“Unbroken” Does Not Do The Story, Or The Book, Justice

by Jessica Tran
Class of 2016

Unbroken has come with much anticipation. I read the original novel by Laura Hillenbrand as suggested by Mr. Wiggin. He described it as a true page turner, which I fully agree. Hillenbrand tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, a World War II soldier in the Air Force. The novel captures Zamperini’s rebellious childhood, Olympic dream, time as a prisoner of war, and redemption.

The movie has done a fine job publicizing the book. I, like others, was skeptical of Angelina Jolie. If one is going to turn this into a movie, they must get everything correct. I understand Hollywood’s need for drama; however, when it is a true story that is so strong on paper, there is no need to exaggerate.

Hollywood dramatized some parts as I expected, but the real issue was the omission of people, actions, and Zamperini’s redemption.

A scene from "Unbroken"

A scene from “Unbroken”

Spoilers ahead.

The novel opens with Zamperini in “The Green Hornet,” their bombardment plane, crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly a flashback brings Louis back to his childhood. A few moments later he is in a raft with two other survivors of the crash. Then another flashback to the opening ceremony of the Berlin Olympic Games. And the raft again.

This very format of the movie did not give the necessary focus on Zamperini’s childhood since it skimmed the close bond he and his brother Phil had. Also, it was slightly confusing to those who did not read the novel. As Zamperini boarded a train to go to the Olympics my dad whispered “Where is he going?” This general format was a setback for the movie.

As the movie progresses, Zamperini and his friend Russel Allen “Phil” Phillips are captured by the Japanese. The scenes of their initial capture on a large ship are not true to the book, but that is insignificant. What is important is that the movie omits a key detail of kindness. Jolie cuts their initial wash onto an island and rushes to the inhumane quarters, when in the novel they are captured and stay in an infirmary for two days with Japanese doctors who have genuine concern over their health. They are later kept in horrible conditions, but to ignore compassion is to reject the complexity of being a prisoner of war. A Japanese doctor tells Zamperini and Phillips “After you leave here we cannot guarantee your life” (Hillenbrand 173). It is wartime so the Japanese abuse POW’s, yet the small acts of compassion illustrate the paradox of war; some see the enemy and some see a human.

When Zamperini is targeted by the infamous “Bird,” or Mutshuiro Watanabe, the movie displays his extreme violence and fails to illustrate his pendulum of emotions. Hillenbrand describes how in one moment The Bird would beat Zamperini in the middle of the night, and next would be caring for his wounds. The movie illustrates this, but focuses on his violence too much to illustrate the oscillating behaviors.

The novel ends with Louis’ return home where he hugs his mother and sees his family for the first time in over two years. This is a touching ending and showed photos of his life back in America and a video of him finally running in the Olympics– in Japan. He carried the torch through the streets as people cheered his name.

Happy endings are great and all, yet Jolie’s synopsis of his life after imprisonment barely skims the surface of it. Zamperini’s nightmares, attacks, and salvation in Christianity are all summarized in a mere few sentences. The movie omitted Zamperini’s nightmare that caused him to almost suffocate his pregnant wife unconsciously, his vengeful quest to kill The Bird, his eventual forgiveness of his captors, including The Bird, and his acceptance of God which ultimately saved him from alcoholism and depression. Ignoring the inspirational part of the novel was the ultimate let down of the movie.

As I walked out of the theater with my dad, I just purged all of my anger over the misinformation, or lack of information, that the movie provided. My dad argued that it was a good movie, considering he did not read the book, but that is it. He did not read the book, so he does not know the truth.

As I said to him, everyone who paid money for the movie should be refunded with a copy of the book.