I went to see Unbroken. Finally! Half of me wanted to see it, and half of me was scared silly because I had seen the trailers and I knew that Louis Zamperini had been tortured in a Japanese POW camp. But curiosity won out over fear and I’m not sorry I went. This is an amazing true story about the indomitable human spirit and the cleansing of stress and hatred through forgiveness.
I had seen the trailers, as I said, but they only show a small glimpse of the story. As a child, Louis’ mother prayed for him and his brother showed him he had worth, showed him that “if he could take it, he could make it”. Their faith in him never wavered. He went to the Berlin Olympics in ’36 as part of the US team. (He was still a teenager at the time.) While he only finished 8th, he set a track record for the final lap and hoped do better in Tokyo at the 1940 Games; but, of course, they got cancelled, and he went to war.
As a bombardier in the US Air Corps, Louis (played by Jack O’Connell) had many harrowing experiences, including having to crash his plane in the Pacific Ocean. After almost 50 days in a raft at sea with two companions from the aircraft, Zamperini and Phillips “Phil” (played by Domhnall Gleeson; Mac had died at sea) were rescued by the Japanese. They were submitted to both physical and psychological torture in more than one prison camp. The commandant of the last two camps, particularly, Sergeant Watanabe, singled him out for abuse because of his status as an Olympic athlete.
All of this information is available online. The movie is superbly and believably crafted with flashbacks of Zamperini’s success, and early childhood, woven in between the harrowing experiences in the air and in the prison camps which makes the tension of the latter somewhat less intense if not less palpable. The character of the commandant, known to the prisoners as the Bird (Takamasa Ishihara, pop star Miyavi), came across as completely psychotic. Near the end, he more resembles a child throwing a temper tantrum than a commander of a prison camp.
Just before the final credits, they tell what happened to each of the main characters who survived. Phil came home and married his sweetheart. Zamperini suffered greatly from post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. He realized after attending a Billy Graham Crusade that to get past this, he would have to forgive those who tortured him. He returned to Japan in 1950 and again in 1998 to forgive them in person. The only one who refused to meet with him was the Bird, Mutsuhiro Watanabe. This movie is definitely worth seeing. Kudos to Angelina Jolie for a superb rendering of the story based on the biography, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.
I haven’t read the book yet, but the movie? * * * * *