Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 2016 movie Hacksaw Ridge

Topics is a course at Southport High School, taught by Kevin Sanders, that analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens. This week, student Evan Scott reviews the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge.

By Evan Scott

The legendary story of Desmond Doss is nothing short of unbelievable. In fact, the film Hacksaw Ridge chose to leave out parts of his story because they are nearly impossible to believe. The film has powerful storytelling that fully captivates the audience and captures the heroism of Doss. However, the film is not historically accurate.

Unfortunately, like most films, Hacksaw Ridge is “Hollywooded” and there are times when events don’t line up with the true historical events. For example, the film leaves out the fact that with his platoon Doss served first at Guam, then at Leyte in the Philippines, and finally partook in the Allied invasion of Okinawa. The film never mentions these first battles and portrays Hacksaw Ridge as Doss’s first battle when in fact he’s experienced war before this. The film is meant to focus on Doss and his actions at Hacksaw Ridge but fails to mention these other battles that paint Doss as a different soldier. Doss wasn’t new to the battlefield. However, the choice to not present those first battles helps present Doss as a bigger and greater hero. Portraying Hacksaw Ridge as his first battle makes Doss look extremely calm and collected. Then he goes on to save so many people which leaves the viewer awestruck.

Another major part of the film that was changed was Doss’s torment from other soldiers and officers. The fact that Doss is able to overcome these challenges in the film and still continues to fight for his beliefs truly builds his character into the legendary hero he is known as. Unsurprisingly, these events in the film are dramatized. In the film, Doss was awakened one night by his bunkmates throwing him out of bed and then beating him. Doss is bloodied and bruised.

However, according to records there is no evidence of this ever occurring. Doss would have shoes and tools thrown at him but nothing to the point of what is shown. While something like this is smaller than an actual beating, it shows his willpower. Doss is able to shrug off being beaten for his beliefs. He continues to follow them and even forgives his attackers. Now when it becomes overly dramatic the events take away from the true story and even undermines the true events. It makes them seem less impactful than they really were. Now there is some power in showing Doss beaten up by the ones he is supposed to trust and protect. Doss needs these men to protect him while he is out saving lives; how is it that he can trust them when he is beaten by them? Doss is able to move past the event and continues to collaborate with his attackers. The dramatized events once again show this real-life saint.

Doss and his platoon reach the Hacksaw Ridge and start their assault. They make progress in pushing the Japanese back but get counter attacked. Many Allied soldiers fall. It is estimated that Doss saved over 70 soldiers who otherwise would have been left for dead and forgotten. This is accurately portrayed in the film. He dragged them to the edge of the cliff and attempted to lower them down the ridge. An interesting event that was not mentioned in the film was a time where Doss was lowering a soldier down, and a Japanese soldier had him in his sights. However, every time the Japanese soldier tried to fire his gun would jam. This event was nothing short of extraordinary. The scene of Doss rescuing so many people is dramatized but it actually happened.

The film Hacksaw Ridge is historically inaccurate in the Hollywood details added to the story but also by the shockingly true details that the film doesn’t include. The fact that there are real events that had to be removed just shows how great Doss’s story truly is. At one point during the final assault of the Ridge, Doss is hit by a grenade and ends up with shrapnel in him.

As they were carrying him, he saw a guy on the ground badly wounded. Desmond rolled off the stretcher and crawled over to patch the man up. Doss is once again doing the unthinkable and making his story even more unbelievable. While having good historical accuracy Hacksaw Ridge is lacking when it comes to telling the full unbelievable story of Desmond Doss. The film leaves events out that are needed to tell the whole story. However, the film does a spectacular job in portraying Doss as a hero. With the powerful storytelling the film does it would be impossible to see Doss as anything other than a real superhero.