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Please Lord, help me get one more.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a conscientious objector (or a C.O.) as “a person who, for reasons of conscience, objects to serving in the armed forces.” So why would such a person join the US Army and end up becoming the first C.O. to be awarded a Purple Heart at the end of WWII?

hacksaw-ridge

The son of a WWI veteran (Hugo Weaving as Tom), young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was taught by his religious mother, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) that killing is the greatest sin of all. Having witnessed his family and been subjected to beatings by his father himself, Desmond swore he would never hold a gun.

When the United States joined the Allies in WWII in earnest after the attack on Pearl Harbour, young men were offering their services all over the country. Desmond knows he cannot and will not kill, but decides to leave behind his fiancee, a nurse named Dorothy, and enlist as a medic: “I don’t have to take lives. I can save lives instead.”

Upon arriving at his training camp, he is greeted by a motley crew of recruits from all different backgrounds, all determined to pass their training. Despite his gangly and demure appearance, Desmond excels at every task and impresses everyone, including Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), until they come to rifle training. Desmond’s steadfast refusal to even hold the rifle causes his fellow soldiers, especially Smitty (Luke Bracey) to turn on him and ultimately leads to a court martial for disobedience.

Landing in Okinawa, Japan, where the American forces are fighting a losing battle against the Japanese, Desmond’s platoon is sent to Hacksaw Ridge – literally the side of a mountain that can only be reached by climbing a massive cargo net. Not unlike Australia’s WWI experience in Gallipoli, the troops reach the top of the ridge, only to face unrelenting gunfire and grenade attacks from the enemy lying in wait. Many of Desmond’s brothers-in-arms think he is mad to go into battle with no weapon but he refuses to give in.

As the American Army retreats back down the Ridge, suffering severe losses, around one hundred men remain injured at the top. Desmond refuses to leave. Instead, he spends all night looking for the wounded and lowers them, one by one, back down the Ridge, all the while, praying to his beloved God. By the time his superiors realise what he has done the next day, it is estimated that he has saved 73 men from that mountain.

Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, Hacksaw Ridge is a film of epic proportions. It goes to the heart of a man whose belief in God, in humanity, in the sanctity of life, in standing up for your beliefs and rights, overcomes all obstacles. The sacrifices he made to save lives, including several Japanese soldiers, instead of taking them are truly remarkable.

Mel Gibson once again proves that he is one of the best filmmakers of his generation. It is a no-holds-barred depiction of lives before, during and after a war for those who fight and those they leave behind. The violence feels and looks so real it is hard to fathom how human beings could carry out such atrocities. The entire cast brings you along with their journey, especially the supporting cast filled with well-known Australian faces: Richard Roxburgh, Matt Nable, Ryan Corr, and Philip Quast. There is no real villain in this story – even as Desmond is being bullied by his fellow soldiers, you feel a sense of empathy and understanding of how they must feel.

This is easily one of the best films of the year, and one of the most gut-wrenching and heart-warming war movies you will ever see. I saw this film on November 11th, Remembrance Day, which made the emotions even more significant as we paused to remember those who gave their lives to serve their country, and those who continue to do so.

For an interview with director, Mel Gibson, stars Vince Vaughn and Luke Bracey, check out this AOL Build interview below. If you want to learn more about Desmond Doss, go to faithofdoss.com.

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