Sunday, January 4, 2015

Unfinished a review of "Unbroken," the film

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini under the direction of Angelina Jolie has brought the Unbroken story to the big screen. The film is a compelling portrayal of Zamperini testing the world and the world testing Zamperini. (SPOILER ALERT) Louis is bullied in school, coached to run at the edge of human capacity, shot at, lost at sea on a life raft for weeks on end and then ends up as a prisoner of war under the control of a sadistic camp commander.

As we follow the story, our empathy is quickened and our understanding of the limits of human endurance is broadened. The film is two-hours and seventeen minutes of the same scene: life deals Louis a bad hand, Louis spits in the face of Fate and Fate comes back at him again, and again.

As far as it goes, the film is strong and evocative, but  the problem is that the film doesn't take us far enough into his story. We never see Louis grow as a person. He triumphs over the sea and survives the Bird. We are witness to his tenacity and the power of his will as he is confronted time and time again with challenges he must overcome. No one should have to suffer the horrors which confronted Louis and we share his gratitude when he kisses the tarmac.

The film is a representation of a life in the flesh and if that life lost interest when the lips left the pavement, then the decision to end the film at that point makes sense. However, the narrative in the book presses on, I am told, describing Louis' alcoholism and the loss of his marriage both resulting from PTSD and the aftermath of his horrific wartime experiences.

The struggle to reach a place where he was comfortable with his own history is certainly the most complex challenge Louis faced and may be the most interesting. Few of us will ever be lost at sea or captured as prisoners of war, but the difficulty of facing our own past with honesty, compassion and integrity is a common, if not universal, conundrum. The climax of Louis' story apparently comes at a Billy Graham crusade where accepts his own life, lets go of his hatred and his need for revenge and learns to forgive those at whose hands he suffered.

Between the tarmac kiss and the credits, Jolie throws up some epilogue notes telling us a bit of what happened next in Louis' life, but that next part is too important to summarize in a bit of rolling text. The film fails to deliver enough of the Zamperini story. We see him survive, but we are denied access to the personal growth that finally brought him happiness.

The film was over two hours and I do not claim that there was much that could be cut without losing an essential part of the story. Maybe the Louis Zamperini story is more than can be reduced to a film. Now I am reading the book so I can finish the story.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this insightful review. It's unfortunate that "blockbusters" get broken into many, many parts -- thinking the Hobbit series, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. -- to tell the story, but this one is truncated before we see the less overtly dramatic, yet likely harrowing inner journey of this man. Guess that's harder to market and would end up showing to a bunch of empty seats. Too bad.