Review by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
If opening this movie on Christmas Day brings more people to see it, then bravo to the marketing department. Angelina Jolie has directed a stunning film that lives up to its claim to be a story of survival, resilience and redemption.
So if you are interested in being inspired by the unusual and often horrific but faithful life of 1936 Olympic athlete and WWII American war hero Louis Zamperini, read the artfully written book by the same name. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand (author also of Seabiscuit) is 473 pages of a well-researched, factual biography of an American hero. Truly, it is worth reading. Louie Zamperini comes alive in the book and, although the film spends an inordinate amount of footage on Mr. Zamperini’s POW endurances, Jack O’Connell who is cast as Zamperini, does an admirable job of conveying the authentically true spirit of this man.
What is it that makes a person so determined, so able to meet and defeat a challenge of will?
‘Unbroken’ provides a glimpse into the depth of Mr. Zamperini’s courage and spirit. Willful as a child, Louie is convinced by his brother to train as a runner, beat the clock and the others who are also running the race against time. His determination pays off as an Olympic runner and later in life as well.
While cast adrift for 47 days in a small life raft in the Pacific with two other airmen, Zamperini endures hunger, thirst, shark attacks an air strike by Japanese aircraft and ultimately capture and transport to POW camps. There are times when it’s hard to remind yourself this is a true story.
While adrift at sea, Louie experiences a vision in the sky, an outline of an angel chorus in the clouds. Although the film very briefly depicted the vision, the biography gave this incident considerable credence and noted that Louie’s vision, accompanied by the sound of singing, was repeated again during his time at the POW camp. Prayers are frequent and heartfelt in this film as Louie and his pilot, “Phil” (Domhnall Gleeson), the son of a Methodist minister, pray together while adrift at sea.
Early on in the film we see a young Louie with his family at Mass. The sermon we hear from a fiddleback chasuble vested priest is about loving your enemies. The Gospel lesson that day must’ve been from Luke 6 or Matthew 5 where Jesus is pretty clear about how we should treat our enemies.
Louie promised that he would devote his life to God if he ever made it home. This promise was repeated as he endured unimaginable wartime torture and indignity at the hands of the evil and sadistic Japanese army sergeant (Miyavi) at the POW camps.
Some Christian writers are disappointed the themes in the movie are not more specific to Christianity. But the images certainly are. If you see the film, watch carefully as Louie is forced to lift a heavy piece of wood over his shoulders and hold it there or be shot. According to the biography, Louie held that beam for 37 minutes, and was then beaten. The symbolism of Christ and the cross has been mentioned in several reviews of this film.
In the video and text epilog we learn Louie kept his promise to God and determined that forgiveness trumps revenge. After the torture and his release he forgave his captors. His action is reminiscent of Fr. Lawrence Jenco, a Beirut hostage in the 80s, recounts his journey to forgiveness of his captors in his book Bound to Forgive.
One thing is for sure. Louis Zamperini had a spirit to behold and he kept his promise to God. The film is worth seeing, reading the book is a must.
Bonnie Anderson is senior warden at All Saints-Pontiac, Michigan and the immediate past president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. Dan Webster is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and former broadcast news journalist. Their film commentaries can be found on http://faithreels.blogspot.com.