I had my eyes covered for a good deal of the second half of the movie Hacksaw Ridge as the camera documented the devastation of war in the most graphic and grotesque way. If director Mel Gibson thought we needed to be convinced about just how horrific war can be, he did a good job. As we follow the life of the main character Desmond Doss, a World War II army medic and conscientious objector who refuses to bear arms, Gibson shows us the heartbreak war can cause not only for the soldiers who are wounded but also for their families. One of the reasons Desmond becomes a pacifist is because he witnesses so much violence in his own home after his father returns from World War I suffering from a severe case of PTSD.
I think Hacksaw Ridge is supposed to be a feel good inspirational movie, documenting the true story of a man who saved 75 of his fellow injured soldiers during the World War II Battle of Okinawa. Doss was the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. But a couple of things about the movie troubled me.
First of all the Japanese were portrayed as nameless villains called nips, a term that is an ethnic slur. Although Doss also rescues several Japanese soldiers during the battle we are told in a kind of wink of the eye reference that ‘none of them made it’ when a commanding officer asks about their ultimate fate. At a time when many ethnic groups including Asians are becoming the target of racist comments I was troubled by this stereotypical portrayal of the Japanese. One need only visit Hiroshima or talk to the children of Japanese detention camp survivors to see how devastating the war was for Japanese families as well.
Secondly I can’t distance the film from Mel Gibson’s personal life and career. He has been accused of anti Semitism in his film making, and of racism and domestic violence in his marriage relationships. Of course I know you can’t always separate the artist from their art, but at this particular time in history when the American president-elect has made racist, misogynist comments and yet people were able to separate themselves from that by still choosing to vote for him… I have to question the wisdom of separating people’s current careers from their past actions and words.
I’m left wondering if I should have gone to see Hacksaw Ridge. It’s not as if I needed something else to keep me awake at night!
Other posts about movies….
Post about Japanese Detention Camps…….