From Academy Award®-winning director Mel Gibson, (Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ), with screenplay by Robert Schenkkan (The Quiet American) and Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner), Hacksaw Ridge received three Golden Globes® nominations, including Best Picture. The acclaimed film is nominated for six Academy Awards® including Best Picture, Best Director (Gibson), and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), as well as Best Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.
Based on the incredible true story of World War II soldier Desmond Doss, who while fighting in one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, miraculously saved the lives of 75 men while never carrying a gun. Under enemy shelling, Desmond treated wounds and administered plasma, carrying one man 25 feet from the enemy to safety. Though his legs were damaged by a grenade and his arm was shattered by gunfire, he crawled 300 yards to escape death.
He was given the Medal of Honor for gallantry and bravery above the call of duty. While under fire, Desmond saved those 75 men, refusing to take cover, and carrying them one-by-one, and lowering them to safety. Desmond knew his Bible and lived by its principles. He dedicated his life to his Lord and Savior, who both guided and protected him. He believed in The Ten Commandments and refused to carry a weapon because, though he felt the war was justified, killing was still wrong.
Sonoma Christian Home spoke with Producer of the film Hacksaw Ridge, Terry Benedict, who also produced the award-winning documentary, Conscientious Objector, which was the original documentary on Desmond Doss. SCH Editor At Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: Why did you choose Conscientious Objector as your original documentary title?
TB: I wanted to convict and counter negative implications of the term “conscientious objector.”
SCH: Why did Desmond Doss call himself a “conscientious cooperator”?
TB: Desmond never objected to the war. He was not a pacifist. He was eligible for a deferment because he was working at a shipyard in Newport News. But Desmond felt a moral obligation to fight for his country.
SCH: How did Desmond develop his moral conscience and convictions?
TB: His mother had a strong influence on him. She taught him to love God and to serve his fellow men.
SCH: How was Desmond able to serve as a non-combatant?
TB: President Roosevelt paved the way for non-combatants to serve with their beliefs honored.
SCH: Why was he treated abusively by his unit?
TB: The army “did not get the memo”, or chose not to get it. Desmond was abused in his unit for 2-½ years. He was part of the 77th Statue of Liberty Division which rigorously trained as a whole division for a wide range of combat: mountain, desert, jungle warfare, and more.
SCH: Did this training prepare Desmond for the rigor required at Hacksaw Ridge?
TB: That may have been. At one point, he was considered the weakest link in his unit but he became the strongest link, although he was a slight man of about 150 lbs.
SCH: How did you encounter the story of Desmond Doss?
TB: I first read his story in WWII books when I was about ten. He was the unlikeliest of heroes. I later met him at twelve years old at a church camp. He had a passion for youth with a strong moral compass. I later reconnected with him at a Medal of Honor reunion, where I learned that his men set him apart as a chaplain. He resisted anyone from Hollywood telling his story because he wanted it accurate and for the glory to go to God.
SCH: Why did he let you tell his story on film?
TB: He was like a grandfather to me. I told him I would answer to God first, then to him, and that the others would have to get in line. I told him we could do the documentary first.
SCH: How did you guide Andrew Garfield on the life of Doss and prep him for the film, including a tour of Doss’s VA hometown?
TB: Andrew wanted to honor Desmond. I took him to Desmond’s Lookout Mountain. In this site visit and through watching the documentary over and over, Andrew caught Desmond’s nuances: gestures, thought process, psyche, values, and reactions. I took him to the train trestle where Desmond put out pennies to flatten. Andrew learned how Desmond grabbed a milk truck to be pulled by on his bicycle. Andrew was able to touch, feel, sense Desmond and developed an uncanny likeness of him.
SCH: How did you help him understand the understated role of military medics and how critical they are in times of war?
TB: Andrew was provided a military consultant and doctor.
SCH: What can we learn today from Doss?
TB: We can learn–even the military community can learn–how valuable people or soldiers are, that they’re not cut from cookie cutters and that there is a place for people with different values to make a significant contribution.
SCH: What are the timely implications for today of this story and movie?
TB: There are important universal themes in this movie, especially that no matter how bad or how tough life can be, we can always make it through with faith and with God.
SCH: Beyond the brilliant artistry and exceptional acting in the movie, why do you think this movie is resonating as it is today?
TB: It is not an agenda movie. There is an innocence to it. It presents a true Christian role model who is accountable to his values and fearless in trying to help people. Desmond broke down at one point and told me that on Hacksaw Ridge, he thought he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and was totally spent but kept asking God to help him rescue one more man.
SCH: How does this movie serve veterans and their families?
TB: It shows how there are no atheists in fox holes and how once one is in a fox hole, everything disappears and one reaches out to a higher power. Fox holes lead to “come to Jesus moments.” Desmond Doss never proselytized. He was graceful. He did what was right for God and men. He had three loves: God, his men, and his wife. His sacrifice and service and those of other military personnel should never be forgotten.
SCH: I have read that you want to create films that inspire and promote positive messages from a Creator-based perspective to the global community. What do you mean by “Creator-based”?
TB: I mean God-based. I do not want to create films that are preachy. I want them to be a bridge to better choices and an inspiration.
Terry Benedict had a personal relationship with Doss and can attest to claims that he was a man of profound courage and faith, despite criticism and persecution. The film reaches a wide audience and pays honor to the men and women who serve and sacrifice for our country. Rex Reed of the New York Observer says, it is “The best war film since Saving Private Ryan.”
Terry Benedict knew Doss personally, worked beside Director Mel Gibson, and helped actor Andrew Garfield understand the life of Desmond Doss. Mel Gibson’s highly acclaimed true story Hacksaw Ridge is available on DVD/BluRay from Lionsgate. It also features Sam Worthington (The Shack), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Teresa Palmer (The Choice), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), Rachel Griffiths (Brothers and Sisters) and Vince Vaughn (True Detective). Trailer and information are available at Hacksaw Ridge movie.
The fighting in Hacksaw Ridge took place on the Maeda Escarpment, a steep slope or long cliff that separated two relatively level areas of differing elevations, in April 1945. The battlefield was located on the top of a sheer 400-foot cliff. It was fortified with deadly Japanese machine gun nests and booby traps. The escarpment was nicknamed Hacksaw Ridge for the treacherously steep cliff. What took place here, was the key to winning the battle of Okinawa. The mission seemed near-impossible, hellish, and horrific. When Doss’s battalion was ordered to retreat, Desmond Doss the medic, who depended on God, refused to leave his fallen comrades behind.
As he faced heavy machine gun and artillery fire, he repeatedly ran alone into the kill zone, carrying wounded soldiers to the edge of the cliff and then single-handedly lowered them to safety. As he continuously saved men’s lives, Doss prayed aloud, “Lord, please help me get one more.” This incredible film with Mel Gibson’s skillful directing and with Andrew Garfield’s stunning performance as Doss, earned a 10-minute standing ovation at its Red Carpet world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September.
On October 12, 1945, President Harry S. Truman warmly held the hand of Corporal Desmond Thomas Doss, while his citation was read in the White House. Truman said, “I’m proud of you… You really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”
This movie celebrates Desmond Doss and the brave soldiers that have fought for our country. This film brings a greater level of awareness and appreciation to the sacrifice of our service members of what they truly experience in war. It inspires our honor, respect, and attention, encouraging us to never forget them This movie celebrates everyday heroes in this country and around the world who stand by their principles, their convictions, and their beliefs with the intent of contributing to the world in a peaceful and positive way.
Doss never lived to see his story on the big screen. He died in 2006, but he now lives on screen to inspire the world
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard