Unbroken is a well-produced film that tells the story of World War II survivor Louis Zamperini, who survived crashing in the Pacific, interminable weeks lost at sea, and the terrors of several Japanese POW camps. Unfortunately, in the film, the equally remarkable third act of Zamperini’s life is reduced to a footnote. After being rescued from internment at war’s end, Zamperini spiraled into inconsolable depression, vengefulness, and alcoholism before being spiritually rescued at a Billy Graham “revival”. With the third act missing, as it stands, the movie is false. The number one thing a movie owes us, whether it is fiction or non-fiction, is truth. And Zamperini was in fact not unbroken, but broken. Then, in his brokenness, he was put back together again. In spite of the onscreen epigraph, in so reducing the depth of his brokenness and salvation — not by himself, but by another — the film is not “a true story”. Some ambiguity in the title, “Unbroken”, does, however, permit a truer sense. In the same sense that something done might be undone; Zamperini was broke, and then unbroke. He was restored, reborn, healed … unbroken. Filmmakers deserve a great degree of creative license in turning a story into a screenplay into a film, but the thing they should not do is fundamentally change the meaning of a person’s life. Unbroken is almost entirely a story of human triumph and resilience, and barely gestures at the true story of human brokenness, neediness, and repentance. It is the latter that moved Zamperini to return to Japan to reconcile with his former captors. It is the latter that has the strength to unbreak what has been broken.
What are the most authentic moments in movie history? For me, it was to see Miracle in Milan by Vittorio De Sica, when a whole, very poor village was saved, and there was redemption and food and everything they needed. I saw it when I was a child, and somehow it almost changed my life. I wanted to be part of the world, part of doing something in the world — it made me want to be a good person. It really told me it’s important to live, it’s important what you do. [Authenticity in filmmaking] must be possible. Because otherwise you are just bullshit. It’s entertainment with no value. And we don’t need any more of that. You need to have somewhere where you have a conversation with yourself.
It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made. Good things as well as bad, you know, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?