Is it important that the movie tell the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story?
My answer is yes but maybe not.
Louie Zamperini is the kindest, most upbeat person I ever met. Anyone who knows his story feels a little cheated by the film version of his life. The cinematic smash, “Unbroken,” brought to the screen by producer Matt Baer and director Angelina Jolie, tells Louie’s story up to the point of his return home from the Japanese POW camps.
His life after the war is a gripping story, too, but did not make it into the movie.
Left out are:
-the humorous account of his courting and marrying Cynthia Applewhite;
-the night terrors from his abuse in the camps that plagued him for years;
-his subsequent descent into alcoholism as a way to deal both with the post trauma terrors and the loss of his athletic dreams;
-his vengeful obsession to return to Japan and kill the Japanese prison guard who tortured and humiliated him;
-his conversion at a Billy Graham crusade;
-his changed life by Christ’s forgiveness that he translated into power in his own life to forgive his tormentors.
Amazing grace. Incredible redemption.
For Christians, Louie’s conversion and subsequent life are the most important parts of his story. Not to include these compromises the integrity of his life story.
Of course the story of Louie’s later life is crucial for understanding the man – but Unbroken focused only on the most “sensational” slice of his life.
In fact, by the very nature of the medium only a snapshot (ironically) of the full story of anything can be told.
This is true for most movies: adventure stories, dramatic tales, horror flicks. Romantic comedies are the best example because they follow the same story line: boy and girl meet; boy hates girl; girl hates boy; girl and boy start liking each other; something happens to make them hate each other again; then they fall in love and plan to spend their lives together. What about the rest of the story?
The story ends just when real life begins: “And they lived happily ever after” just doesn’t cut it.
The same is true about stories in the Bible. We get snapshots of characters pertinent to what God is revealing through the story.
The movie was not made by Christians for Christians (thankfully). What is inspiring is the positive depiction of faith in God throughout the film. We may not agree with the choices made by the writers and producers of a movie but the larger question for Unbroken is how God is using the film with its passing reference to his subsequent conversion.
What we know is that Louie’s “unbroken” spirit in the war came before he was a follower of Christ. He is an incredible example of the strength of the human spirit in the face of unjustified abuse and personal despair. This is why his story appeals to people on a universal scale.
It can be said, and Louie says so himself, that the depression, PTSD, and alcoholism were far more challenging than anything he faced in POW camps. Christ provided what he needed when he was on the verge of breaking. This is the part of Louie’s story that makes the book so exhilarating and satisfying.
Millions had read the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand before the movie was released this past Christmas. Now, it appears that millions more are doing so. The incredible story and the incompleteness of the movie give a hunger to know the rest of the story. In the book, they are getting it. Television specials are telling the story of Louie’s faith while related internet videos, articles and interviews are being accessed globally. Louie’s life has exploded around the world in ways that cannot be discounted. There is no way to disregard a life so well lived. Maybe this is what God had in mind all the time.
One final note: Louie and his family liked the approach that Jolie and the writers took with the film. His son, Luke, wrote:
“The film version of UNBROKEN does not spend a lot of screen time on his Christian conversion – detailing it in a series of text cards before the closing credits. And that is exactly the way my Dad and our entire family wanted it.”