“Unbroken”: A Focus on Zamperini’s Survival, Not on PTSD

From an interview in November 2014, The Atlantic, with the hero of Unbroken:

John Meroney: You survived an airplane crash, lived on a life raft in the ocean for almost two months, and were beaten as a POW. You’re almost 95. What do your doctors say about you?

Louis Zamperini: I recently had a complete physical at the VA hospital and, as part of it, saw a psychiatrist. She announced, “I just deal with anxieties.” I told her that I didn’t have any. She said, “Everybody has anxieties. What do you mean?” I said that I loved my neighbor as myself and believed in doing good to those who hated me. She was astounded. We talked and talked and when I got up to leave she hugged me and said, “I’ve learned something today.” Those are the secrets to a happy, long life.

The basis for the new movie Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie and starring Jack O’Connell, is Laura Hillenbrand‘s bio of Louis Zamperini (1917-2014), subtitled A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption (2010). It is not, however, about his post-war struggles, another tale altogether.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “With some narrative rejigging, a lot of compression and one significant exception, Ms. Jolie follows the lead of the book, which focuses on the first 25 years or so of Mr. Zamperini’s life.”

David Cox, The Guardian, summarizes Zamperini’s war story:

A champion distance runner who competed at the 1936 Olympics, Zamperini joined the American Air Force at the outbreak of the second world war. In May 1943, his plane was shot down over the South Pacific, killing eight of the eleven crew and leaving Zamperini and two others stranded in a tiny life raft. Enduring shark attacks, a burst of machine gun fire from a passing Japanese bomber, and the loss of their friend Mac from starvation, Zamperini and pilot Russell Phillips held out for 47 days.

By the time they reached land in the Marshall Islands, both were too weak to stand. But their struggle had only just begun. They were picked up by a passing Japanese warship and transferred to various concentration camps, where they suffered sadistic beatings and threats of death on a daily basis until their release in August 1945.

In an interview with NPR, Jolie quoted her subject: “Don’t make a film about how great I am or how exceptional I am; make a film that reminds people that they have greatness inside themselves.”

The Unbroken trailer’s below:

Not a Focus of the Film

When he returned home from the war Zamperini suffered from what would now be diagnosed as PTSD. David Margolick, New York Times: “Like many soldiers stateside, Zamperini had a difficult re-entry, troubled by alcoholism, flashbacks, nightmares and rage.”

In 1949, with the help of Rev. Billy Graham, Zamperini found Christianity and God. The film, however, doesn’t focus on either his PTSD or the religious beliefs that helped him so significantly. Randy Myers, San Jose Mercury News: “…(W)hat happens after the war — Zamperini’s battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, the grace he discovered within his Christian faith and his remarkable forgiveness of his tormentors — are summed up in an epilogue.”

Although some are disappointed by this, Zamperini’s own son Luke has indicated “that his father was pleased with the way Jolie depicted the subject of his Christian faith” (Isaiah Narciso, Gospel Herald).

Selected Movie Reviews

The following excerpts seem representative of the overall trending:

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “‘Unbroken’ stirs a moviegoer by default; it’s an astounding story of human endurance that has been brought a little too safely to the screen.”

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Though O’Connell’s vulnerable lead performance is terrific, Unbroken‘s unrestrained hero worship undermines the story.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Ms. Jolie’s obsession with Louie, who died in July at age 97, informs every scene…Unbroken is probably too grim, brutal and depressing for most viewers, and the decision to open it on Christmas Day is questionable. But as a tribute to one hero’s fortitude in refusing to give in to evil, it gives off its own admirable feeling of positive spiritual energy that left me feeling good about the best qualities of mankind. One of the finest achievements of the 2014 film year.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *