Thursday, December 29, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge and The God Who Does Not Grow Weary (2)

1st post in the series is here.


Hacksaw Ridge is a war movie.

In many ways, Hacksaw Ridge is like any other war movie.  Utilizing varying degrees of action and graphic brutality, war movies explore the tension between life and death, the loss of life and innocence, the internal conflict and compromises, the darkest parts of the human heart.  There are two clearly identified sides - the good guys and the bad guys - who are trying to and succeeding in killing one another.  One side - “our” side - is portrayed as faithful, honorable and life revering.  And then there are the Japanese - the “others” - the godless, merciless, cowardly “others”.  More often than not, these guys don’t even try to duck below the cascades of bullets. They just run right into them, indifferent.  Like zombies.  Taking the “demonization of the enemy” quite literally, the enemy is characterized as “Satan himself”, a characterization with which the movie's protagonist agrees.

While the same themes are often repeated in war movies, they each tell their story through a unique and heroic protagonist who possesses a unique perspective and exists in a unique (and usually dire) set of circumstances.

My point is NOT to assess the rightness or wrongness of this characterization or circumstances, but  simply to acknowledge that the movie itself portrays things in this light.  We must see Desmond Doss, the protagonist, within this context.


Desmond Doss, as is well known, refuses to carry a weapon because he refuses to kill another human being.  He does this because of his Christian faith.  Thou shalt not kill.  Love your enemies.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Doss strives to live by these ideals even in war.

This is a problem.  A big one.  Ideas such as these are just fine, even admirable, when it comes to private piety, of course.  But are such beliefs a luxury that have no place in the “real world”?  At one point or another, this refusal to carry a weapon is a problem for virtually everyone in the movie - him, his father, his fiancee, the courts, his commanding officers, and each man in his combat unit.  All the problems - directly or indirectly - relate back to the fact that successfully waging war depends on people being willing to kill other people because they’ve become convinced that it is righteously necessary to do so.

Necessary.  There’s no church in the wild.

When all is said and done, what sort of a man refuses to pick up a gun and kill Satan himself?

Here I’m not interested in talking about pacifism, just war theory, whether Doss would be dead if his fellow American soldiers who did carry guns hadn’t first killed the Japanese soldiers that wanted to kill him, or any of that.

I’m interested in why the movie starts with a reading from Isaiah 40.

If the idea is just to explore the ethics of war using the Bible, why not read from the 10 commandments?  Why not grab a few words of Jesus about loving your neighbor?  Or that those who live by the sword will die by the sword?

Why Isaiah 40?

So let us ask these questions of Isaiah 40 once again.  Not grow faint or weary doing what?  Renew their strength to do what?  What do these words mean?


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