I remember reading the incredible story of Louis Zamperini that is chronicled in the best-selling book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand when it was first published in 2010 and thought to myself: How can anyone survive against such overwhelming odds in so many horrendous circumstances? What gave Louis the will to keep on fighting for life?
His story was partially told in the film of the same name by Angelina Jolie. However, that film ended with the war-torn Louis returning home to his family in Torrance, California. The film focused on his plane crash, 47 days afloat on the Pacific ocean, and his time as a POW in a Japanese prison camp. What it did not show was that the war waged on even after he returned home. His interior struggle for personal freedom only just began.
Unbroken: Path to Redemption directed by Harold Cronk and distributed by Pure Flix Entertainment recounts the rest of Louis’ biographical history. Coming home after living through extreme adrenaline-hyped survival on the open ocean, diabolical torture by the Japanese camp guard Matsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), and extreme mental fatigue, he struggles with his interior demons, what would now be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Louis (Samuel Hunt) becomes overwhelmed by his recurring nightmares that he starts drinking heavily, a propensity he developed prior to his pre-war running career.
He meets the lovely Cynthia Appelwhite (Merritt Patterson), marries her and they have a daughter, Cissy and a son, Luke. During this time Louis struggles to find a decent job and the drinking increases. Seeking a way for healing, Cynthia helps Louis return to running, hoping that will help him overcome his interior stress and regain his fame as the "Torrance Tornado." When a running accident weakens him, his hopes of becoming an Olympian once again are dashed and depression engulfs him. Major Zeigler (Bob Gunton) visits and asks Louis to be the face of the military by giving talks inciting people to continue to buy war bonds to fund the government deficit, since his status as a war hero was well publicized. His interior mental torture enslaves him to his desire for revenge on Watanabe and he makes drunken plans to go to Japan to kill him. His weakness to alcohol puts his marriage on the brink of divorce.
In the meantime, Billy Graham (played by his grandson Will Graham) brings his big tent revival crusade to Los Angeles in 1949 and Cynthia invites Louis to attend. After numerous invitations he finally gives in. Reluctantly, he listens to Graham preach and finds that he can relate to all that is spoken. He receives the healing grace of Christ into his life. Once that happens, everything changes.
Louis Zamperini with Billy Graham; (c) Pure Flix
Louis lets go of his vengeance and opens his heart to forgiveness. It is as if the world takes on color again and his interior demons are diminished. He no longer needs alcohol to cope, but instead finds that his faith in God sets him free from slavery to sin and his tortured past.
This heartfelt, inspirational portrayal of Zamperini’s remarkable spiritual transformation shows so beautifully how grace frees the mind and heart from darkness offering new life and new perspective. Only then can one be the bearer of forgiveness, especially to those filled with hatred and evil. Louis’ life is an example of how forgiveness sets one free. When we hold onto hatred and life’s hurts we only prolong the torture in ourselves, but when we forgive as Christ forgives, we can live happily and with a supernatural joy that only God can give.