Why Every Christian Should See This Film
Christian Movie Review
Unbroken (#UnbrokenMovie), the adaptation of the bestselling book by Laura Hillabrand, tells the gripping true story of Olympian (and outspoken Christian) Louis Zamperini:
“After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.” (plot summary from IMDB)
After the parental guidance section, I’ll explain why I loved this movie so much, and why most other Christians will too. It essentially brings the Gospel (at least a crucial element of it) to the big screen.
[BY THE WAY: here’s a marketing head-scratcher for you. Unbroken was heavily marketed towards the faith-based crowd. And usually the trailers before the movie will align with the marketing angle of the feature presentation. Why oh why, then, did the theater (owned by the large national Carmike Cinemas chain) where I saw this film put the trailer for the sexually explicit definitely-not-a-family-or-faith-based film Fifty Shades of Grey before Unbroken? The “Fifty” film is rumored to be having both an R-rated and an NC-17 (which can become explicit as porn) version released in theaters. So who in their right mind would advertise “Fifty” before telling the Louis Zamperini story, one of the most admired men in the Christian community in the last 50 years? At least from a family entertainment perspective I found that very baffling and annoying — though the trailers before a film can vary from theater-to-theater and even from day-to-day. It could have been the move of that particular theater and not true for every showing of Unbroken. I sent an email to Carmike Cinemas asking about this and expressing my opinion above because it was just a bizarre marketing move.]
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality: Prisoners-of-war are seen naked from behind. Male soldiers dress in drag, with sort of lusty (but silly) costumes, to portray a theatrical version of Cinderella in their detention camp.
Violence/Gore: We see soldiers shot through from enemy aircraft fire, and others get severely wounded. It is bloody, but it is not R-rated graphic. There is a great deal of suffering in this film: we see men waste away as they sit on a raft stranded in the ocean for weeks; we see them beaten and neglected in detention camps, and one character makes a reference to soldiers being beheaded (though that level of violence is never depicted). Despite all of the violence, none of it is graphic or intensely gory as you would see in an R-rated war field. Soldiers adrift in the ocean cut open a seagull, a fish, and a shark and eat its innards. None of it is shockingly graphic, though it is probably the most squeamish scenes, as far as gore. They are seen vomiting at one point.
Language: A few mild obscenities (s-word, d-word).
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: The ordinary smoking and drinking among soldiers that you’d see in a war film.
Frightening/Intense Content: This film is not gory, but it succeeds in making the harrowing trials endured by the characters jarringly realistic and emotionally exhausting. It is a very intense film that will stretch your emotions and make you feel the loss, terror, and misery much more effectively than many other war movies. (But, if you can endure it all, the ending is worth it.)
(Review continues below)
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“…this film does not try to hide the Christian elements of Zamperini’s harrowing story; it fleshes them out in a glorious display of courage and conviction — through the eyes of Zamperini and his fellow soldiers — without being preachy or heavy-handed.”
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Directed by Angelina Jolie and a screenplay written (partly) by the famous Coen Brothers (O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men), I was fascinated with how this movie would turn out — especially because it is based on the life of a passionate, outspoken Christian. Here are a few observations.
1. It is commendably quiet. In many places where other directors would slather music cues all over it to trumpet the emotions, Jolie opts for silence and sound effects instead, allowing the context of the scene do its own talking. This gave the film a powerfully felt realism. The viewing experience felt a little like watching Castaway, where the pensive silence makes you feel like a fellow traveler with the character rather than a spectator.
2. After the war, Zamperini struggled mightily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he tried to deal with the savagery he had endured in the war. The PTSD almost ruined his life, until he gave his life to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949. Although the film doesn’t jump forward in time to that moment in 1949, it alludes very generally to it (without mentioning Billy Graham) and depicts events that foreshadow it — such as Zamperini praying to God while lost at sea. The film’s closing title cards explain how that prayer at sea led to Zamperini eventually dedicating the rest of his life to God. It is described in a general way. Some folks will have probably wished that it mentioned the whole Billy Graham chapter in a little more detail.
3. The film’s less-is-more quality does, at times, have a slightly negative effect because it can make the movie feel sleepy. In places where it really could have yanked on the heartstrings and made the audience cry, it played it cool. Some critics complained about this, saying that there wasn’t enough tension at times. While I see their point, I think the slow burn approach succeeds in the end because, in an odd way, it saves the biggest emotional punch for when you see the actual photographs and live footage of the real Louis Zamperini.
4. The ending is worth all the grueling misery that the audience must witness as everything goes from bad to worse for the characters. Without giving spoilers away, I’ll just say that the ending was satisfying and, surprisingly, the titles cards that told us the rest of the story in the epilogue was what finally brought the tears on. The slow burn style of the film made the emotional impact sink in a little slower, but when you finally get to the epilogue that talks about what happened to Zamperini after the war, the realization of everything he endured — and the miracle of all of it — just hits you.
5. The film also is careful not to put Zamperini on some pedestal. It shows his moments of weakness, when he’s not so courageous or heroic, and this makes the story feel all the more plausible and easy to relate to.
And, although this movie is long, the ending definitely makes it worth the time and energy.
The film communicates a strong Christian worldview, especially the element of Christianity in which Christ tells His followers to love their enemies and forgive them. In other words, this film does not try to hide the Christian elements of Zamperini’s harrowing story; it fleshes them out in a glorious display of courage and conviction — through the eyes of Zamperini and his fellow soldiers — without being preachy or heavy-handed.
In the beginning, a preacher is seen saying these words during a sermon: “Christ did not come to war against sin, but forgive it.” Although I might slightly disagree with the wording; Christ came to forgive sin and pardon sinners who accept His free gift, yes, but He also came to give us His Spirit that would live in us, transform us, and change our nature so that we would no longer be slaves to the impulses, addictions, and self-destruction of sin.
As Joseph Langford once said: “The same God who loves us as we are also loves us too much to leave us as we are.”
At first, after the scene with the preacher in the beginning, I was worried the film might try to advance a hyper-grace message — the heretic scourge in Western Christendom today that says the Cross not only forgives all sin but it also excuses us from ever having to say we’re sorry to God or to others when we stumble in our walk after we get saved. Hyper-grace teachers tell their congregants that the r-word, repent, is a bad word. You’d have to cut out about 75% of the Bible to come to that conclusion.
But thankfully this film is not advancing that message. The preacher in the beginning says, “Christ did not come to war against sin, but forgive it,” but the film further defines this sentence as the film develops: Christ did not come to war against sinners (including His enemies who crucified Him), but to forgive them.
This is the film’s ultimate message: we must forgive our enemies because it is the only real way to overcome them and conquer their evil.
I can’t recommend this film enough (though, as noted at top, I sincerely hope theaters nationwide aren’t pairing the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer with Unbroken). Although the intense suffering in Unbroken would not make it suitable for children, Christian adults and young adults should be flocking in droves to be inspired by this movie. It’s worth the time and money to see it, and it’s worth enduring all of the story’s hardship and misery to get to the film’s inspiring conclusion.
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