Don't Miss It: Hacksaw Ridge Producer Explains Why Not

Hacksaw Ridge, the much-anticipated Hollywood film starring Andrew Garfield as famous Adventist soldier Desmond Doss, comes out this weekend. In an exclusive interview with Spectrum, filmmaker Terry Benedict, who produced the film, talks about his relationship with Doss, his 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector, and why Adventists should take a trip to the cinema.

Question: Hacksaw Ridge, a Hollywood film about Adventist World War II hero and congressional medal winner Desmond T. Doss, is released in the US on November 4. Have you been pleased by the reaction to the film so far? Is there Oscar chatter?

Answer: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. And yes, I think there are people who are talking about awards. In fact, I haven’t actually seen a negative review yet. (Not to say there isn’t one out there, I just haven’t seen it.) I’ve been doing several mini preview screenings including the Q and A’s afterwards, and people are really impacted by the film.

One of the things Desmond and I really wanted to see was people leaving the theater evaluating themselves, as in: “Maybe I should look at my own lifestyle and how I am living.”

Obviously the film is intense. Mel [Gibson, who directs the film] did a terrific job of walking the middle road of balance: he gave a proper context to the story of a medic, which deals with the carnage and graphic nature of what happens on the battlefield, while also understanding and appreciating what Desmond’s heroics were all about.

You mention finding the balance between telling the story of a medic and the violence of the film. I also noticed the balance between the religious aspects of Hacksaw’s Ridge and the rest of Desmond’s story. Was there a lot of discussion about Desmond’s religion and how it should be depicted in this film?

When I was in post-production on the documentary [The Conscientious Objector], I was talking to producers and production companies around town, and one of my criteria was to find a producing partner that understood the magnitude of Desmond’s story and the essential need to keep the core of Desmond’s journey of faith, and how that played out in his training and on the battlefield. It was important to keep that intact and pure.

Bill Mechanic, who was president of Twentieth Century Fox during the Titanic and Castaway days, got it. I really felt he would do everything he could to protect the core of Desmond’s story. He really became the champion and was the primary producer over the ten-plus years of development [of The Conscientious Objector] and he was the one who got Mel [Gibson] to come on board.

Mel, being a believer and a patriot, understood the faith journey of Desmond. And being an incredible filmmaker, he was able to find that balance and proper context for the film, and I really think he achieved it.

I’m really happy, and I know Desmond would be happy with how it turned out.

How involved was Desmond in The Conscientious Objector?

Desmond was very involved in terms of participating. He had no involvement in terms of editorial control or anything like that. He trusted me to make those choices about what was important in telling his story. He was very much hands on, but he also let me be a filmmaker and tell the story the way I felt would be best.

Desmond was incredible; he became very grandfatherly to me. We had a very, very close relationship. We were able to create an environment where he and the other soldiers felt comfortable telling about things they had experienced on the battlefield but had never talked about before.

We’ve heard about that with the “greatest generation.” Those guys always kept everything stuffed inside. But the men we talked to were able to let it out. They knew their sands of time in the hourglass were running out, so they let their story out, and their families benefitted greatly as a result.

Their families had never known what their grandfathers, brothers, and uncles went through. This was a real side benefit to the film.

Why did you feel there needed to be another film in addition to the documentary The Conscientious Objector?

That’s a good question. Documentaries obviously, in terms of distribution, don’t see as wide an audience, unfortunately. Having said that, The Conscientious Objector is about to get rediscovered on the tails of Hacksaw.

I felt that a dramatized narrative would be worthwhile in the sense of helping people understand and feel and get a taste of what that experience must have been like. And again, that’s why I was very happy when Mel came on board.

In fact, we’ve had the military community present at almost all of the preview screenings. They come away very moved, saying that it’s the most accurate depiction of what happens on a battlefield that they have seen. They are very supportive of the film.

Last week, at Gary Sinise’s Sky Ball event for the veterans that he puts on every year, we screened Hacksaw and everybody fell in love with the story. The generals I spoke to had been in the service long enough that they had heard of Desmond — some of them had even met Desmond — and so they couldn’t have been happier about how his story was depicted.

How did you become so interested in Desmond’s story?

That goes back to when I was ten years old. I read books – a lot of books. I needed something to do because my parents wouldn’t buy a TV until I was 12, I think it was. They just felt it wasn’t a necessary thing in the house. I had to do something, so I read a lot. And like a lot of boys, I was attracted to war stories and heroes, and so I read a lot about World War II. Then I came across this book called The Unlikeliest Hero, which was the story of Desmond Doss.

It was unlike any other story I had ever read: a guy who stood up for his faith in face of great obstacles in the military. All he wanted to do was be a combat medic and they abused and harassed him for two-and-a-half years. Then, he saved many of them who were injured and wounded up on this cliff and couldn’t get down on their own power. He saved 75 of them — lowered them down on a rope. They recommended him for the Medal of Honor. He was the first conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

As a kid I was very impressed, trying to wrap my brain around how he did that, and the magnitude of him standing up for his faith. The fact that he wouldn’t work on the Sabbath and yet found ways to still be a benefit in serving his community had a big impact on me. It helped form parts of my moral compass and how I wanted to live my life.

I came to meet Desmond a couple of years later at a church summer camp. He really loved talking to youth and sharing his story. And then, when I met him again in the late 1990s and talked to him, it was just like when I first met him when I was 12. He was that same loving, unassuming, humble individual. I sought his advice on many occasions; he was a very wise man.

He didn’t want his story told. He was too afraid that he would be glorified, and he wanted that honor to go to God. He was afraid that his character might be compromised, so I made him a promise that I would do everything I could to preserve and protect the essence of his character. I promised him that: “I’ll answer to God first, you second, and everyone else can get in line.” He laughed and he said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

What do you hope that people take away from Hacksaw Ridge?

That’s something that Desmond and I actually talked about at one point when I was explaining the importance of the universal themes of his story. One of those universal themes is that there is always an opportunity to serve your community and your fellow man — or God and country.

Maybe the military community has taken notice of Desmond’s journey and understands better now how diversity can work to their advantage.

Certainly we should all come away being inspired.

In the faith-based community Desmond epitomized what it is to be a Christian and to be Christ-like. That makes Christians feel uncomfortable at times, but that’s the definition of a Christian: to be Christ-like; to demonstrate the actions the ultimate role model for Christians: Jesus Christ.

Desmond was not an evangelist; he did not try to win people over to his way of thinking. He simply was impressed by God not to kill and he translated that into not carrying a weapon. But he didn’t go around saying, “Hey Buddy, you shouldn’t do that either!”

He actually said, “Listen, I support the war’s purpose and I understand and respect that others have been convicted to carry and weapon and to take life.” (There are plenty of examples of that in the Old Testament, obviously.)

I thought I was going to have a theological discussion with Desmond about that at the end of the documentary, but that’s what he simply said in 60 seconds. He said, “That’s how I believe,” and that was it.

A lot of our readers are Seventh-day Adventist or come from a Seventh-day Adventist background, like Desmond. What would you say to our readers who are thinking about seeing the movie, but are not quite sure about watching it?

First of all, I am taking my fourteen-year-old daughter and sixteen-year-old son to see the movie. They knew Desmond as little toddlers. When Desmond passed away my son was six and my daughter was four, and they still remember him. That’s how important he was.

If the question is about going to an R-rated film: there is nothing gratuitous in this film. The R rating is there because of the graphic nature of war. Mel did a nice job of keeping the violence in the proper context of the heroics of Desmond. It’s all organically motivated.

My personal feeling is that we tend to live in a sterilized world where we don’t always understand things beyond our own experiences. There is a disconnect today where we probably don’t know what do our military men and women go through in serving.

I do think that this is an epic cinematic experience that would be worth going to see in a theater. You don’t get the same experience at home. But that said, I think it’s an important film to see, even if you wait for it to come out on streaming or pay-per-view.

Adventists should know that this film, in very clear terms, points out that Desmond was a man of faith as part of his Seventh-day Adventist church and that he lived his faith every day. I would encourage Adventists to go see it because they can see how Desmond did this, and what he had to go through in doing it.

Whether you are an Adventist or not, I think you will come out of the theater with a tremendous appreciation for who Desmond Doss was, what he went through, and what he believed in.

But I would think Adventists especially would want to see this film to be able to talk about it. People are going to ask Adventists: “What did you think about the film? What do you think about Desmond’s story?”

How are Adventists going to talk about it if they haven’t seen it?

Rachel Logan attended a preview screening of Hacksaw Ridge in Los Angeles.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7729

“Mel did a nice job of keeping the violence in the proper context of the heroics of Desmond. It’s all organically motivated.”

That is not how the public movie reviewers reported this movie. From the NY Times:

" in graphic and gruesome detail. Mr. Gibson’s appetite for gore is without equal in modern Hollywood. Maybe that’s saying a lot, or maybe it goes without saying, but the man is an aficionado — a connoisseur, an epicure, a gourmand — of exploding heads, shattered limbs and burst abdomens."

I well remember WWII and his story told and re told by the church for his obedience to conscience, but the violent scenes are permanently set in human memories of both the old and young. What will young people most remember: his bravery under fire or the horrible scenes burned in their psyche? Psychologists must answer. There are millions who rush to view a horrible explosion, fire and auto accidents, they will be some of the audience, not me.

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I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this.

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My first introduction to Desmond was through a book about him.
Then in the late 50’s I actually met him when a student in academy and he came a number of times from his home in Rising Fawn, GA [other side of Lookout Mtn, TN] and had Sabbath services.
And when an adult had the pleasure of socializing with him on quite a few occasions.
He was a very humble person. One could sense that during his lifetime he was just Desmond. Being Just Desmond.
I’m sure that for anyone trying to portray Desmond, it would be a very difficult role.
There on that day he won his Medal, for him it was just another day. Having devotions in the morning.
Regarding World War II. The War stopped while Desmond had his devotions. His Commander and his fellow soldiers all stopped and waited while Desmond met with his God.
When he finished, World War II resumed.

In the little church school where Desmond attended, funds were low. The teacher desired the students to learn knot tying. Desmond had to share a piece of rope. He got the middle. So his knot was 2-stranded. During the battle that day he used that 2-stranded knot he learned in grade school to let those 70+ men down over that cliff to safety. Doing so with bullets whizzing all around them.
Desmond was hit by a bullet. When on a litter, he saw a soldier wounded. He told the men to drop him off, pick up the other soldier, as he was more severely injured.
That was Desmond.
Some years later, Desmond was diagnosed with TB. Treatment was limited back in those days. He required part of a lung removal. Desmond was active, but this reduced his activity level some.
He was always an active member and supporter of his little church at Rising Fawn.
I count it a real honor to have met Desmond in a book, and then to have had the honor of knowing him in person.

The SDA church at one time had a Medical Cadet Corps training camp at Grand Ledge, MI. Would conduct it every year for near draft, and draft eligible guys. It was a great program.
It is my understanding that Desmond would attend every year. It must have been an inspiration to those who attended.

We musn’t forget another person who was SDA. His name was Keith. Sorry I cant remember his last name. A book was written about him also. He was in another part of the West Pacific war theatre. Just happened to recall reading it a long time ago.

Our Solomon Island Adventist members rescued John Kennedy.

EDIT-- The Sufferings of Christ.
Excuse Me!!! But he is the ONLY Director I have seen who has EVER been willing [had the guts] to show what Jesus looked liked during the Trial, Flogging, and Execution. It wasnt pretty.
Most film productions and paintings clean it up a WHOLE LOT!

War is NOT pretty. A lot of blood and guts, blown off heads, blown off arms and legs, gaping holes in the abdomen and chest. Broken bones, twisted limbs.
Again, most directors dont go all the way with war scenes. Are usually told that they are too graphic, too real, and we DONT Want to Offend Anyone.

Edit-- Joe Weidner. Back in 1967 when I was stationed in Memphis, one of the members knew Joe. When he was in the States he was invited to make a presentation at the church. He was a great man, a humble man. Had a harrowing story to tell regarding resistance to Evil, and what it cost to resist Evil. For one, his sister ended up being carted off to a concentration camp not to be seen again. He had to remain isolated from eveyone to protect his friends. Did Sabbaths alone on a park bench. He was an excellent ski-er and that saved his life many times when going between France and Switz. He saved many lives.
He was honored in Israel.
I used to have a signed copy of his large book. The one that came out later was a smaller, abridged edition of his original one. I preferred the original story.

EDIT 11/7— At the Library I noticed they used the Iwo Jima photo for saying closed Nov 11.
When I was in church school, 6th grade, our teacher had to go to Washington D.C. for a few days.
When the Iwo Jima memorial was unveiled she was part of the elite group there for the unveiling.
Her BROTHER, an SDA medic was in the Picture that was taken about the raising of the American Flag on Iwo Jima. I believe he was shot and killed later in the war. But one of those figures in the picture and in the memorial castings was an SDA Medic.

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Just saw the movie last night, and it was EXCELLENT.
How deep are our principales and values is the big question that came to me after watching the movie.

Movies will Forever be a great way to minister and evangelize (no matter what others may say). If we want Jesus to come back soon, we need to use all the means possible.

The move to an ‘all volunteer’ force in the USA has apparently all but dropped the ‘conscientious objector’ - no longer are there liaisons and advisers that were so common in youth departments in the 60’s and 70’s - driving a remarkable shift in the formerly pacifist attitudes born out of SDA origins during the US Civil War and continuing through Vietnam.

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John Weidner (Flee the Captor) in Europe

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Right. The “all volunteer” army now has no need for conscientious objector status, since everyone who serves has volunteered for the job. Too bad.

I knew Desmond Doss years ago when he came to Takoma Park after his military service. He was one of the teachers in my Junior Sabbath school department of Sligo church. He was very shy and retiring.

This is a story which needed to be told, but it’s being told by a bloodthirsty producer, who also produced “The Sufferings of Christ” a few years ago. His overpowering emphasis on blood and torture makes it unappealing to me. I saw the trailer of Hacksaw Ridge and that was enough for me; I can’t handle so much blood and gore. I do admire Desmond Doss, but don’t care to be served up a meal of bodies being blown to bits.

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I think I need to “buck up” a bit and rejoin the visual entertainment world. I have not been to the movies in years. Not much of substance in my opinion in the Hollywood same ol’, same ol’. But Hacksaw Ridge is a must see for me mainly because it is based on the life story of an Adventist war hero and I want to see how Doss’ life is depicted. He was a very courageous man , but I would never encourage a son of mine to adopt his pacifist stance when faced with a war of survival , or any national war for that matter.Other than that I support self-defense but not the initiating of aggression.

Here is how an Adventist can talk to others without seeing the movie. The article is a great Bible based movie review of Hacksaw Ridge by an Iraq war veteran. http://www.fulcrum7.com/blog/2016/11/4/hacksaw-ridge-a-review-by-an-iraq-war-veteran#comment-2986138595

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If plugged in movie reviews, a mainstream Christan movie reviewer, can only give this movie one and a half plugs, I don’t see how this is a “must” see for anyone. I especially don’t see how faithful Adventist could even think this is a movie to go see. I’m saddened by @intrinsa saying that after abstaining from movies, he/she needs to “buck up” and see this one just because it features the story of an Adventist.
I do believe a should be prepared to answer questions about this story. We can give better answers by reading the testimony or seeing the actual documentary that Desmond Doss was part of. I do not believe we have to watch this violence in order to be able to talk with those who have seen it.
I was hopeful for this movie until seeing previews and reading the world’s reviews on it. Yes they are positive, but most seem thrilled by the grapic scenes rather than the spiritual lesson. Many even go as far as to encourage viewers to look beyond the Christianity and throw it to the side.
Yes, it could have been depicted even more violent and graphic, but if you would not gladly bring your small children or Jesus with you to watch this movie, then why is it good for your eyes? We are called to be separate from the world. We do not need to seer these images into our minds. It is not entertainment, and I will gladly put my time and money to a better use.
Hopefully, as a church, we can seize the opportunity this movie provides. Hand out free literature about Desmond Doss, talk to those who have seen it and answer the questions they may have. But no, you don’t have to watch it to connect with those who have.

Do you mean the military generals did not offer Desmond “a year of grace” whereby he can reflect on his spiritual convictions, repent and then decide to carry a firearm even against his better judgment?

My, oh My! This is just too radical of an idea.

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I am looking forward to seeing this movie. I live in Europe and the showing starts much later. I get a lump in my throat by just seeing the trailers! I am so glad a movie about an SDA hero has come out this year. After Ben Carson being in the spotlight, we need good publicity.

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I remember reading the Booten Herndon book when I was a kid and thinking that it would make a great movie. Well here it is, and it’s just every bit as good as what I hoped for. I saw the movie this afternoon. Some in the audience were crying toward the end, as well as myself. The movie unfolds the story in such a way that Doss’s noble character is clearly portrayed. It was very inspiring. I would recommend this movie to anyone who loves the witness of Desmond Doss. But do be aware that this is a graphic portrayal of one of the most vicious battles in the Pacific. But if you can manage to stick it out to the end you will be rewarded with with feelings of pride, gratitude, and awe at what God can do through a single individual who puts his or her trust completely in God’s hands and remains unswerving to their convictions.

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I went and saw the movie this afternoon. It is an excellent story of gallantry of Desmond Doss above and beyond the call of duty. However I could have done without the extreme graphics of blood, guts and gore that Mel Gibson is famous for in his movies. The old world war 2 movies of yesteryear got as good a message across without all the gore. A boy about 12 years old sat next to me with his father. I wondered what kind of impression the movie was making on him. It definately ranks its “R” rating. I wouldn’t reccomend taking your kids to see it.

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My wife and I saw the film yesterday. The movie is very well made - one of the best films that I have seen. Yes, the battle scenes show the horrors of war in a level of detail that at times caused me to close or de-focus my eyes. Rather than detracting from the central theme of the movie, I think the realistic images of battle were important to emphasize the depth of the sacrifice and God-inspired heroism that Doss demonstrated. We left the theatre realizing how effectively God can use us if we uphold His principles despite pressure to do otherwise.

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I went to see the movie twice. Once with my non-Adventist neighbors and a second time to give out the book “Hacksaw Ridge” (put out by Amazing Facts). I hadn’t been to the movies in over 30 years but I felt that this was an opportunity to engage people in a conversation about God’s truth in an environment that one rarely has the opportunity to do so. I talked with several people at both showings (some of whom had fought battles in war) and they told me how much the movie impacted them. To see someone stand up for their religious convictions in spite of being harassed and threatened to do otherwise was a real witness to them. Several thanked me for the book. After hearing how the movie was a testimony about God’s truth to those who had seen it and how I was able to give those who did see it additional information pertaining to that truth, there was no doubt in my mind that God wanted me to go see it to connect with the people that saw it. And that was the primary reason why I went. It wasn’t so much for me, but it was for them.

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