My wife and I like going to the movies. There is something about spending two hours in a cocooned space removed from daily distractions. We settle down in our seats in a dark room, midway up in the center and wait to be whisked into another dimension. The magic of surround sound and cinema stimulates our imagination and emotions allowing us to enter into other lives in another time and place.
Sometimes we scan the marquees to see if we can find a movie that interests us. Once in a while a movie is released that we anxiously await, ready to join the crowds who anticipate its arrival. Unbroken is one of those movies, the remarkable true story of Louis Zamperini.
I was introduced to Louis Zamperini in 2012 when I stumbled across Laura Hillenbrand’s book. I was unfamiliar with his life or his story, but had a hard time putting the book down once I started reading. I wrote about Zamperini in July of this year when he died. He was 97.
Zamperini’s story is remarkable for what he survived: his youthful beginnings as a thief on the streets of LA, his achievements as an Olympic athlete singled out by Hitler for his performance in the Berlin games, multiple bombing missions as a bombardier during WW II, the crash in the Pacific, 46 days at sea in an abandoned raft, years of torture and imprisonment by the Japanese.
The movie ends with Zamperini’s victorious return from the war. It stops short of telling his descent into bitter hatred, beset by nightmares from his tortured past. He turned to alcohol, trying to drown his painful memories in liquor. His life was unraveling and his marriage was on the rocks. Hillenbrand’s book describes in detail how his life was later turned around when he trusted Christ in the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles.
The real story of Louis Zamperini is the remarkable transformation God brought into the life of a man tortured by nightmares and rage. When Louis Zamperini invited Christ into his life he quit drinking. The nightmares ceased. He later returned to Japan to seek out the captor who tortured him in prison so that he could personally forgive him. He established Victory Boys Camp and gave the rest of his life to rescuing juvenile delinquents from the back alleys of Los Angeles.
In his book, Devil at My Heels, Zamperini says, “True to His promise, He came into my heart and my life. It was the most realistic experience I’d ever had. … I felt no tremendous sensation, just a weightlessness and an enveloping calm that let me know that Christ had come into my heart.”
The movie pays tribute to Louis Zamperini’s remarkable ability to survive the war. The full story is beautifully portrayed in Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken, and in Louis Zamperini’s autobiography, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In, Lessons from an Extraordinary Life.