***Lots of spoilers. If you haven’t seen Unbroken and don’t want to know what happened in it, stop reading and run away!***
I watched Unbroken last night and I’m still thinking about it. Some movies burrow deep into a viewer’s brain and stay there for a long time. Especially the ones that tell unbelievable stories that really happened.
Unbroken shows Louis Zamperini being bullied as a boy. It shows him ridiculed as a teen. His brother encourages him to train as a runner. He believes in him. Eventually Zamperini believes in himself enough to become an Olympian. War disrupts his life. His disabled plane is ditched in the pacific and he is one of three survivors. Two come through many weeks of unbearable conditions, from storms to menacing sharks, from attempting to eat a raw bird to beating a shark at its own game, they conquer incredible odds, only to be rescued by the Japanese and forced to endure torture and deprivation at the hands of a cruel prisoner of war lord. The Bird takes particular sadistic pleasure in tormenting his pet Olympic athlete, inflicting beatings and endurance feats that would kill almost anyone. But not Zamperini. He survives it all to come home to his family and eventually marries.
This reads like a lot of movie. A full story, all inclusive. And it is. It’s a wonderful, beautiful, awful, inspiring movie that’s difficult to watch at times and impossible to forget. Yet, all I’ve written about it so far merely beat out the gist of the story. There is a wealth of undercurrent, of subtle emotions, and such powerful impressions that it’s like a calm ocean roiling with so much life and heart and guts and grit beneath its surface that it’s like watching a dozen stories at once. Louis Zamperini, the Italian misfit. The runner. The soldier. The survivor. The survivor, again. The survivor, yet again.
I came across a documentary about him on TV several months ago, so I knew some of the story the movie didn’t cover. Like how he reneged on his promise to God to devote his life to him if he survived his ordeal in the lifeboat. For a while. He went wild after he got home, plagued by PTSD and was on a horrible path, until he attended a Billy Graham crusade and turned his life around. All that is understandable.
What is not understandable is how he was the man he was throughout his wartime ordeal. How does a human being, who at that time is not blessed with a major faith in God, survive what Louis Zamperini survived? Most people, period, would have died at the first ordeal, yet this man kept on and on, day after day, until he came home. I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s not understandable. It is, however, incredibly admirable. And encouraging. And inspiring.
Unbroken is Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut. A very impressive first, indeed. I can’t wait to see what story she shows us next.