For his first visit to the director’s chair in a decade, Mel Gibson chose a story that was close to his heart. Hacksaw Ridge follows the incredible true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector (due to his Seventh Day Adventist beliefs) who became a hero in the Pacific theater of World War II during the bloodiest of campaigns for U.S. forces.
Without ever picking up a riffle, Doss stayed on the front lines of the titular battlefield during the Battle of Okinawa as his comrades retreated to the beach for safety. One-by-one, the medic rescued injured soldiers and lowered them down the ridge to medical attention. It was a selfless and heroic feat that saved dozens and dozens of lives. He was one of three conscientious objectors in history to receive the Medal of Honor and when Gibson dove into Doss’ tale, he discovered that was not simply a story of heroism.
Gibson considers Hacksaw Ridge, in fact, to be one of love and faith in something larger than ourselves.
“I see stories like this with a guy like Desmond whose faith is unshakeable and I’m inspired by them. Maybe I could take a leaf out of his book on some level. It’s not about religion so much as it’s about faith and conviction and standing by your beliefs and pure love which is at the heart of God,” Gibson said.
“It highlights what it means for a man with conviction and faith to go into a situation that is a hell on earth — that reduces most men to the level of animals. The Japanese described it as a ‘steel rain of bullets and explosions.’ In the midst of that maelstrom, this man is able to hone his spirituality into something higher — above war, above religion, above everything. He goes in and performs acts of love in the midst of hell, which is the beauty of the story and it’s the pinnacle of heroism.”
Many a director have placed themselves in their movies in simple cameos, many like Quentin Tarantino and Alfred Hitchcock, are known for the “Where’s Waldo?” like fervor fans try to find their image in their films. For Gibson, he never wanted to be in Hacksaw Ridge, but if you look closely… he has his onscreen moment!
“I was in it… My shadow is in it. Also, my arm is in it,” Gibson admitted. I said, ‘Hugo (Weaving, who plays Doss’ father), come do this film.’ And he said, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then, he changed his mind, and I’m like, ‘Oh no.’ The scheduling was such that he couldn’t do the scene in the courtroom. So, I did it… my hand and my shadow! We green screened him in later. We had to green screen him in because he wasn’t actually there!”
The Movie Mensch asked Gibson at the press day how filming those battle scenes in his Oscar winning Braveheart compared to Hacksaw Ridge and if the latter helped him with the former. “Sometimes you get it in the hand-to-hand stuff, [with Hacksaw Ridge], but Medieval conflict is different. You’re hitting each other with blunt objects in close-ups,” Gibson said.
“This had bombs and bullets. It’s a different thing, and the degree of difficulty goes way up, believe me. I had about 25-percent less than the budget of Braveheart and half the time. That’s 20 years ago. The nature and the character of making films is different now. This is an independent film. It was 59 days, which is a killer. We ended up squeezing another couple days out of it, like maybe 60 or 61. It looks pretty good for what we made it for. About $40 million is what it ended up being. It looks like $100 million to me.”
When audiences leave Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson hopes that they all have a similar response. “Real superheroes don’t wear spandex tights,” Gibson said. “What Desmond shows and what I find the most inspiring is he managed to transcend and get above the war.”
What Doss achieved with his selfless act in the midst of bloody horror that one would hope no man or woman would have to witness, is something that sadly, will repeat itself. “We’ve always had it. We always will have it. He’s just gone way above it in the midst of it and shown us another way to love. It’s a love story and that’s a vital message now,” Gibson said.
The helmer believes that the people of this planet need this film now more than ever. “The world is in a pretty bad way. It’s been this bad before. It’s going to get that bad again. We seem to learn our lessons. It stings like a bitch. We behave for 20 or 30 years and then we’re back at it again. It’s like history regurgitates itself. This is hopefully a little word or a reminder about that and a little look at the brutality and the viciousness of it. I want you to feel appalled by it. But I want to accentuate the other side of it, too, and in the midst of it, some good can be extracted.”