As someone with a rich Anabaptist heritage, the story behind director Mel Gibson’s recent film, Hacksaw Ridge, greatly intrigued me. Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, a WWII veteran that participated in the action in Okinawa in the Pacific theater of war, 1945. What set Doss apart was his unbreakable affinity to nonviolence as a Seventh-Day Adventist. The film portrays Doss’ participation as a combat medic at Okinawa which earned him the first Medal of Honor award ever given to a conscientious objector.
For all his concentration on nonviolence, something which I believe is wholly biblical, Gibson spends an incredible amount of time crafting nauseatingly pornographic scenes of violence. In effect, he ennobles what he seeks to protest. But perhaps this was Gibson’s point. It’s only in the truly macabre display of bloodshed that Doss’ nonviolence is given a piercing contrast.
While there’s much good to affirm in Gibson’s portrayal of Doss’ Christian beliefs, the final result falls short of a truly nonviolent message. Doss’ convictions stem from a fascination with the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), a passage only understood in the context of Gen. 1:26-27. At one point, Doss does allude to Matt. 5:21-26, implying a rudimentary understanding of the New Covenant. But unfortunately, Jesus as the slain Lamb of God who conquered by being conquered is seemingly absent from Doss’ worldview, leaving Gibson’s message caged in the Old Testament devoid of the power of the resurrection—victory in defeat. Gibson’s film, while poignant, is grossly incomplete.
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