There were quite a few blockbuster hits this holiday season—The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, Into the Woods, etc. One of these hits was Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic athlete held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII. It’s based off of the best-selling novel by Laura Hildebrand, and while Battle of the Five Armies may have more exciting battle scenes between orc and elves, and Into the Woods has more entertaining musical numbers, Unbroken makes an appealing case as the “best” film of Christmas.
Part of what makes Unbroken such an amazing movie is that it is a true story. Louis Zamperini grew up in America, but his parents were Italian immigrants. He was constantly in trouble as a child, but his brother directed his energy into running, which in turn led him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. While Zamperini didn’t bring home the gold medal, he did extraordinarily well for his first Olympics, knowing that the next Olympics—to be held in Tokyo, Japan—would be his real moment. Still, he made himself a hero at the 1936 Games, but his running dreams were cut short by World War II.
After joining the army, Zamperini joins the U.S. forces in the Pacific. While using a faulty plane for a rescue party, Zamperini and his fellow soldiers go down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Only three survive, Zamperini and two others. They drift on the ocean alone on a life raft for over 45 days, doing anything they can to survive, including catching and eating sharks. One of Zamperini’s companions doesn’t make it, but Louis and his friend are rescued by Japanese soldiers, only to be taken to a prisoner of war camp.
As one can imagine in a prisoner of war camp in WWII, terrible things happen to Louis. After discovering that he is an Olympic athlete, the leader of the camp, referred to by the prisoners as “the Bird”, goes out of his way to make Zamperini suffer. At many times, it’s difficult to watch what he goes through, but through all his suffering, Louis Zamperini remains unbroken, and the end credits will tell you that he learns to forgive his Japanese captors years later, and finally gets to run in the Japanese Olympic Games decades later.
Unbroken may seem like another World War II film, and it some ways it is. It delves into the other side of the war—the Pacific side. It lets viewers see what it was like inside Japanese POW camps, but ultimately, Unbroken is a story about the triumph of the human spirit, of friendship, courage, strength, and faith. These are the things that uplift viewers and characters alike in films and stories where people endure so much suffering. This movie may be too intense for some viewers, but it is so well done—the acting, cinematography, writing, etc.—that I enthusiastically recommend it to everyone. We should not forget the terrible things that happened in World War II, in Germany and the Pacific, and we should not forget Zamperini’s own message—that forgiveness is the only way to move forward.