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
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.
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.