An Olympic gold medal athlete, war hero, marooned at sea and then a prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini’s story was well chronicled in Angelina Jolie’s 2014 film, Unbroken. In it, Jolie traced Zamperini’s mischievous boyhood that was turned around by his older brother who recognized his deep reservoir of athletic ability.
Zamperini’s prowess as a track star led to him eventually representing the United States in the 1936 Olympics, winning the gold medal for the 5000-meter run. When the Second World War broke out, like many young men in his day, Zamperini enlisted, becoming a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator. While on a rescue mission the plane malfunctioned, leading them to ditch in the Paciﬁc. Jolie vividly portrayed the 47 days Zamperini, with fellow crew members Phil and Mac, were adrift at sea following their plane crash. After being strafed by a Japanese ﬁghter, Mac eventually died from his wounds leaving the survivors to be rescued by a passing Japanese ship. Imprisoned for a short time on a Japanese held island as prisoners of war, their grueling ﬁght for survival continued. Eventually, Zamperini was sent to a prisoner of war camp in Japan where he became the target of a particularly sadistic commandant, whom the POWs nicknamed “The Bird.” Unbroken follows that dramatic and brutal portrayal of Zamperini’s imprisonment until his conﬁnement ended with the war’s end.
As intense as his life had been up to that point, the original movie cheats the movie viewer by only giving a hint as to the ordeal that would follow Zamperini when he returned home. Unbroken: The Path to Redemption, under the direction of Harold Cronk, picks up where Jolie left off. We follow Zamperini as he tries to adjust to civilian life but is bedeviled by ﬂashbacks and nightmares, particularly around the maltreatment received in the prison camp at the hands of the Bird. Through all of this he meets and marries a loving Christian woman whose faith seems to confuse more than comfort Zamperini. Although recognized on the street as an Olympic medalist and war hero, he cannot ﬁnd work, further compounding his misery. Zamperini accelerates into a downward spiral fueled by a constant state of drunkenness most of his waking hours. Eventually, Zamperini decides the only way to be free of his condition is to travel to Japan and kill the Bird. But a couple of more twists redirect Zamperini to ﬁnd himself on a whole new journey.
If there is any weakness in the sequel, it is that it assumes the movie goer has already seen Jolie’s ﬁlm. It relies heavily on this back story. The full story is also available in Laura Hillebrand’s book, Unbroken (2014).
The conclusion of the ﬁlm is as dramatic as any other element. It chronicles a decisive turning point in Zamperini’s life that, true to the movie’s title, is his path to redemption through Christ. Of interest to Salvationists are both a cameo appearance by The Salvation Army and the unmistakable sounds of a Salvation Army band playing.
We highly recommend this movie to our readers, but if you have not seen the original movie by Jolie, take the time to view it ﬁrst. Many cable companies offer it as free on demand content.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor in Chief and National Literary Secretary