“Unbroken” shows the very best and the very worst humans do to one another in times of war.
It is the true story of an ordinary American soldier who, before the war, was an extraordinary Olympic runner. Flashbacks show his journey to greatness from early childhood attempts at being a hoodlum.
Louis Zamperini was the son of Italian immigrants living in Torrance, Calif. His older brother encouraged him to channel his anger at bullies into working hard at running. He ran in high school, broke speed records and represented the U.S. at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Most other details of his life are summarized in short paragraphs at the end of the film.
The majority of the film is about Zamperini’s experience in World War II as a bombardier in a bomber squad. He loses friends in air battles, the bomber crashes into the sea, he and the two other survivors spend 47 days adrift before being rescued by the Japanese Navy and living as a prisoner of war in Japan. The POW camp scenes are the most grueling aspect of the film.
Zamperini’s strength and spirit provide a morale boost for others. His nemesis becomes the camp commander, Corporal Watanabe, who is intent on making an example of him. Watching the scenes where he tries to break Zamperini’s spirit is hard on the observer. Yet this is the central point of the film.
“Unbroken” is a powerful film. Angelina Jolie directed it, bringing the biography by Laura Hillenbrand to the screen. The Coen Brothers wrote the screenplay. There may be an Oscar in there somewhere. Or it may be awarded to Jack O’Connell for his portrayal of Louie.
Early in 2014, Louie Zamperini, at the age of 97, was voted Grand Marshall of the 2015 Rose Parade. He died in July 2014, but his widow, children and grandchildren rode in the parade in his honor. That one who suffered through so much in the war would live another 69 years is an amazing testament to Louie’s life of faith.
We learn at the end of the film that after dealing with Post Traumatic Stress for many years, he found relief from his nightmares in rededicating his life as a Christian. He decided to reconcile with the Japanese people by traveling to Japan and meeting with his former captors. Watanabe, however, refused to see him.
Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence, including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language. It is a heroic tale that reminds us of the brutality of war and the treatment that Prisoners of War experience. But the film may be difficult for some to watch. There is much worse shown on the screen these days, but this story of fortitude is not for the faint of heart.