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goodness, that purity, that guilelessness and childlikeness,” Garfield says of playing Doss. “It’s hard to hang around with him because I would disappoint myself when the day was over. I would fall back into my own flawed nature, my own jealousies and insecurities, my own irritations that just weren’t present as I was inhabiting Desmond.” Gibson, too, finds the example of Doss a challenge to live up to. “I look at a guy like this and think, ‘I don’t know that I have that much faith.’ I don’t think I’m going into a battlefield with no weapon, repeatedly crawling into enemy fire to save my fellow man,” Gibson says. “I look at the faith and convictions of Desmond Doss and I’m inspired by it. I doubt that I could do it.” The seemingly unattainable level of faith exemplified by Doss is not a reason to write off the story as unrelatable or inauthentic, however. On the contrary, both Garfield and Gibson see the “superhuman” faith of Doss as an important message of hope for a cynical and broken world. “We need these examples, these stories, these inspirations,” Gibson says. “[The story] makes us better because we realize it’s possible. It’s possible to stand by your convictions. It’s possible to have that kind of courage and that kind of faith. It’s possible to keep your equilibrium and principles and adhere to the higher aspect of your calling in the midst of a situation that turns most men into animals.”

BROKEN BODIES AND BROKEN MEN By war film standards, and even by Gibson’s own standards of cinematic violence (see Braveheart, The Patriot, Apocalypto, etc.), Hacksaw Ridge is a bloodbath. Its name, which sounds like it could be the title of an Eli Roth torture film, refers to a pivotal ridge at Okinawa, where U.S. infantrymen endured a relentless barrage of “steel rain” from a well-positioned Japanese army in April and May 1945. Though at times they veer into Tarantino-levels of gore, Gibson’s battle scenes are among the best in cinema since the opening sequence of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan redefined the genre. The film’s brutal violence has provoked some critics to


Gibson directing Vince Vaughn on the set of Hacksaw Ridge

note a possible incongruity, however, in a film about pacifism that so revels in blowing off limbs and hacking off heads. But Gibson defends the violence as a crucial means to understand the level of Doss’s sacrifice, courage and convictions. “I think you have to understand the ferocity of war, even as an audience member to be a little bit in the foxhole, to have your breath taken away by the hell of war,” he says. “War has to be hell. Otherwise the sacrifice and the courage and the mammoth faith of this man doesn’t come through. You have to see what he was up against.” Gibson said he’s shown Hacksaw Ridge to veterans, including disabled veterans and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, who all found the depiction frightfully accurate. Gibson even cast a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan in a small role as a maimed soldier. “I was very gratified that so many [veterans] we have shown it to, to the man I think, found it very cathartic but also therapeutic,” he says. It’s likely that Gibson himself, war-torn in another sense, found making Hacksaw Ridge cathartic and therapeutic. The world hasn’t seen or heard much from Gibson in the last decade, since around the time of his last film as a director, Apocalypto (2006). The actor-director’s infamous fall from grace included a DUI arrest in Malibu, a divorce from his wife of 26 years, a troubled short-term relationship with Oksana Grigorieva, allegations of domestic violence, struggles with anger and alcoholism, rehab, anti-Semitic rants and more. Gibson became persona non grata in Hollywood. There were calls to boycott his films. He was dropped by his

agency. It was uncertain whether Gibson, who won the best director and best picture Oscar for Braveheart in 1996, would ever work in Hollywood again. And yet nearly 12 years after he hit another career high—and became a darling of religious communities the world over— with The Passion of the Christ in 2004, Gibson is on a path of redemption. This summer he received critical praise for his impressive turn in Blood Father, an underseen but provocative film in which Gibson plays a version of himself (father, recovering alcoholic, man of faith, Mad Max). He’ll soon star alongside Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson in The Barbary Coast, a TV series about the California Gold Rush, and then alongside Sean Penn in an adaptation of Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson is even talking about a sequel to The Passion that would focus on the resurrection of Christ and events after and before. But Hacksaw Ridge is the true announcement of Gibson’s return. The film received a 10-minute standing ovation when it premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, and there is ample critical and awards buzz surrounding the film. Now 60, Gibson is as blunt and surly as ever (in recent interviews he ranted about Hollywood big budget superhero films, calling Batman v. Superman “a piece of sh-”), but like many artists he channels personal flaws into ambitious craft. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman describes Hacksaw Ridge as “conceived and presented as an act of atonement,” which seems

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RELEVANT-Issue 84- November/December 2016  
RELEVANT-Issue 84- November/December 2016