With movies out like “Noah” and “Exodus,” many Christians are growing wary of Hollywood’s attempts at spirituality and with good reason: those movies butcher God’s Word. When word got out that Angelina Jolie was producing and directing a film based on a book in which faith plays a large role, many were skeptical that she would actually stay true to the original story.
After having watched the film “Unbroken,” it is safe to say that Jolie did not skimp on the Christian message. Spoiler alert: if you don’t want to know too much about the movie, just skip ahead to the last paragraph.
“Unbroken” focuses on Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini’s life. Zamperini was born into a family of Italian immigrants and was a bit of a problem child, to put it mildly. The movie shows him at church only half-listening, like most kids. There’s a particular scene with his mother praying fervently for her family and, with special emphasis, for her son.
After watching his young brother struggle with behavior for a while, Zamperini’s older brother, Pete, realizes that Louis has a special ability to run. So Pete pushes and finally convinces his younger brother to train and join a track team. After years of success there, Louis becomes good enough to go to the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin. While Louis does not win his race, his last lap is made in record time and catches the attention of many.
After the Olympics, Louis joins the war effort in the Pacific as a bombardier where he and his crew survive a difficult fight. After just surviving that ordeal, Louis finds his friend, Russell Phillips, kneeling in prayer and tries to poke fun at his praying, saying, “Does He ever talk back?” But Phillips responds with good humor and the story continues.
Lost at sea
During their next mission, they are not as fortunate. They wind up crash landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and only three of the crew survive: Zamperini, Phillips and Francis McNamara. During their forty-seven-day stint lost at sea, they encounter everything from sharks, to violent storms, to volleys of bullets from enemy planes. During a horrible storm, Zamperini prays and promises to serve God for the rest of his life if only God will spare him.
On their forty-seventh day, they are “rescued” by Japanese enemies and placed in a POW camp.
While there, Louis endures brutal beatings and horribly unfair and cruel treatment by prison guard, Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Somehow, despite all these nightmarish trials, Louis makes it through to the end of the war and gets back home to his family.
This is where the movie ends, but it leaves viewers with a small epilogue explaining that Louis Zamperini, true to his word, dedicated his life to God and, as a result of his newfound faith, brought himself to forgive those who had so wronged him in the Japanese camp and even met with many of them and made peace. A wonderful ending to an unbelievable story.
Many may complain that there was not enough focus on his conversion and the new leaf Louis turned over because of his Christian faith. The problem is that the action and dynamic narrative portion of Zamperini’s story occurred before his conversion. If the film had followed him over the course of the next forty years, the movie would have become very dull very quickly.
Could they have gone further with mentions of Christianity? Yes, of course. Remember, however, that they easily could have skipped over any mentions of Jesus, church, or prayer, just as most movies have done in recent years. Despite the fact that Hollywood eschews Christianity, Jolie chose to include it anyway — a bold move nowadays. “Unbroken” and its producers ought to be commended by the Christian community for making that call and giving our faith its place in this powerful story.
Tami Fernandez is a freelance writer for the Good News and helps serve the youth at Gladeview Baptist Church. She can be contacted at [email protected].