Below are some thoughts that one of my students in my class sent me (unsolicited by the way! Aren’t those the best?!) on Hacksaw Ridge. They were so interesting, I thought you should read them!
November 26, 2016
Hacksaw Ridge thoughts
Last night we went to Hacksaw Ridge, a movie about a combat medic who was a conscientious objector in WWII.
My main issue with the film is the aggressive “Othering” of the Japanese. I understand that, for the story line of the noble hero overcoming evil, the other side must personify evil… but I’m not convinced that that is entirely helpful.
Part of the importance of going to see the film was working to close the military-civilian gap. The soldiers in the film clearly hated the “Japs;” but in what seems like a vain effort to balance out the hate the film-makers included a scene where our hero gives a Japanese soldier a bandage, who in return does not give away their position. However, two scenes ultimately other the Japanese irrevocably: the hero’s nightmare when they sneak up on and kill he and his Battle; the other right before the Japanese surrender. The music alone sounds as if the battle is as inconsequential as a high school football game. It is victorious and triumphant, lacking any dissonant notes to highlight the actual horror of the battle. No longer a desperate few on an impossible ridge, the American soldiers are now a righteous force on a crusade against Evil—squashing the Evil (Japanese soldiers) right and left with ease.
The only reason for this turnaround being that God has sided with the Americans for the Sabbath-day prayers and heroic/miraculous actions of the medic. To reinforce the spirituality of the defeat, the Japanese commander is shown committing ritual suicide—having failed his ancestors (or did his spirituality lose to the American god?).
But if the point of going to see this film was to close the military-civilian gap, then I think we failed. On the one hand, maybe it is just helpful to go see blood and gore and machine gun fire; to be made to hate the enemy as the soldiers might—to have our own switches flipped.
On the other, is it ever helpful to learn to hate an enemy? I would argue no, on the “appeal to authority” Star Wars argument: fear leads to anger, anger to hate, and hate to suffering. The cycle is apparent in our history which is punctuated by times of fear, Othering, hate, and finally war. This film unabashedly depicts a battle between Good and Evil with countless subversive messages (“Japs” and rats both use tunnels and are sneaky. Rats also feed on the dead and are the objects of blatant disgust.)
Perhaps learning to hate and fear an enemy—to flip a switch—can narrow the gap. I don’t know. However, I hope that the answer to healing for our soldiers and our society is closer to acknowledgment and forgiveness than that.