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Broken Then Unbroken

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.

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