Rick and I went to “Unbroken” recently. We’ve both read Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent book, and bought an extra copy to loan out. Louis Zampirini’s story shows the strength of the human spirit to survive and the power of God to enable one to forgive and thrive.
We’ve read reviews, and have heard a lot of complaining that the movie lacked the greater story of Zampirini’s conversion to Christianity at a Billy Graham Crusade, how he recovered from alcoholism, forgave his tormentors and returned to Japan to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Hence, I went into the movie with eyes and ears wide open to see and hear what Angelina Jolie did with Louis Zampirini’s life story.
The faith message was there from beginning to end, not with a hammer, but with a gentle hand of grace. I saw it in the way Louie’s mother was on her knees praying for her wayward son. I saw it in Pete who watched his brother running from police and taught him how to run toward the Olympics. I saw it in Phil, the pilot who prayed time and again and answered Louis’ questions about God as they drifted on the vast ocean. I saw it in Louis’ terror of death during the raging storm and his pleading prayer for salvation and the promise he made to serve God for the rest of his life. It took a while, but God never let go of him. Director, Angelina Jolie, made certain that message was spelled out at the end.
One of the scenes that caught at my heart was Louis climbing the stairs to the Bird’s room after the war was over. Everything was neatly folded on the bunk, things stacked precisely on the desk. The Bird had left behind a picture of himself as a child standing by his father, a scowling hard-faced officer. Louis’ face softens as he looks at that picture, and I sensed a hint of God working on the heart of a man who could have spent the rest of his life filled with hatred and bitterness. I can’t remember the exact line, but I remembered the concept: pain for a short time, glory forever. Louis Zampirini was tortured and brutalized for a time, and God turned it around and brought forgiveness and healing to Louis and people on both sides of the Pacific. Maybe, like Pharaoh, the Bird hardened his heart so many times God allowed his heart to be hardened to the end. A life of pride opens the door to hell. Having read the book, I know that wasn’t the end Louis Zampirini hoped for Watanabe.
On a personal note: This story hits close to home because Rick’ father, William Richard Rivers, spent three years in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines during World War II. He was a civilian working for Pan American in Manila when the Japanese bombed the city on the same day they bombed Pearl Harbor. Dad was placed in Santa Tomas and then later moved and forced to help build Los Banos. He witnessed and suffered brutality and depravation first hand. Like Louis Zampirini, Dad wasn’t one to give up or give in, nor were most others in the camp. Together they smuggled information out and became participants in one of the greatest joint-armed forces rescues ever carried out in any war. The story of the Raid on Los Banos was shown on the history channel some years ago. After the war, Dad ran IASCO (International Air Service Company) who trained pilots for Japan Airlines and Lufthansa, among others. Louis Zampirini and Dad were members of the generation that not only won World War II, but also helped rebuild the countries that started it.
As we walked out of the theater, I heard the conversations going on around us. Some complained the entire story hadn’t been told. Some thought the movie was okay. A few thought it well done. I kept thinking about the young actress in “Hackers” and the wild girl and all the wild stories about Angelina Jolie. I thought about the humanitarian work she’s done around the world and the stand she’s taken for women brutalized by war. And I thought about this movie – Unbroken. I think she has that kind of spirit. I also believe that what drew her to Louis Zampirini is the Spirit in him. Jesus. And that’s my continued prayer for her, that she will surrender completely to the One who loves them both, and each of us, even before we believe.