This is a movie about brokenness and forgiveness, a testimony that one can move the mountains with a little faith.
“Forgiveness is the remission of sins. For it is by this that what has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.” —St. Augustine
We are all lost without Christ’s forgiveness, and we cannot be found, if we do not extend forgiveness to those who trespassed against us. The path to redemption is often long and dark, and some are much more darker than others.
Despite the title, Unbroken: Path to Redemption is about a man whose once untamable spirit was shattered into pieces during a merciless war, leaving behind only bitter hatred and desire for revenge. Thankfully, those pieces are far from unredeemable.
Unbroken begins with a somber scene when Louis Zamperini, a former Olympian, visits the prisoner of war camp he was held and tortured during World War II. His countenance is serene and peaceful, but at the same time serious and heavy. When the story flashes back to his arrival to the United States after his captivity some years prior, it is instantly recognizable that serenity and peace came with a price.
Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, became a best-seller and won countless awards, because —as the title suggests— it is a story of suffering and trials, but ultimately victory. In the first movie Unbroken (2014) directed by Angelina Jolie, we learn about the troublemaker boy who became an Olympian and the soldier who became a prisoner of war. The first movie was a story of survival with barely any reference to his faith. This one is about the life after survival when one has suffered and changed so much that familiar is not comforting anymore. It is ultimately a story of redemption and forgiveness.
Zamperini’s family throws a party to celebrate the presumably dead soldier’s return. During this time of happiness, what gives away his troubled time in Japan is not violence or hatred, but a fake smile. The smile that often becomes the perfect hiding place for denial.
When the fake smiles of Zamperini, played by Samuel Hunt, fade away, what’s left behind is a broken man who suffers from PTSD. Surviving, it seems, is not enough. Because Watanabe “the Bird,” the Japanese soldier who tortured Zamperini, manages to travel across the ocean inside his victim’s head just to keep tormenting through nightmares.
The denial is persistent, however, even as Zamperini finds the love of his life and tries to begin life anew. The days lost in the sea or months spent in the POW should become mere unpleasant memories. But Watanbe is always there, whispering in his ear, telling him how he will never be free. In this instance, the tormentor is right. Survival does not mean freedom.
In the well-crafted background of the 1950s, Zamperini and his wife Cynthia, played by Merritt Patterson, try to survive not only the aftereffects of war and captivity, but also unemployment. The broken man blames God for all his suffering, and the problem of pain threatens to claim yet another soul. The second act of the movie depicts his slow and heart-breaking descent into alcoholism and estrangement.
It is no coincidence that the bar Zamperini frequents is called Wormwood. The name of that familiar demon from C.S Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters appears in bright neon lights in the background several times, reminding the viewer that the struggle is not merely psychological. In Lewis’ book, senior demon Screwtape reminds Wormwood how to bring about a man’s fall: “... the safest road to hell is the gradual one —the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” This is the way Zamperini painfully descends into madness, one small step at a time.
His tortured mind looks for an escape at the bottom of a bottle, but still, as a victim of violence, he is fixated on the idea of revenge. As Zamperini tries to find a way to confront Watanabe, he becomes a stranger to his wife, to his daughter and to his family. He slowly changes from within.
The turning point comes when the broken man hears God voice through the constant chatter of lies in his head. The truth comes to him in a crusader tent, spoken by Billy Graham. For a moment dark clouds part and he sees the stars. It is, after all, a happy ending.
As husband and I watched Unbroken, we were reminded of how much forgiveness changed our own lives for the better. Once we relinquish that hatred and surrender to God, darkness does not have a hold on us anymore.
Director Harold Cronk brings this lost man’s struggles into life without taking away the importance of hidden graces. However, this movie, I must confess, was not easy to watch. I have gotten used to watching epic adventures where humor is found in the most unlikely places. Really life, alas, is not like that. In the midst of misery, true laughter is forgotten and peace is lost. I had the similar discomfort watching Paul, Apostle of Christ. These are not the movies one would watch for entertainment. These are the movies that make us uneasy so that a new appreciation for the faith can surface through the distractions of daily life.
As a Catholic, it bothered me that Zamperini stays in the evangelical church and never comes back to his Catholic roots. His family is depicted as a joyful, wholesome family who are deeply tied to their Catholic faith. The only priest shown in the movie is a soft-spoken and kind man of God that tells Zamperini that God is not responsible for what happened, but the bitter survivor is not ready to listen yet. He does not need God until he is completely lost. He only hears God’s voice on the day he agrees to go to crusader tent with his wife, after hitting the rock bottom. Up until the moment of absolute loss, God’s voice is nothing but an unwanted distraction. In the book, Hillenbrand talks about Zamperini’s rebellious childhood when his brother’s nudging toward running saved him from future troubles. Catholicism of his parents remains skin-deep. Christ seems to have never become more than the Man who hung upon a cross in the church of his parents, not until he finally sees the light in that crowded loud tent decades later. Often, when I pray for my children’s future, I ask the Lord that He put faithful men and women of God in their lives, if they stray away. If Zamperini’s mother prayed a similar prayer for her son, it seems like her prayers are answered.
This is a movie about brokenness and forgiveness, a testimony that one can move the mountains with a little faith. The Lord has promised to make all things new, as Hillenbrand says in her book, Zamperini, in the end, was unbroken:
He was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man that the Bird had striven to make of him. In a single, silent moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness, had fallen away.