Hacksaw Ridge Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

“Thou Shalt Not Kill” and Other Ideas in Mel Gibson’s War Drama Hacksaw Ridge (2016) – a film based on real events, essence, meaning of the ending, similar films.

Genre: War, Drama, History

Year of production: 2016

Director: Mel Gibson

Actors: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

tagline: “Based on a true story”

Awards and nominations: In 2017, the film received 2 Oscars.

Mel Gibson is well known for his love of interesting, strong personalities. One of the most poignant works of this director is based on a true story. Hacksaw Ridge is about a man who joined the US Army during World War II. But with him, everything is not as simple as it seems: he went to the front not to kill people, but to save their lives.

What is the movie about

The plot of this drama is based on real events. The name of the protagonist is also real: Desmond Thomas Doss was born February 7, 1919 in Lynchburg, Virginia, was a pacifist and saved people in the battle for Okinawa.

Andrew GarfieldThe role of Desmond Thomas Doss was played by Andrew Garfield. Frame from the film.

Brief description of the content of the film Hacksaw Ridge. 1920, Virginia, countryside. A household scandal flares up in the Doss family, during which the older brother, Desmond, throws his fists at the younger, Hal, and almost kills him. The young man professes Christianity and belongs to the Seventh-day Adventist Church – the scandal itself and his own rage depress him. However, after this, Desmond only strengthens in his faith and firmly adheres to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”

Several years pass. Desmond delivers a wounded man to the hospital and meets a young nurse, Dorothy Shute, on the way. Sympathy arises between them and the young man admits that he is very interested in medicine.

World War II begins and Desmond watches the events anxiously. When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Doss joins the army as an orderly. His father, a veteran of the First World War, is not very happy with his son’s decision. Before leaving, Desmond becomes engaged to Dorothy, whom he has loved for a long time.

Under the command of Sergeant Howell, Doss is undergoing a young fighter course. Desmond has excellent performance, but he categorically refuses to pick up a rifle, which dooms himself to ridicule and mockery. Howell and Captain Glover, guessing that the young soldier’s strange behavior has a hidden meaning, try to help him. In particular, they intend to declare the young man unfit for military service due to a mental disorder, but the doctors do not agree with the preliminary “diagnosis”.

Sam WorthingtonSam Worthington played the role of Captain Glover. Frame from the film.

Desmond stays in the army and is subjected to real bullying, but does not break – rather, on the contrary, religious ideas only strengthen in his head. One day, colleagues lie in wait for a guy and give him a tough “debriefing” followed by a beating. Doss, knowing perfectly well who attacked him, refuses to identify them and continues his service. Tensions mount and the aggravated conflict leads Desmond to a detention cell. The fiancée and Captain Glover come to him, who tries to persuade Doss to plead guilty to insubordination – this will help to release him without charge.

Desmond stands his ground – he can’t bring himself to renounce his religious beliefs. In the end, the young man is sent to the tribunal. But they do not have time to pass a guilty verdict on him – Desmond’s father bursts into the meeting and provides the court with a letter from the brigadier general, who during the First World War was the commander of the senior Doss. The letter states that pacifism is not a crime and that Desmond’s right not to take up arms is protected by the US Constitution. After that, the charges against Desmond are dropped and he marries Dorothy.

A little later, Doss’ unit participates in the Battle of Okinawa. In the first battle, in which the Americans suffer heavy losses, one of Desmond’s pursuers, Smitty, is badly wounded. Doss saves his life and he is imbued with respect for the physician. In the evening, Doss tells Smitty about why he became a pacifist – once his father drank heavily and threatened his mother. Seeing this, the hot-tempered teenager almost shot him. Smitty apologizes for thinking Doss was a coward, and their relationship improves.

The next morning, after a massive Japanese counterattack, the Americans suffer even more casualties. Doss manages to save several soldiers, including Howell.

Hacksaw Ridge Ending explanation

Explanation of the ending of the film Hacksaw Ridge. Toward the end of the picture, Captain Glover recognizes Desmond’s right to pacifism and allows him not to participate in the decisive battle. This is unexpectedly resisted by the soldiers who managed to fall in love with Doss: convinced that some kind of power really keeps him, they are afraid to go on the attack without him.

Desmond is an Adventist, and the interpretation of the Bible by the adherents of this church is close to the Jewish one. In particular, Adventists keep the Ten Commandments sacred and honor the Sabbath. The decisive battle falls just on this day. However, Desmond unexpectedly agrees to join the battle, although he asks first to be allowed to pray for the unit. He is allowed to. Later, Doss’ unit manages to turn the tide of the battle. He himself is wounded in battle, but almost all of his colleagues remain alive.

Considering that in the final frame the viewer sees a living protagonist with a Bible in his hand, the meaning of the ending of the film Hacksaw Ridge lies on the surface. Doss did not betray his beliefs and at the same time was able to prove that not only the one who knows how to handle weapons can be a hero. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for saving 75 soldiers and lived with Dorothy until her death in 1991. Desmond Doss himself died in 2006 at the age of 87.

Teresa PalmerTeresa Palmer as Dorothy. Frame from the film.

The meaning of the film Hacksaw Ridge

What is true heroism in war? Probably, this is the question people ask when they hear about the exploits of soldiers. It would seem that what can be asked here – if we are talking about the lives of people close to you, you should, without hesitation for a second, go on the attack on the enemy … However, Mel Gibson thinks otherwise.

According to the director, he was inspired to take on the project by the personality of Desmond Doss – according to Gibson, in his case it was about “a real non-costumed superhero.” The film Hacksaw Ridge, in the center of which is the fate of a deeply religious young man, received its portion of bilious criticism. However, there should be no doubt that Gibson did not create a popular print, but a picture with a deep meaning.

Desmond Doss completely abandoned small arms in the war. The clue to his behavior is simple: the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the main ones in the Bible, and he must comply with it. Important events prompted him to do this. Thanks to the personality of the protagonist, Hacksaw Ridge cannot be attributed to typical military films in which a modest quiet man suddenly becomes a pretentious killing machine.

There is no unequivocal thesis here, the meaning of which could be reduced to “Either I am them, or they are me.” On the contrary, Desmond’s ideas are tested for strength, and he proves to his colleagues that you can be a hero without killing anyone. After all, the most important thing in war is to be able to remain human. Desmond Doss did it. Once in the thick of things, he did not abandon his principles and saved many people.

assembly in the armyFrame from the film.

You can talk as much as you like about how appropriate the thesis “Thou shalt not kill”. Gibson’s painting does not give an unambiguous answer – everyone is free to answer this question for himself. And at the same time, everyone who has his own opinion will be right in his own way.

Desmond’s unbending strength of mind is the result of his deep motivation, which was based on the psychological trauma he endured as a child. He cannot step over his vows – for him it is like death. Because that’s how he suppresses his fears and inner demons, which he knows by sight.

It is naive to believe that everything here comes down to religion, although it, of course, is of great importance. The essence of the film is to show a man of faith. And you can believe not only in a higher power, but also in yourself, in your ideals, in your own life position.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is a heavy, tragic film. When viewing the picture, one gets the feeling that very realistic (moreover, naturalistic) details “bring closer” the on-screen war. This also has a deep meaning: everyone should understand that war is not only a place for heroic deeds. This is the worst thing that can happen to the world.

Desmond's spiritFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are a few more films that are similar in meaning to the film Hacksaw Ridge:

  • All Quiet on the Western Front (Germany, USA, UK, 2022). 1917 Young Paul Bäumer, who went to the front as a volunteer, experiences all the horrors of war.
  • “Letters from Iwo Jima” (USA, 2006). The film provides a look at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
  • “Flags of Our Fathers” (USA, 2006). The film tells the story of six Marines who participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

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