Many of us fervently hope to find within us a fount of courage to weather trials and tribulations. Unbroken is the real-life account of one such person, whose tenacity lasted him through difficulties that might have been unbearable for some.
Directed and produced by actress Angelina Jolie, this film begins in World War II in 1934, with aerial combat in a B-24 Liberator bomber where Louie Zamperini (played by Jack O’ Connell) has his plane shot down at sea. Adrift in the Pacific Ocean with two other comrades and battling heat exhaustion, dehydration and hunger, Louie promises God to serve Him all his life if he is rescued.
The scenes of them catching, killing and eating sharks with their bare hands are some of the few light-hearted moments in the film. One of Louie’s comrades passes away one night, and Louie and his remaining comrade are discovered and captured by the Japanese troops after 47 days.
There are flashbacks to Louie as a young boy growing up in Torrance, California. He often got into trouble, much to the embarrassment of his Italian immigrant parents. Realising Louie’s athletic potential and also to get him off the streets, his brother Peter painstakingly trained him to become a runner.
The training was a turning point in young Louie’s life as he broke records at track competitions and qualified for the Olympics. There are heart-
warming scenes of Peter cycling next to him as he trains, and his family crowding around a radio to listen to the sports commentator at the Olympic event. Peter left him with these words “a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory” – a foreshadowing of his heroism in WWII.
For two years after his capture, Louie was held in a concentration camp for prisoners-of-war and singled out for torture by Japanese corporal Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe (played by Takamasa Ishihara) due to his fame as an Olympian. Wartime atrocities such as being pummelled in the face repeatedly, having fingernails pulled out and shovelling coal depict the dehumanising quality of war.
Watanabe’s cruelty culminates in a scene where he drags an emaciated, injured Louie out and forces him to hold a heavy plank above his head for what seems like hours, with the threat of death if he drops it. The hatred and determination in Louie’s eyes as his fellow prisoners silently root for him makes it clear that his spirit remains unbroken despite the atrocities he had suffered.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie plateaus and becomes underwhelming. His journey in finding faith and forgiving his captors was truncated into lines of sanitised text onscreen, but is covered in the book by Laura Hillenbrand.
In the book, Louie struggles with alcoholism as a temporary escape, and a troubled marriage, but his life turned around after he received Christ during a Billy Graham rally.
Faith helped him to overcome post-war trauma, and in turn, win the battle within himself. He passed away in 2014 from pneumonia.
For those in need of encouragement, this 137-minute war film is a reminder of the power of hope, the stark contrast between those whose hope is tenuous and those whose hope is tenacious, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of horrendous ordeals.
Picture by icholakov/Bigstock.com
Chia Hui Jun is Editorial Executive of Methodist Message and worships at Foochow Methodist Church.