UNBROKEN [Movie Review]

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UNBROKEN -Movie Review

A Pre-Release Movie Review

By Vinnie MacIsaac

[The is a re-blog from 2014]

Movie Tagline: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

I was invited, by Universal Pictures, to a special advanced previewing, for clergy in the DC area, of UNBROKEN, the new movie by directed by Angelina Jolie. It opens Christmas day 2014.

At first, I have to admit that I was surprised to have a clergy invite for a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. While many atheists like to claim her as their own, she has been more noncommittal of the existence or nonexistence of God. She has implied, basically, that to her there does not need to be a God, but she sees spirituality embedded in us all.[1] She has also alluded to hoping there is a God because of the dedication others have put into faith.[2] She is, however, a serious humanitarian whose efforts grossly out-do even the most generous types in Hollywood. Despite her many good deeds, her work is not normally known for Christian overtones; still I decided why not go and see what she has to say about faith in her new work as a director.

Fans liked it much more then the critics. Click the image to read reviews.

The version of the movie I saw was over 140 plus minutes. So it seems likely the final release will be edited. It was rated PG-13, with some have minor bad language and brief male nudity. But I would say the language and nudity were not sensationalized but was used with purpose in the story. In terms of suitability, because it is a war picture and involves acts of torture, it may not be appropriate for everyone. But, for minds mature enough to understand what real life is like in a fallen world, this movie will likely be of deep meaning to you. The events of this movie are based on a true story and are well known and documented.

Basic Plot

(Minor spoilers)

UNBROKEN tells the story of Olympic athlete Louis “Louie” Zamperini and his very broken self-image and self-worth as a first generation Italian immigrant in America; how as a child he was bullied and beaten just for being different. While Louie rebelled into teenage mischief of alcohol and womanizing, his older brother sought to use the family’s strong belief in God to reach his brother Louie with a deeper sense of purpose and value. With the coaching of his brother, Louie indeed reached above his existential struggles and became an Olympic champion the whole nation revered.  Then the unthinkable happened; WW2 came to American and Louie went from champion to solider, overnight.

After spending an amazing 47 days stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with his buddies avoiding, sharks, enemy fire, and extreme dehydration and starvation Louie is rescued. Unfortunately, it is by the Japanese, and he is extremely tortured for possible military intelligence. Louie catches the eye of the prison camp leader, nicknamed, “Bird.” Bird, seeing something strong in Louie, makes Louie his special “friend;” which is code for special object of extreme,  above and beyond any reasonable level of torture for any wartime productivity. The key plot of the movie then focuses on the brutal, inhuman, and demonic torture Louie is dished out, over and over again, by Bird and Louie’s refusal to break, give up, or allow others to the camp to be punished by Bird for his inability to take the wrath of Bird himself. 

The Religiosity of the Movie

(More Spoilers that speak to the theme)

UNBROKEN is not a flat-out religious movie. But, it is a flat out unapologetic patriotic movie and it does tend to demonize the Japanese. My counter balance to that would be, the movie does not speak to the Japanese as evil people as much as it speaks to the insanity of the depths that fallen, sinful mankind will fall to in the extremes of war. While I am aware this movie has created outrage in Japan for its depiction of the Japanese in WW2, I think it is best to remember, as you watch this movie, that the depiction of the Japanese may at times seem near demonic but that is in fact what war does to us all.

 The religious themes in this movie are there. But, they are not overt but, rather, secondary. In short, this is not the movie you will show at your church on movie night. However, you may watch it with a group of young adults and have a discussion of it afterward.

Louie is depicted in the movie as a “type of Christ” like figure. The Irony of the nickname “Bird” (which I believe to be a legitimate, historical fact) and its connection, in the book of Revelation, to unclean spirits is uncanny to me. Clearly, Bird is an unclean spirit and plays the “Type of Satan” to Louie’s “Type of Christ.” Louie continually takes the brutal beatings; not only for his country and his family but mostly for the camp of fellow prisoners of the “Bird.”

The real Louis “Louie” Zamperini and Angelina Jolie pose together.

Whether intentionally or not, (I am trying not to make assumptions) director Angelina Jolie nails the art of brief flirtations with deep Christian themes. In one scene, Louie is given the choice to be punched in the face by every man in the camp or to have his broken friend who is near death beaten until he dies. The men in the camp refuse to punch Louie but when his friend gets beaten because they are not hitting him, Louie demands he take the beaten for his friend and screams at his co-prisoners to hit him, and to hit him hard! And they then line up punching him in the face one at a time until beaten and bleeding, not even able to stand without help, every last prison punches him. I could not help but watch the scene and not hear in my mind, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But, he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

 In another scene, Bird forces an exhausted Louie to hold a heavy wooden plank over his head. Then, Bird gives the orders, as the whole camp watches, to shoot Louie if he should drop the plank in exhaustion. In unbearable pain, Louie can only hold on so long, but when he is just about to drop it, and Bird readies himself for the joy of Louie’s destruction, suddenly, out of nowhere, Louie finds the power within him to lift the plank over his head further than ever; forming the seemingly unintentional silhouette-like image of Jesus on the cross. When Bird sees he can’t defeat Louie this way, instead of shooting him he beats Louie; until it is Bird, not Louie, who is too exhausted to go on. While not outright stated, the metaphoric message, as shadowy and indeterminate as it is, is present for those who want to receive it that the power of Jesus on the Cross is one that Satan cannot defeat.

My Final Word

This is not a movie for everyone. And many Christians going to see it, because they have been told it has a Christian message of redemption, will completely miss the point. Other than a few snips of a sermon, here and there, in a scene and some characters praying and seeking God while in trouble, there is no outright Christian message. But, what director Angelina Jolie does is nail the art of flirtation with Christian themes without losing her secular audience or compromising the integrity of the secular historic story she is telling. Since I was invited, as clergy, to preview the movie, I have to believe the allusions to Christian themes where not accidental by director Angelina Jolie. Perhaps the once famous “Tomb Raider”[3] and blood- wearing celebrity[4] with wishy-washy views of God has found, in all her humanitarian work and advocating for great causes, the maturity to even be able to see the value of the story of Christ and his substitutionary atonement. My wish and prayer is that the themes in her movie touch her heart as much as they touch the viewers; that in time she might come to know the God of Louis “Louie” Zamperini in a personal and intimate way that clarifies for her the existence of God and all of His goodness and redemptive powers.

All I can say is that with talks circulating of a Desmond Doss movie in the works with, allegedly Mel Gibbon directing, after seeing UNBROKEN I would have rather seen Angelina Jolie tell Desmond Doss’s story (which I never thought I’d say).

I give the movie a surprising strong B+ while cautioning other Christian viewers to see it with the correct understanding that it is not an overt religious movie. It does contain adult themes. So, if you act like an adult. By which I mean, don’t over react; we all know you watch worse on TV.


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[1] AV Club, September 6, 2000.

[2] See this site for a full discussion of her statements http://www.religionfacts.com/celebrities/angelina_jolie.htm

[3] Tomb Raider is a very famous movie based on a video game. Angelina Jolie’s starring role in that movie was a major turning point in her mainstream popularity.

[4] Angelina Jolie reportedly uses to wear a vial of her then husbands blood around her neck. http://www.refinery29.com/2014/10/76756/angelina-jolie-billy-bob-thornton-vial-of-blood

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