Sunday, December 28, 2014

Unbroken [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Star) (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (B. Tallerico) review
AVClub (K. Uhlich) review

Unbroken [2014] (directed by Angelina Jolie, screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on the biography by Laura Hillenbrand) tells the war-time story of Louis Zamperini born of Italian-immigrant parents, raised in Torrance, California grew up to be an Olympic athlete representing the United States as a middle distance runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and then served as an airman (bombardier) in the U.S.A.A.F. in the Pacific Theater before his plane, an early B-24, crashed due to mechanical failure in middle of the Pacific Ocean (apparently 800 miles south of Oahu).  And that's where Zamperini's story (and the film) really begins.

Zamperini (played as an adult by Jack O'Connell and in occasional flashbacks as a child by C.J. Valleroy) survived the plane's ditching in the Pacific along with two of his crew mates -- Cup (played by Jay Courtney) and Phil (played by Domnhall Gleeson).  Together, they drifted in an army-issue yellow inflatable life-raft for 45 days (Phil died after 30), eating raw fish, drinking occasional rain water, fighting off sharks with their paddles and jumping back into the sea occasionally to evade occasional strafing runs by Japanese aircraft.  Finally, they were picked-up ... by the Japanese and  tortured first "for information" (they had little) out on some Japanese held island somewhere in the Pacific and then "for fun" / "because they could be" after they were transported back to the Japanese home islands to spend the rest of the War there as POWs.

Zamperini's story thus was a very painful one throughout this several-years-long chapter of his life.  The film invites viewers to ask themselves what they would do:

His "celebrity" as a "former Olympic athlete" both helped and hurt him during his captivity.  A low ranking Japanese officer named Watanabe, nicknamed by the POWs as "The Bird" (played quite bravely by contemporary Japanese pop-star Takamasa Ishihara [en.wikip] [ja.wikip]* [IMDB]) a self-loathing, born-privileged "loser with a stick" took particular pleasure beating-up / otherwise humiliating Zamperini, who as a former Olympic athlete had already achieved a level of _Greatness_ that no matter how many blows "The Bird" could afflict on him during his captivity no one could take away.  On the hand, Zamperini was offered RELIEF FROM ALL OF THIS SUFFERING IF ONLY ... he consented to work for Radio Tokyo ON BEHALF OF THE JAPANESE.  The Temptation was REAL ... as were the Consequences to which-ever-way he decided to go.  He _chose_ to _continue to endure_ the awful and utterly random (utterly beyond his control) BEATINGS rather than BETRAY HIS COUNTRY ... Honestly that was one tough SELF-SACRIFICING decision).

After the War, he had another decision to make (covered in the film only by a few panels of explanatory titles): Could he forgive this enemy that TORTURED HIM and KILLED SO MANY OF HIS FRIENDS / FELLOW POWs?  Born Italian-American, he was therefore born/raised Catholic.  However, the book has it that it was his wife and Evangelist Billy Graham who changed his heart in the post-war years to begin a completely new chapter in his life: HE WENT BACK TO JAPAN as a born-again Christian.  In 1950, he went to the Sugamo Prison in Tokyo which housed many of Japan's War Criminals and publicly FORGAVE everyone of the prisoners there who stepped forward to acknowledge that they knew him during _his captivity_ during the war.  (Subsequently, he even reached out to Watanabe, who had successfully evaded capture as a War Criminal after the war, but "The Bird" refused to meet him).

In any case, Louis Zamperini's is one heck of a story, and one that deserves praise here (even if his Catholicism in his post-WW II years could be something of a question mark): We are asked by God / Jesus to forgive.  How well are we all doing with that?

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser. 

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