Unbroken is a powerful movie that misses the mark and may leave viewers tired rather than inspired.
This week, I attended a pre-release viewing of the movie Unbroken, which chronicles the life of Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic runner who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in World War II—only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best selling book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Revival, Resilience, and Redemption, the movie is directed by Angelina Jolie and opens in theaters on Christmas Day.
Family Friendly Factor: The movie is suspenseful, gut-wrenching, and not for the faint of heart. Since the harsh realities of war are not downplayed, and the brutality in the prison camps is heavy and unrelenting, caution should be exercised in taking younger children. (An excellent option for sharing the story with younger audiences is Hillenbrand’s Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation) An Olympian’s Journey From Airman to Castaway to Captive.) For older teens, I think this movie is an excellent dose of both history and reality that every American should understand and appreciate. The POW’s in WWWII are true heroes whose lives and sacrifices should not be forgotten.
Overall impact: The movie packs a powerful cinematographic punch~especially in the first half hour~ but falls short of what could have been an inspiring, triumphant film. The movie ends with Louie kissing the ground after returning to the United States (a few postscripts appear stating that Louie had “made peace with his captors” and carried the Olympic torch.). Rather than leaving the theater inspired by “the rest of the story,” viewers are likely to leave the theater drained (or in the words of my friend who viewed it with me~”worn out”). Although the movie paints a powerful picture of Louie’s resilience against physical and emotional abuse, it fails to show his biggest accomplishment~his life changing conversion to Christ and forgiveness of his captors (most of whom he visited personally and with whom he shared his faith).
In the book, Hillendrand gives an inspiring and more accurate summation of the end of the story. She details Louie’s inability to escape haunting memories of abuse inflicted upon him by Corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe (know as the Bird). These were destroying his marriage, his life, and his sanity. But suddenly, things changed when Louie’s life path intersected with that of a young man named Billy Graham whose gospel preaching penetrated into Louie’s heart, changing his life forever. This powerful transformation is summed up beautifully in the following excerpt from Unbroken:
Louis had come home to a life left lost in darkness and had dashed himself against the memory of the Bird. But on an October night in Los Angeles, Louie had found…”daybreak.” That night, the sense of shame and powerlessness that had driven his need to hate the Bird had vanished. The Bird was no longer his monster. He was only a man.
The full account of Louie’s conversion and life of faith and forgiveness can be found in Louis Zamperini: Captured By Grace, a DVD that details his post-conversion life and his relationship with Billy Graham. Louie led a vibrant, faith-filled life until his death at age 97.
My recommendation: Although I was disappointed at how the movie ended, I still feel that is a powerful movie well worth watching. For those who can sit through the images of extreme brutality, the picture of Louie’s resilience is incredible and the reason he should be considered a true American hero.