There has been a great deal of discussion among Christians about the movie “Unbroken,” so I thought it was time to add my two cents. Most of what I have read is the notion that the movie is not “Christian” enough. It seems that folks were expecting the movie to clearly lay out the plan of salvation, lead the audience in the Sinner’s Prayer, and then show all the characters living happily ever after.
I did not expect to see a Christian movie when we went to the theater. Those who made the movie don’t seem to be the Christian movie making type, and there was nothing in the promotional material to suggest it even had a Christian message.
I did expect to see a good movie and spend an enjoyable evening with Sharon. Mission accomplished!
However, it was not a great movie, and it might actually have something to do with the missing Christian message. The movie would have been better if the character’s Christian conversion experience had been included, but not because the movie needed a Christian message. What it needed was some type of catharsis.
Here is the way good movies work. By the way, this is essentially the way all good stories work. A protagonist or hero, in this case Louis Zamperini, faces a crisis of some kind. It can be a physical, emotional, relational, or whatever kind of crisis—something that threatens loss or destruction. Often there is an antagonist who creates the crisis, and in the case of “Unbroken” that antagonist is the Japanese prison guard. He was definitely a mean man.
The protagonist must then overcome the crisis in some way. If he/she fails then we just call it a tragedy and move on and few people will buy tickets for the movie. Anyway, in a good movie the entire film builds toward the catharsis and a resolution to the crisis. When this is done in the most trite way we call it a romantic comedy.
The problem with “Unbroken” is that there was not a resolution to a crisis, or at least not one worthy of a good story. Zamperini is in prison and certainly he does suffer, but it seems the movie abruptly ends without a resolution. Sure, he demonstrated great strength and courage by holding the beam over his head, but then he was beaten by the antagonist. His strength and courage did nothing to resolve his crisis. The next scene shows the prisoners being liberated.
How was Zamperini any more a hero than the hundreds of other soldiers in the prison camp? What did he do that was any different from what the others did? They all survived and they were all liberated, but not because of anything our hero did.
Here is my suggestion on how this could have been a much better movie. From what little I know of Zamperini’s story, it seems to me the real crisis in his life came after he came home. He turned to alcohol and dreaming of revenge, and was on the verge of wasting his life—a real crisis. That is when he found Jesus and his life was turned around, even to the point of forgiving his Japanese captors.
“Unbroken” ended too soon, and pointed to the wrong crisis in his life. Courageously holding a beam over his head was not his most difficult challenge. Finding forgiveness was the real catharsis moment.
It’s a shame the movie makers missed this because it is a story that is of interest to everyone, not just Christians. Every person is seeking to either be forgiven or to be forgiving. Zamperini taught us how to do both, but we did not learn it from this film.