First, the best perspective…
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – II Corinthians 12:9
Yesterday Dee and I went to see Unbroken, a film we have looked forward to seeing since learning of its production early last year.
I first learned of Louis Zamperini while watching the Olympic Winter Games of Nagano, Japan in 1998. Coverage in the United States was provided by CBS Sports and in addition to their coverage of athletic competition, they presented a series of human interest stories about selected athletes and others. The Zamperini sketch was one I found to be particularly fascinating, especially the clear indication of his personal faith in Christ.
Because I knew of Zamperini’s born again experience and his firm commitment to the Lord Jesus, I had questions and concerns about how Hollywood would portray this man’s deep faith. However, for those who watch Unbroken with the willingness to apply principles of close observation and critical thinking, the elements of faith are present. Director Angelina Jolie was able to depict the Gospel through the use of cinematic artistry, thereby creating a definite connection with those who understand what was of the highest importance to Zamperini. In addition, she provided something to think about for those who have less of an interest in spiritual matters,
if they are willing to devote some thought to what they have seen. My questions and concerns were completely misplaced.
The film moves smoothly through the stages of Zamperini’s life, from the time of late childhood, high school, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and his wartime experiences as a bombardier, followed by 47 days afloat in the Pacific Ocean after crashing at sea. Then we reach the heart of the story as Zamperini becomes a prisoner of war, suffering at the hands of his Japanese captors, particularly Mutsuhiro Watanabe. No further story or plot revelations! You should see the film for yourself!
As you watch Unbroken, you will not see a verbally presented Gospel message. However, there is a very clear representation of the truth of the Gospel given through symbolism.
In the late stages of the film, there is a scene where Sgt. Watanabe sets Zamperini apart from his fellow prisoners of war, yet within their sight. Then, under the watchful eye of armed guards, a weakened Zamperini is forced to pick up a heavy wooden beam and hold it upon his shoulders. The action and this sequence is reminiscent of our Lord Jesus, forced to carry His own cross to the place of death. This is the anticipated result for Zamperini as well. The word is given to the guards: “If he drops it, kill him.” Zamperini manages to maintain his balance, drawing on a hidden reservoir of strength, yet seemingly tottering, all the while knowing that if he falls, he instantly dies. Work being done by the other prisoners comes to a halt and all eyes are upon the struggling yet composed Zamperini. The minutes pass and still he continues to stand under the strain of the heavy beam. Here is where the symbolism is seen…
The scene shifts to an angle from above the action and lingers there, looking down upon the shadow of Zamperini and the beam, still upon his shoulders. The image is a clear visual representation of the cross, the place of suffering for the Lord Jesus. The camera angle changes and again we see the suffering Zamperini still upon his feet, along with the darkness of the scene, the bleak surroundings, and the crowd of fellow prisoners watching in awed silence.
Zamperini continues to stand, weak but unbending, facing toward his tormentor, firmly and fearlessly looking into his eyes. In spite of the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, his countenance shows quiet, determined strength as he depends upon a power far greater than himself. Then in a final surge of strength, he manages to lift the beam from his shoulders, fully extended above his head, giving a loud shout of triumph.
Watanabe is enraged. He rushes Zamperini, striking him, causing him to fall. No rifle shots from the guards, the other prisoners transfixed. The Japanese antagonist falls to his own knees, defeated next to the prostrate man who would not be broken.
The scene continues, yet the viewer senses the passing of time – how much time is not clear, but day passes to night with Zamperini still lying on the ground, unconscious, and with an armed soldier standing watch, yet making no effort to intervene or assist. Again, we are reminded of the tomb – the guards…
Louis Zamperini is portrayed as a cinematic symbol of Christ. Fellow believers, the message that some of us hoped for in Unbroken is there. The Gospel is depicted. The truth is seen. Though some may desire the message in a more boldly stated form, there is value in the artistic representation. It is deep, it is rich, and it is recognizable.
Sometimes it is well and good to consider what we may learn from a film such as Unbroken. Here are my suggestions for consideration:
1. We should appreciate excellence in artistic achievement, as long it does not endorse evil. This is so whether the artist is a committed Christian or not.
2. The Gospel does not always have to be boldly stated in order
to be effective. Quiet influence is also used of God to accomplish His will in the lives of people.
3. If we are willing to criticize artists for poorly produced efforts
that disparage that which we hold dear, then we should also be willing to commend artists when they get it right.
In Unbroken, Angelina Jolie got it right and I say, “Well done!” Having seen a brief interview of Jolie some weeks ago about Unbroken (only her second directorial effort), I came to believe she had a special relationship with Louis Zamperini. She loved him and this love caused her to feel a deep responsibility to share his story with accuracy and in a way that represented that which was most important to him.
Knowing that her dear friend was 97 years old and in declining health, Jolie wanted Zamperini to see the film before it was too late. In the interview, she told about how she visited him in the hospital, and sat with him on his bed as they watched the film together. The version he saw was not the final edited version we see in the theater, but he saw the film and was able to take in its message – and he gave his blessing.
Great men are rare and few of them are public figures. The legacy of Louis Zamperini is secure. Some of us knew of him before Unbroken was released and it’s interesting that he departed this world before becoming known to the masses. This was clearly by God’s design and in accordance with His will. May God be praised and glorified through Unbroken and may the film be used of God to draw people to Himself. I think Louis Zamperini would be pleased.