As someone who was very fond of Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken” , I was cautiously optimistic about the film of the same name, even if having Angelina Jolie direct a film about a man whose epic endurance led him to understand God’s divine providence would not be an obvious choice. I have read some complaints about the film, especially the way in which the movie essentially ends at the close of WWII when Louis Zamparini is freed from captivity in horrible conditions in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and only comments about his religious conversion and his forgiveness of his captors in the Final Fantasy I-style ending text. That said, the film itself opens with a highly significant sermon about day and night, light and darkness, and the need to forgive our enemies, a sermon that young Louis ignores while his feet restlessly move about and while he stares at beautiful young women (something he does often in this film).
This film takes a somewhat nonlinear approach to its source material, in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. I must admit, this film was impressive in the way that it was directed and in its acting performances. Opening with a dangerous bombing run that is followed by a crash into the ocean that takes Zamparini and two other airmen on an epic feat of survival in the Pacific that involves eating seagulls and sharks and ends in captivity for the two survivors, the film then flashes back to Zamparini’s childhood as a delinquent who finds respect by running and eventually goes to the Olympics (his time at USC is not mentioned in this film either), it then continues in chronological fashion through the horrible degradation of life as a Japanese prisoner, involving sadistic beating and other abuse. Parts of this film were difficult to watch, given the fact that one can see how Zamparini’s survival gave him intense PTSD, which is not at all surprising to those who know its ravages well.
I would not have pegged Angelina Jolie as someone to make a film that even implicitly grapples with the reality of God’s divine providence as well as the complexity of belief. That said, although this film does not include the altar call at a Billy Graham crusade that led the late Mr. Zamparini to dedicate his life to God, there is enough in this film to show that God was working with him all along in His own fashion for His own purposes. We see how early childhood bullying gave Louis a chip on his shoulder as well as the moral strength to resist the messages of worthlessness as a captive. We see how the ability to endure hardship, if not accompanied by faith, merely leads to interior brokenness and PTSD, but with faith it becomes an inspiration. We see Louis choose, before He commits as a mainstream Christian, to suffer for righteousness’ sake rather than to betray his country by serving as a propaganda tool for the Japanese. This is a film that is sometimes immensely painful to watch, and one that appears to have been marked by dedication and intensity at all levels of creation. It is a film, moreover, that deserves to be seen, deserves awards, and will likely be well-thought of for some time to come, as a testament to what suffering mankind can inflict as well as endure. And even though it is not likely to be well-liked in Japan, it shows the Japanese in a humane light as well, even in the cruelty of their prisoner-of-war camps. For even bullies are people too, with the same need for redemption and being made unbroken as everyone else, even if one is not sympathetic to them, and even if our hearts are more naturally turned to binding up the survivors of horror and abuse.