Wednesday, February 8, 2017
OSCARS 2017: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
a drunken antisemitic tirade, Mel Gibson's career should've been over. Hollywood gave him another chance. In 2010, after a drunken racist tirade, Mel's career definitely should've been over. And yet he has received another chance. I guess Hollywood just can't quit Mel. I'm torn on the topic of Gibson myself. I enjoy many of his films and performances but am disgusted by his repugnant beliefs. Mel's latest reevaluation was confirmed when the Academy showered “Hacksaw Ridge,” Gibson's latest war epic, with nominations. This is Mel's sixth or seventh chance, presumably before his next drunken tirade. While I try to separate the people from the art, one can't help but think of Gibson's personal problems while watching “Hacksaw Ridge.”
The film tells the true story of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Born to a Seven Day Adventist and an alcoholic World War I vet, he grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia. With the on-set of World War II, Doss felt the need to serve his country. Due to his religious beliefs, he refused to commit any violent acts or even hold a weapon. Instead, he decided to serve his country as a medic. His convictions were challenged during his army training, most of the authorities baffled by his decision. Once deployed, Doss served at the Battle of Okinawa, where he personally saved the lives of at least 75 men.
It's a good thing that Garfield is great because the rest of “Hacksaw Ridge” raises some unnerving connotations that I just can't shake. Upon entering basic training, Doss is constantly questioned about his belief. When he refuses to hold a rifle, he's sent off to a commanding officer and told to resign. He refuses, leading to the other men in his unit harassing him and even beating him black and blue in one scene. Doss is ultimately threatened with a court marshal and thrown in military prison, missing his own wedding. Only a last minute, dramatic appeal from his father prevents him from being thrown out. Knowing Gibson's background as an ultraconversative, traditionalist Catholic, one can't help but see this as a story of a “persecuted Christian,” attacked by a corrupt culture that doesn't share his beliefs. Not only is that a narrative that we sure as fuck don't need right now, it's one that has always bugged the shit out of me.
fascination with violence, and the disturbing ways that fascination permeates his religious beliefs, is no secret. Despite ostensibly being about Doss' pacifist ways, “Hacksaw Ridge” is intensely violent. Heads are blown apart. Limbs are blasted away to bloody stumps. Guts are strewn on the ground. Rats nibble on corpses. Mines and grenades reduce men to pulp, severed feet and viscera tossed into the camera. Men are set ablaze in slow motion. Of course “Hacksaw Ridge” is violent. It's a war movie. What sticks in my teeth is the treatment of that violence. The camera lingers on it, too proud of its gory work to look away. There are unlikely moments, like a man kicking a grenade back. Or, in an especially ridiculous scene, someone picking up a bloodied torso and using it as a human shield. “Hacksaw Ridge” doesn't focus on the bloodshed to make a point about the horrors of war. It just seems to like it. Which seems at odds with Doss' beliefs.
My reservations with “Hacksaw Ridge” doesn't end there. I understand that the battlefield is a difficult place, where men put aside common decency to kill one another. Yet the film's treatment of the Japanese soldiers strikes me as simplistic and possibly offensive. The Japanese are portrayed as mad, raving attackers. They strike like a heavily armed zombie horde, cutting down American men while snarling, spitting, and screaming. They are so evil that, after raising a white flag of surrender, several Japanese soldiers attempt a suicide attack. This does not feel like the most nuanced treatment of a very serious subject. Typically, Mel lingers on the commanding officer committing seppuku, showing his decapitated head landing in his lap. Doss does rescue several Japanese soldiers throughout the battle but, a minor character tells us, “they didn't make it.” War is war but robbing the enemy of their humanity turns a piece of art into a work of jingoism.