Movie review: Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken is a war story based on a book about Louis “Louie” Zemperini. The movie focuses on War World II but includes flashbacks to Louie’s childhood.

The story begins on a fighter plane in the Pacific that gets caught in a bad firefight, which results in several crew members being injured. The pilot, Phil, manages to crash-land the plane back at camp.

During the firefight, Louie flashes back to his childhood. As a child, he was in constant trouble and didn’t think too well of himself or that he would amount to much. His older brother thought otherwise and constantly encouraged him.

At one point, when his brother saw him take off running to avoid some of the trouble he was always getting into, he decided to train him to be a runner on the track team. Slowly Louie improved, ultimately becoming an outstanding runner in high school and even competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

After the crash landing, Louie, Phil, and new crew members are sent on a search and rescue mission, ending up needing to be searched for and rescued themselves. The plane that they are sent on the mission with consists of spare parts. In the midst of their search and rescue, two of the engines die and they end up crash landing in the ocean.

Two of the life rafts deploy and three members of the crew manage to get out of the sinking plane: Louie, Phil, and Mac. They spend 47 days afloat, waiting to be rescued. During that time, they eat birds, fish, and sharks. They endure storms on the ocean and shark attacks. Mac dies. Eventually Louie and Phil are rescued. By Japanese. They are sent to separate POW camps.

The rest of the movie chronicles Louie’s time in the camps and his mistreatment at the hands of the guy in charge of the camps. He endures beating after beating, seemingly singled out for being an Olympian.

After the Americans win the war, the Allied soldiers win the release of the POWs. Louie looks for the head of the camp, who has fled. Later Louie forgives his captors and meets with many of them, except the head of the camp who refused to meet.

Louie and Phil return to the US, marry, and move on with their lives. In 1998, Louie runs in the Olympics again, as a torch bearer in Nagano, Japan. He passed away in 2014 at age 97.

The movie is well made and well acted. At certain points, things seem a bit overdramatic. Having not read the biography of Zamperini, I don’t know what liberties the movie takes. (Incidentally, the Coen brothers wrote the script and Angelina Jolie directed the movie.)

As I watched the cruel treatment endured in the Japanese POW camps, I could understand any hatred or discrimination that Americans of the WWII generation had towards Japanese. It makes Louie’s forgiveness all the more amazing. And reminds me of Eva Kor‘s forgiveness of the Nazis.

The movie also shows a camaraderie and almost tenderness among the men thrown in unfortunate situations together. This reminded me of descriptions that survivors of the USS Indianapolis made about the sailors who rescued them and nursed them back to health.

The men in Unbroken starved and subsisted on nothing—both floating in rafts on the ocean and in the POW camps; they looked like people in photos from Nazi concentration camps. The slow, intentional destruction of other human beings—whether in POW camps, concentration camps, or solitary confinement in prisons—is an incredibly inhuman act. How people survive situations like these is miraculous.

Unbroken is worth watching for the history, Zamperini’s story, and the uplifting tale of one man who ended up forgiving his tormentors.


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