Hacksaw Ridge: Gibson’s Pacifist War Drama, Starring Andrew Garfield

When a reporter at the Venice Film Fest asked Mel Gibson, the director of Hacksaw Ridge, his WWII drama, to describe in one word his relationship with Hollywood? the controversial star answered with one simple word, “survival.”

The film has its gala screening at the Venice Film Fest on Sunday night, marking Gibson’s return to the director’s chair after a decade (since the widely acclaimed Apocalypto), during which he was the center of tabloid scandals.

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The same journalist went further, asking Gibson if he thought he was better, both as an actor and a director, when he was younger.

Gibson, who’s 60, shot back: “I suppose when I was young I was better at playing someone younger!” Then he added, reflecting on his career, “I think, generally speaking, I’ve developed an ease with time.”

Relaxation: Key to Any Skill

Gibson said that “the key to any skill is relaxation, and I think with age you just get bored, so you have to relax. It comes with the territory. Hopefully we get better.”

But that doesn’t always happen. “Sometimes you take this big step backwards,” he said. “I’ve done it. You do something good, and then you do something not quite as good, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s where you are in your life.”

The powerful message about personal conviction in Hacksaw Ridge was discussed by lead actor, Andrew Garfield, who plays Desmond T. Doss, the army medic at the heart of the film.

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Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, refused to wield a gun during World War II. But he became the first conscientious objector in U.S. history to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after heroically saving 75 men from the battlefield during the American campaign to take Okinawa.

Simple Man: Live and Let Live

“The beautiful thing about Desmond Doss is that he was a very simple man, in the sense that he had a knowing. He had a knowing in his heart, in the core of his being, that he was not supposed to take another man’s life,” Garfield said.

“There are a lot of violent uprisings and separation and warring ideologies that are bleeding our beautiful planet right now,”  Garfield added. “And I think Desmond Doss is a wonderful symbol embodying the idea of ‘live and let live.’”

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Gibson said that “the difference between a real superhero and a comic book one is that real superheroes don’t wear any Spandex.”

Staging Battle Scenes

Gibson also talked about his skill at staging the large-scale battle scenes in the film, a skill that goes back to Braveheart, for which he won an the 1995 Best Picture Oscar.

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“The important thing with battle and depicting it on screen is to be clear — to not be confusing with it,” he said.

“To give the impression of chaos and confusion, but to be absolutely clear what it is you want the audience to see and what you want to extract from the sequences. It’s all about screen direction. Knowing who the players are. You have to approach it like a sporting event.”

After a 10-year hiatus, Mel Gibson is back in the director’s chair. His latest epic Hacksaw Ridge explores the true-life war drama of Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the American Medal of Honor.

Andrew Garfield plays a Seventh-Day Adventist who feels it is his duty to serve during WWII, but at the same time can’t disobey his religious convictions against picking up arms. He overcomes the army’s ridicule and scorn to serve as a medic at Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa.

In untold bravery, he single-handedly rescued over 75 of his comrades’ lives while under constant enemy fire. Vince Vaughn co-stars as Sergeant Howell and Sam Worthington as Captain Glover. Teresa Palmer plays his wife Dorothy.

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Garfield believes Doss is an important character for our times. “Trying to live up to a man who somehow can hold on to his core, about who he is meant to be, and what he is meant to do and what he can’t do, in a culture in an environment that is telling him to be the opposite, that is a rare thing,” said Garfield. “I think we can aspire to that kind of righteous living as our true selves. That’s tricky in the culture we’re in right now.”

“It’s a pretty wild time we’re in,” continued Garfield. “There’s a lot of violent uprising and separating and warring ideologies that are plaguing our beautiful planet right now.”

“I think Desmond Doss is a wonderful symbol of embodying the idea of live and let live no matter what your ideology is, no matter what your value system is, just to allow other people to be who they are and allow yourself to be who you are,” said Garfield. “That was really his core value, and to operate from a place of love.”

No Spandex

“That’s what Desmond attributed his actions to, that power greater than himself.  The difference between a real superhero and comic book superhero is that real superheroes didn’t wear any spandex,” said Gibson.

Gibson also spoke of the incredible faith that drove the Doss’ story. “It’s undeniable what the essence of Desmond Doss was. “He was a man of great courage and strong conviction and strong faith,” said Gibson.

“To go in to a battle zone like that. I think the Japanese called it a steel rain, with the artillery and the lead that was flying around, to go into that armed with only your faith, your faith has to be strong indeed,” he continued. “That’s an undeniable part of the story that I just find really inspiring. He just conquers everything.”

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Garfield found the idea of playing a real superhero (as compared to his past roles playing of Spider-Man) “much more inspiring.”

“The fact that this man who’s built like me, kind of as skinny as I am built, dragged men this size,” said Garfield pointing to Gibson, “across the most rugged terrain under gunfire, sniper fire, the possibility of mortars and shells, and then lowered them down a 75-foot escarpment, not just once, but 75 times. It’s that kind of divine help.”

While Gibson believes acting and directing are essentially the same process under storytelling, at present he enjoys directing more. “Maybe I’m a megalomaniac, I don’t know,” he said. “But I just love telling the story and I love to see the story the way I see it.”