I like films where conscience is taken seriously and all the more if the film making is of high quality.
Hacksaw Ridge (Channel 5 Sunday, RTÉ2 Monday) left me conflicted. It has so much good stuff going for it, but I have serious reservations. Directed by Mel Gibson it tells the true story of US Army medic Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who saved the lives of many soldiers in the war against the Japanese.
Andrew Garfield is excellent as this most appealing and admirable character who stands his ground despite misunderstanding and bullying, standing up for principles largely based on his religious faith – he was a Seventh Day Adventist. There’s a sweet and innocent love story involving Doss and a young nurse, interrupted by his conviction that he must serve his country, despite being unwilling to kill another human being.
There’s a touching scene where she visits him in jail as he awaits court martial for refusing to follow orders – reminiscent of that scene in A Man for All Seasons when his family visits St Thomas Moore in jail to see if compromise is possible.
That court scene along with earlier scenes where he defends his conscientious objections to army authorities are quite compelling and tease out lots of conscience issues. Doss prays, holds his little Bible dear, especially as there’s a picture of his wife in it, but others who will take part in the war say they also hold to the same values but are willing to kill in what they regard as a just war. As one officer says to him – the biblical ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is usually taken to mean a prohibition on murder.
However the big problem for me is the graphic violence – despite the overall theme it seems to wallow in the bloodletting to an unhealthy degree (the Gibson factor?). No doubt it’s a realistic portrayal of the horrors of battle, but I’m not convinced that such repulsive detail is necessary to make the point. Further, I don’t think it’s intended to be an anti-war film as such – the film doesn’t question the need for this particular war, or even the need for the army to keep on attacking Hacksaw Ridge despite the huge losses.
There’s a few uncomfortably gung-ho moments towards the end, but I did like the final sequence where we get to see some of the real people the film is based on.
The whole war thing raises the issue of whether good can ever come from evil, and that was one of the topics on a particularly good episode of Sunday Sequence (BBC Radio Ulster). It was in the context of whether medical research by Nazis could be used now, especially when it could save lives.
Contributors made the useful distinction between approving of something in advance, thereby giving licence, and using the fruits of processes now seen as abhorrent. Issues such as experimentation on human embryos and on animals were raised, and it was felt by some that a lot depended on how recent the offensive practices were.
For example, one said it would be taking things too far to refuse to use US railways just because slave labour was used in the original construction.
Also on that show Fr Eugene O’Neill was interviewed about prayer – a short segment but impactful nevertheless.
He described prayer as a raising of the heart and mind to God, or at least an effort to do so. It could be just a sitting still, saying “Come Lord Jesus”.
He referenced his own night prayer, part of the Divine Office said by priests and other religious. It was a chance to settle down after the day, to be thankful, to examine the day and be both repentant and thankful.
With some modern practices in mind he cautioned against reducing prayer to mere techniques – rather it was a matter of relationship and conversation.
Last weekend’s Sunday Morning Live (BBC1) was also a particularly good episode. Cruelty to animals was also raised here in a lively discussion on veganism, with a healthy diversity of opinions.
I particularly liked the item on a musical initiative for those affected by homelessness – Streetwise Opera gave new purpose and self-esteem to those with housing issues, and worked with another London charity The Passage which was inspired by Vincentian values, following in the worthy footsteps of St Vincent de Paul.
Pick of the Week
RTÉ1, Sunday, August 31, 11 am
Live Mass with the Knockadoon Music and Liturgy group from Co. Cork. Celebrant: Fr Philip McShane, Musical Director is Brian Kennedy.
SONGS OF PRAISE
BBC1, Sunday, August 31, 1.15 pm
Aled Jones meets Downton Abbey movie creator and writer Lord Julian Fellowes. In Brompton Oratory he tells Aled about the film and his Catholic Faith.
GREGORIAN CHANT –THE MUSIC OF THE ANGELS
EWTN, Sunday, August 31, 4pm, and Thursday, September 5, 9 pm
The fascinating history of Gregorian Chant, featuring classic examples from Pope St Gregory the Great’s papacy to present day.