What the Film ‘Unbroken’ Leaves out of Louis Zamperini’s Life
Unbroken opens Christmas day in major theaters across the United States. It’s about the life of Louis Zamperini. According to some, it’s only about some of Louis Zamperini’s life. It’s based on the book of the same name written by Laura Hillenbrand.
Hillenbrand delighted audiences with her book Seabiscuit that was also turned into a film in 2003.
While Hillenbrand was doing research for her Seabiscuit book, she kept coming across news stories of Louis Zamperini who was a track star during the same time Seabiscuit was “a hugely popular media sensation in the United States during the Great Depression.”
She stated that when she finished her Seabiscuit book, she wanted to do a book on Zamperini’s life. Unbroken is the result.
“Louis Zamperini was a small-town California boy who won a spot on the US track team at the 1936 Olympics and went on to fly bombers in the Pacific in World War II. Shot down, he drifted on a raft in the ocean for 47 days, then was taken prisoner by Japan and suffered some more.”
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People who have read the book give it accolades of high praise. My wife is one of them.
A number of people contend that the film cut the spirit out of the story. Kyle Smith of the New York Post writes:
“What kind of inner fortitude delivered Louie? We don’t really know. We learn in passing that he was once skeptical about God, became a believer during a storm and vowed to dedicate his life to the Lord. But Jolie is bored by this angle and drops it, except as a tease for whatever suckers out there might be fooled into thinking this is a Christian epic. Jolie is far more intrigued by shallow Oprah-style self-help slogans like ‘If I can take it, I can make it.’”
Others seem to agree. Here is Cal Thomas’ take on the film.
I wanted to like the movie because I love the book. Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller Unbroken is a classic.
While I had heard reports that the turning point in the book never made it to film, I attended a pre-release screening with an open mind.
Audiences are told Unbroken is a “true story.” It is true, as far as it goes, but the story is incomplete.
There have been many World War II stories told in film depicting triumphs of personal courage and survival. The story of Louis Zamperini is one such story, but with an added dimension. Zamperini, who died earlier this year at age 97, came home an angry man. He became addicted to alcohol and cigarettes and verbally abused his young wife as he wrestled with his inner demons. The skeleton of his story is in the film—the plane crash at sea while on a rescue mission; the 47 days floating on a raft before being picked up by a Japanese ship and thrown into a prison camp; the relentless torture and eventual liberation at the end of the war.
After returning to Los Angeles we see Zamperini hugging his brother and parents, but the story ends there. Director Angelina Jolie attempts to put some flesh on the bones at the end of the film with some still shots and words that tell us that Zamperini’s faith led him to return to Japan on a personal mission of reconciliation.
In media appearances, Jolie has refused to discuss why the most remarkable part of Zamperini’s story was excluded from the film. That would be the night he was converted at the 1949 Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles. As Hillenbrand tells it in her book, Zamperini came home, poured his alcohol down the drain, threw out his cigarettes, was reconciled to his wife, and became a new man because, he said, he had asked Jesus Christ to be his savior.
I’d like to see a film based on the Olympic runner Glenn Cunningham. While his story is not as dramatic Zamperini’s, it’s also very compelling. Zamperini and Cunningham knew one another since they competed in the 1936 Olympic Games, Cunningham in the 1500 meters and Zamperini in the 5000 meters:
“Cunningham’s legs were very badly burned in an explosion caused when someone accidentally put gasoline instead of kerosene in the can at his schoolhouse when he was eight and his brother Floyd was thirteen. Floyd died in the fire. When the doctors recommended amputating Glenn’s legs, he was so distressed his parents would not allow it. The doctors predicted he might never walk normally again. He had lost all the flesh on his knees and shins and all the toes on his left foot. Also, his transverse arch was practically destroyed. However, his great determination, coupled with hours upon hours of a new type of therapy, enabled him to gradually regain the ability to walk and to proceed to run. It was in the early summer of 1919 when he first tried to walk again, roughly two years after the accident. He had a positive attitude as well as a strong religious faith. His favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31: ‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’”