Call me an optimist, but I don’t believe Hollywood and the Christian faith are as incompatible as oil and water.
Even though Hollywood abominations like “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” have tried to insult and drive away the faith audience, Christians still make up a huge portion of the ticket-buying audience.
And even though Christian projects like “God’s Not Dead” and “Son of God” preach only to the choir, the truths of God still provide Hollywood’s storytellers with a wealth of material for excellent movies.
So why can’t the talent of Hollywood mix with the messages of faith?
Every once in a while – like in this week’s outstanding film, “Unbroken” – we see that they can.
“Unbroken” Director Angelina Jolie couldn’t be more Hollywood if she tried – daughter of a movie star, wife to a movie star, glam queen, sex symbol and tabloid staple.
Yet unlike the makers of “Noah” or “Exodus,” when Jolie received permission to make the amazing life of Olympic athlete, World War II hero and Christ-follower Louis Zamperini into a movie, she chose to stay true to the story.
The result is a film that doesn’t diminish faith, but doesn’t drown the unbelieving audience with it either – a movie that brings together great themes with great filmmaking talent.
“Unbroken” begins with Zamperini’s service as a bombardier in World War II and interposes scenes from his childhood and Olympic training to reveal the source of his incredible endurance and determination.
Those traits are sorely tested when Zamperini’s bomber is downed over the Pacific, and he spends more than 40 days on a life raft, aimlessly drifting in the sun, fending off starvation, sharks and madness. Zamperini then spends the rest of the war in a series of Japanese prison camps, where he endures unimaginable abuse, much of it at the hand of a notorious Japanese officer and war criminal known as “The Bird.”
Zamperini’s incredible perseverance and will to survive is nothing short of inspiring. So stunning is his spirit in the film’s pivotal scene that not even “The Bird” can resist being moved.
The scene, in fact, where Zamperini stands with a beam of wood across his shoulders, staring death in the face, is reminiscent of Calvary, and the Bird’s response reminiscent of the moment when Peter realized he stood in the presence of something transcendent and spoke the words, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
As pure entertainment, “Unbroken” provides solid performances and memorable scenes, an inspiring movie that is thoughtfully engaging throughout and did bring tears from some in my theater, at least. It does suffer a bit from a slower pace and lack of any comic relief or plot twist, but it’s still one of the most recommendable films of this holiday season.
As a purveyor of worldview and faith, however, “Unbroken” is exemplary. Though Zamperini didn’t actually become a Christian until after the events of the movie take place, his true story of pledging his life to God and learning to forgive the men who tortured him – including the Bird – is highlighted during the credits.
During the film, furthermore, faith is approached honestly, neither in derogatory terms nor in apologetic terms, but audiences that watch closely will recognize the strength and peace that come from prayer.
Overall, “Unbroken” extols the virtues of endurance, perseverance, forgiveness and brotherhood. It reminds us of the extreme sacrifices real men have endured in the service of our nation and reveals that redemption and hope can be found even in unimaginably dark and discouraging circumstances.
“Unbroken” stands as a film not necessarily made by Christians, but one that dwells on truth and hope, respects the Christian faith and honors the memory of a man whose Christian faith redeemed a broken life.
That such a film came out of Hollywood is exactly why I’m optimistic about what can happen when the light of God shines in the place where “light” is followed by “camera” and “action!”
- “Unbroken,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 17 profanities and obscenities.
- The film has some sexual elements, including a brief shot of some WWII pin-up girls inside the bomber, some male prisoners stripped naked from behind, shirtless men, some crude talk, a teenage boy who ogles girls and looks up their skirts from beneath the bleachers and a play inside the prison where men dress in makeup and costumes as women and act flirtatious.
- “Unbroken” contains a significant amount of violence, though none of it is portrayed as “fun” or “thrilling” as seen in a typical action movie. The opening scenes include an aerial battle where planes are shot and men are killed, with appropriate reverence and remorse. There are scenes of boys fist-fighting and men battling sharks. Most significant, however, is the violence in and around the prison camps, where men are seen beaten, bloodied and killed. Zamperini is subjected to cruel beatings and forced labor, and blood and bruising is seen, though the film doesn’t revel in gore. There are some gruesome images of the victims of a bombing attack.
- The film has no overt occult references, but several religious references, including prayer, making the sign of the Cross, an scene in a church where a preacher is heard talking about God in both the light and dark times of life, several references to faith and discussions about prayer and death, not all of which are theologically sound, but which at least reflect an authentic look at men struggling with faith or their lack of it. The film shows respect and appreciation for Christianity without mockery.