Walking out of the theatre after seeing Angelina Jolie’s inspirational triumph-of-the-human-spirit offering Unbroken, I was reminded of one of my favorite lines from the early Simpson’s episodes. Attorney Lionel Hutz tells Homer “This is the most blatant case of false advertising since my suit against the movie The Neverending Story.”
I think if Lionel Hutz had seen Unbroken, he may have another lawsuit on his hands. Before I explain why, I will give a full SPOILER ALERT that I am going to discuss the ending of this movie (and an 80’s classic) in full detail so if you really want to see it, please do not read any further. If you think you might want to see it, please continue reading so that I may save you $13 that would be better spent almost anywhere.
I remember seeing the trailer for this film a few months back and I recall thinking – what a great story this will be. The best stories are the ones that see the greatest internal transformation in the protagonist. When done correctly, our protagonist goes through a harrowing ordeal and emerges a changed person, usually, but not always, for the better. From the trailer, I saw this would be the real life story of American Louis Zamperini who after competing for the U.S. in the 1936 Berlin Olympics served his country in WWII, was shot down, and survived adrift at sea before being taken in to a Japanese P.O.W. camp where he was regularly beaten by a sadistic Japanese Officer.
If we stop here, this is an incredible though not original story. Zamperini is not the only person to go through a trying ordeal at the hands of wartime captors. What made me want to see this movie is what happened after he was released from the camp. Zamperini rededicated himself to his Christian faith and sought out his captor so he could forgive him. I dropped my $13 so I could be taken on this journey of redemption through a real life triumph of the human spirit story. What I got instead was…I’ll get to that shortly.
What I will say for this film is it does not shy away from showing the audience just how brutal Zamperini’s experience was. Zamperini and two of his aircraft colleagues spent more than 45 days on an inflatable raft in the Pacific Ocean. Their ordeal made Tom Hanks experience in Cast Away look like a episode of Fantasy Island. (If you’re under 40, google Fantasy Island and you’ll see what a clever reference that is)
After finally being rescued (?) by a Japanese ship, Zamperini is taken in to a P.O.W. camp where they discover his identity as a former Olympic star. This along with his naturally defiant disposition leads to several severe beatings which are played out for us in graphic detail. I read that these scenes were so intense to shoot that the actor who played the sadistic camp Warden Wantenabe (Takamasa Ishihara) was so distraught after one of the scenes that he vomited on the set. There is no doubt that the actors all did a superb job with the material they were given, especially Jack O’Connell who played Zamperini.
So after two straight hours of being subjected to the most graphic torture and hardship scenes I had seen in a while, Zameperini and his buddies were released and greeted at the airport by joyous family and friends. Perfect, at this point I was ready for the redemption part. Show me how he overcame his bitterness, hatred, and rage and found enough strength in his faith to find love and forgiveness in his heart and express this to his captor face to face.
And then it happened.
They started running the epilogue captions. Those are when they tell you what happened to the character in real life at the end of one of these true story movies. They went something like this:
Louis went on to marry the girl of his dreams in 1946.
After spending years battling severe post-traumatic stress disorder, Louis Zamperini sought out Wantenabe to forgive him but Wantenabe refused to meet.
Then they showed a real life clip of an 80 year old Louis carrying the Olympic torch in the lead up to the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
I have so many problems with this “ending” I have no idea where to begin. I will start with that the fact that we never met the girl of his dreams in the movie except through a single photo so that doesn’t give us any emotional payoff.
Most importantly, they “epilogue captioned” the most important part of this story. We needed to see his battle with post-traumatic stress and what he had to go through to bring him to a place of forgiveness. You can’t offer a redemption story and not show the redemption. Without it, all you are offering is two hours of torture porn. Yes I understand it is problematic because Watenabe refused to meet. But you have to show Zamperini’s efforts to seek him out and make us understand why he must do that. Without this piece to the story it feels like if they ended E.T. where he was dying in that big tent and then flashed up on a black screen: “E.T. eventually recovered and was saved by Elliot who rushed him to the space ship via a magical bicycle ride. Elliot and E.T. had a heartfelt goodbye before E.T. was safely returned to his home planet."
It’s just not the same as seeing it for yourself.
It’s just not the same as seeing it for yourself.
When I think back to how I felt immediately after seeing Unbroken, I again have to go back to another Lionel Hutz classic. I wanted to kind of run over someone with my car. And by “kind of” I mean “repeatedly” and by “someone” I mean “the filmmakers.”