhere does Gibson make this more clear than in his latest film Hacksaw Ridge.
The films tells the story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a young man who joins the army in World War II as a conscientious objector. Believing his faith in Christ forbade him to carry a weapon, Doss nonetheless enlists to push back the evil he saw at work around him. But he chooses to fight the evil by refusing to fight. Instead he serves as a medic, and in the bloody battle of Okinawa, Doss single handedly rescues 75 wounded men (on an undefended battlefield crawling with enemy soldiers) and consequently becomes the only CO of the war to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
Gibson refuses to soften the carnage war produces. The battlefield is littered with severed limbs, spilled intestines, and rats doing what rats do. But neither does he refuse to diminish the relentless faith which drives Doss to conquer this evil with sacrifice and love. As his fellow soldiers retreat before a Japanese counterattack, Doss looks up in despair and cries out to heaven what he is to do. Suddenly, he hears the moan of a wounded man begging for a medic. Doss has his answer, and rushes to help. As he drags soldier after soldier to safety and lowers them off the infamous ridge, his hands swelling from the rope, he begins to pray, “Just one more Lord. Please help me get just one more.”
His heroism so astonishes his fellow soldiers (who in basic training did everything possible to force him to quit), that when they make a renewed assault on the ridge the following day, the soldiers refuse to join the battle until Doss has finished his prayers for them. Perhaps that was a simplistic depiction of the battle for Okinawa which lasted 82 days at the cost of more than 12,000 American lives, but Gibson leaves no doubt that he believes faith in Christ to be one of the most inspiring and courageous acts of valor possible.
Of course, one can’t watch the film without wondering if Gibson is trying to metaphorically show the battle being waged for his own heart. His public faith and personal failures are well-known, and one senses in the film that Gibson is declaring that God is not done with him yet. If hell is indeed a place from which souls can be rescued, then it’s not too late for him either.
Watching the film encouraged me to see in a new way the whole endeavor of living out my faith in a very broken and evil world. “Just one more Lord,” should become a cry for each one of us who claim to follow Christ, to do what we can to authentically make his love and grace visible in our own respective battlefields.