Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken” features the true story of an Olympian and World War II veteran who was only able to extend forgiveness to his captors after he encountered Christianity.
The problem? The Christianity that is central to Louis Zamperini’s life is almost entirely absent from the film.
That could prove a disappointment to Christian viewers who read the best-seller by Lauren Hillenbrand that spawned the film, or who have been courted by the filmmakers to see the film, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day.
The question is whether Hollywood can lure faith-based audiences with a story that’s based on faith but doesn’t pay much attention to it, especially against the blockbuster biblical epic “Exodus,” which opens on Dec. 12.
“Unbroken” features the real-life story of Zamperini, whose plane crashed in the Pacific during World War II. After spending 47 days adrift at sea, he spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
After the war, he wrestled with addiction and his marriage nearly ended in divorce. All that changed in 1949, when he attended a Los Angeles crusade by an up-and-coming evangelist named Billy Graham. The two would team up together during later crusades.
“Unfortunately early reports are that #Unbroken gives very short shrift to the faith side of Zamperini’s journey. When will Hollywood learn?” author Eric Metaxas tweeted on Wednesday (Dec. 3).
The film doesn’t ignore faith, but it includes no mention of Jesus or Graham. Faith is portrayed more generically — unlike the 2010 book by Hillenbrand (she also wrote the best-selling “Seabiscuit”), which was praised by Christian readers for capturing the drama of Zamperini’s conversion.
Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2 at age 97. His son, Luke Zamperini, is helping promote the film.
Jolie’s role as director prompted questions about the film’s faith element; given Jolie’s own lack of faith, some reviewers questioned whether the actress would give short shrift to Zamperini’s faith.
“There doesn’t need to be a God for me,” Jolie said in 2000. “There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike.” Her husband, actor Brad Pitt, has said he is “probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic.”
At a press screening here, reporters were told Jolie would not answer questions related to her own faith, or lack thereof.
The film does include some generic portrayals of faith and God. Early in the film, Zamperini is scolded for not paying attention in church while the priest tells congregants to love their enemies. He watches as his mother prays, and asks his fellow crash survivor about his faith.
And he turns to faith in his most desperate moment. “If you get me through this, if you answer my prayers, I swear, I’ll dedicate my whole life to you,” Zamperini is shown praying during his 47 days at sea. “I’ll do whatever you want. Please.”
The sky breaks open and rain pours down, providing the survivors much-needed water in their rafts.
Faith is mostly absent from the rest of the film. “After years of severe post-traumatic stress, Louie made good on his promise to serve God, a decision he credited with saving his life,” one slide at the end of the film says. “Motivated by his faith, Louie came to see that the way forward was not revenge, but forgiveness.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey