Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 biographical war drama film directed by Mel Gibson and written by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan, based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector. The film focuses on the World War II experiences of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic who was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, refusing to carry or use a firearm or weapons of any kind. Doss became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, for service above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Okinawa. Andrew Garfield stars as Doss, with Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles.
As a young boy, Desmond Doss nearly kills his younger brother Hal. This experience and his Seventh-day Adventist upbringing reinforce Desmond’s belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. Years later, Doss takes an injured man to the hospital and meets a nurse, Dorothy Schutte. The two begin a relationship and Doss tells Dorothy of his interest in medical work.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Doss is motivated to enlist in the Army and intends to serve as a combat medic. His father Tom, a troubled World War I veteran, is deeply upset by the decision. Before leaving for Fort Jackson, he asks for Dorothy’s hand in marriage and she accepts.
Doss is placed under the command of Sergeant Howell. He excels physically but becomes an outcast among his fellow soldiers for refusing to handle a rifle and train on Saturdays. Howell and Captain Glover attempt to discharge Doss for psychiatric reasons but are overruled, as Doss’ religious beliefs do not constitute mental illness. They subsequently torment Doss by putting him through grueling labor, intending to get Doss to leave of his own accord. Despite being beaten one night by his fellow soldiers, he refuses to identify his attackers and continues training.
Doss’ unit completes basic training and is released on leave, during which Doss intends to marry Dorothy, but his refusal to carry a firearm leads to an arrest for insubordination. Captain Glover and Dorothy visit Doss in jail and try to convince him to plead guilty so that he can be released without charge but Doss refuses to compromise his beliefs. At his trial, Doss pleads not guilty, but before he is sentenced, his father barges into the tribunal with a letter from a former commanding officer stating that his son’s pacifism is protected by an Act of Congress. The charges against Doss are dropped, and he and Dorothy are married.
Doss’ unit is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division and deployed to the Pacific theater. During the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit is informed that they are to relieve the 96th Infantry Division, which was tasked with ascending and securing the Maeda Escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”). In the initial fight, both sides sustain heavy losses, and Doss successfully saves several soldiers, including those with severe injuries. The Americans camp for the night, which Doss spends in a foxhole with Smitty, a squadmate who was the first to call Doss a coward. Doss reveals that his aversion to holding a firearm stems from nearly shooting his drunken father, who threatened his mother with a gun. Smitty apologizes for doubting his courage and the two make amends.
The next morning, the Japanese launch a massive counterattack and drive the Americans off the escarpment. Smitty is killed, while Howell and several of Doss’ squad mates are left injured on the battlefield. Doss hears the cries of dying soldiers and decides to run back into the carnage while his comrades retreat. He starts carrying wounded soldiers to the cliff’s edge and belaying them down by rope, each time praying to save one more. The arrival of dozens of wounded once presumed dead comes as a shock to the rest of the unit below. When day breaks, Doss rescues Howell and the two finally escape Hacksaw Ridge under enemy fire.
Captain Glover tells Doss that the men have been inspired by his miraculous efforts, and that they will not launch the next attack without him. Despite the next day being the Sabbath day, he joins his fellow soldiers after finishing his prayers. With reinforcements, they turn the tide of battle. During an ambush set by Japanese soldiers feigning surrender, Doss manages to save Glover and others by knocking away enemy grenades. Doss is eventually wounded by a grenade blast, but the battle is won. Doss descends the cliff, clutching the Bible Dorothy gave him.
The film switches to archival photos and footage showing that Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman for rescuing 75 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge. Doss stayed married to Dorothy until her death in 1991. He died on March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.