Zamperini film by Angelina Jolie will not include his faith in Christ

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By Mark Ellis

Jolie with Zamperini, shortly before his death
Jolie with Zamperini, shortly before his death

A new film about Louis Zamperini, the World War II hero whose life is the subject of an adaptation of the book “Unbroken,” will not include the story of his faith in Jesus Christ.

The prisoner of war survivor and inspirational speaker – known for his bold profession of faith in Christ — died from pneumonia in Los Angeles on July 2. He was 97.

The Universal Pictures film will be directed by Angelina Jolie, based on “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand.

The adaptation of Hillenbrand’s book involves a collaboration between Jolie and the Coen Brothers, known for their idiosyncratic postmodern films, combining wry humor, an eccentric viewpoint, and sometimes brutal violence. The film is set for release on Christmas Day.

According to an L.A. Times story published before Zamperini’s death, Universal Pictures held the movie rights to Zamperini’s life story for more than 50 years, but no one could figure out how to compress his remarkable saga into a two-hour film.

After Jolie read “Unbroken,” she became obsessed with the film project. She had only directed one film, which was not a commercial success, and was looking for a second project, but didn’t anticipate something of this magnitude.

“I wasn’t really looking for something of this size,” Jolie told the L.A. Times. “But the way Laura writes about him is the way I like to read about people. It was like I was witnessing the birth of a man – it was something I wanted to tell my sons about.”

On a trip to Cambodia, Jolie awakened at 2:00 a.m. and suddenly had a clear picture in her mind about the movie – which parts to leave in and which parts to leave out. Her “vision” was to leave out Zamperini’s journey to faith in Jesus Christ – arguably the single-greatest turning point in a life spiraling downward after the war.

When Jolie met with Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures, to communicate her concept, she said it would end with Zamperini’s liberation but not include his bout with alcoholism and Billy Graham-inspired religious conversion, according to the L.A. Times story.

“She was really impressive, thoughtful and thorough,” Langley told the Times afterward. The studio had considered hiring a veteran filmmaker, but changed their mind after meeting with Jolie. They approved a $65 million budget and took a leap with Jolie – still unproven as a director.

Christian media critic Ted Baehr, the founder of Movieguide, is disappointed by the absence Zamperini’s journey to faith in the upcoming movie. “Unbroken is one of the best books ever written,” he notes. “The great story is that he got out of his anger problem (with PTSD) by coming to Christ.”

Even though Zamperini’s Christian conversion is left out, there are a few references to faith highlighted in the film’s trailer, which opens with a minister preaching to a young Zamperini: “However dark the light, however dim our hopes, the light will always follow darkness,” the minister says.

The trailer also depicts Zamperini praying while in captivity during the war. Both portrayals may be designed by marketing people to appeal to Christian audiences, despite a glaring absence that may spark complaints by those familiar with the book.

It will not be as good a film without the story of his overcoming faith. “It could be a great movie,” according to Baehr, but not without the story of his “spiritual release,” which is just as important as his physical release from captivity.

 

Related: How Louis Zamperini came to Christ

The story of his survival in World War II

51 COMMENTS

  1. I am not surprised by her decision. Her “vision” was obviously not from God. I wonder how honored Mr. Zamperini would be? How sad to leave out something so vitally important to this man. I personally will not go anywhere near this one when it is released.

    • Didn’t you see that she had met with him? Don’t you think she talked about her vision for the movie and he approved her plan? Geesh!

      • Not necessarily. often when a filmmaker collaborates on a biopic, and the
        main person in the film is still alive, or their family is still alive, they don’t
        know what the final version of the film will be. Usually they don’t see the
        film until it’s about 98% completed.

    • While searching into the accuracy of the movie I noticed the catch prhrase “unbroken is unfinished” on one google hit which intrigued me to see what someone meant by it considering it was from one sect of christaindom. I was thinking MAYBE it referred to a person being an “unfinished work of God” until and unless he or she is “broken” before God Spiritually. I wondered if that were the case would it simply another reference to one’s carnal life being “in the toilet” so to speak, which while very dramatic a thing typically is not what I personally believe true brokenness necessarily is accompanied by, and even when it is, I THINK , would only be an attention getter in the person’s life and not the real brokenness I THINK Scripture is speaking of …an attention getter could be anything depending on the person, from being a complete failure due to destructive behavior all the way to simply searching for “why”s and coming to the conclusion that “all is vanity” literally. It could even come I THINK after being desperate and convincing oneself to believing PEOPLE persuading them to cling to some version of christaindom’s “do it yourself salvation” like “accepting Jesus” at some Billy Graham style “altar call” …after doing that and eventually confessing that THAT too appears to be vanity and vexation of Spirit…because finally I think the REAL “broken and contrite heart” that God will not despise has to do with confessing that one truly does NOT understand and in brokenness is begging God for HIS mercy rather than trusting in ANY man or ANY sect of Christendom … ANY formula whatsoever where a person can DO something to merit mercy and real hope.

      I was thinking IF “unbroken is unfinished” dealt with that, then I would have been amazed it had been attached to a name like Billy Graham who it seems was just one more man claiming to KNOW and saying “turn in here sinner and get yourself saved” …which in various flavors is as common as grass… Whereas I THINK Scripture/the WORD/…THAT Wisdom says “LOOK HERE and NOT to man” as verses such as “Let God be true and EVERY man a liar” suggest to me.

      Alas it only seems now the phrase “unbroken is unfinished” referred to a mere movie where a sect was disappointed they did not get credit for supposedly being instrumental in the real person being depicted by the main charcter’s “salvation” …as if anyone really could KNOW the state of an individual’s heart by what they hear from a person’s mouth. Scripture says “examine your SELF” to see if you are in the faith…but finally even there I don’t find KNOWING or “SEEING” one’s salvation but rather HOPE only…no? “saved by HOPE…” How can a fallible human being truly KNOW as God CAN? One can HOPE but more than that seems haughty to me (A person who DOES have VERY GREAT Hope! More and more as I hear the Scriptures…I THINK. For Scripture also says “…Trust in Yahovah with all thine heart and lean NOT on thine own understanding” …I am coming to humility like this I THINK from what I HOPE is true brokenness…Lord Willing …But if I have anything at all to boast in that, it is I THINK only that I believe it would have been on account of HIS power and grace and not in any ability I could claim having…My Hope is that where I DO NOT KNOW? HE DOES! Where I can not? HE CAN!

      • BTW if anyone has trouble with my comment or correction for me from Scripture, the most foolproof way of communicating that would be to my facebook account Doug Chaney …BTW I don’t belong to any congregation or any outward association/group of any kind …I am not any kind of authority at all ….just one more sinner, Lord willing meek, weak, poor of Spirit, still hungering and thirsting for righteousness…Hoping in the Lord Jesus Christ and not man…

  2. Just finished the book. Still breathless. Louie Zamperini was not liberated until he heard Billy Graham and was touched by the Holy Spirit. There is no movie without his freedom body and soul. Jolie should have gone back to sleep.

  3. As one other person already commented there is no reason to go see this film, the turning point in this man’s life story is removed, without including this chapter in this film it won’t make it. Jolie would be better off saying a prayer vs. taking a nap.

  4. I am shocked to hear that there will not be any reference to Mr. Zamperini’s Christian faith in Ms Jolie’s film production. The book is on my all time best read list. Why, you ask. It is a true story about a man’s survival and his showing forgiveness through the intercession of acquiring a strong Christian faith. This is not another “John Wayne” beats the bad guy. This is showing how following Jesus Christ is a much greater victory. Will the film be released on X-mas day or CHRIST-mas day?
    Fix It…..

  5. The preview is amazing! I will go see this film, but not on Christmas Day. I have not read “Unbroken.” Someday, I may. Mel Gibson’s, “The Passion of Christ” was truly a moving film which was also accurately made with few liberties. Millions of people watched it, many overwhelmed by what they saw, many changed their lives because of it. Yet how many who saw the film, who were moved by the film, who desired to change their lives henceforth, reneged on those feelings because the worldly attractions to sin is so powerful and who wants to be filled with guilt? “Unbroken” will be a powerful film and who knows how many will walk away from it desiring to search for a relationship with God, or better their relationship with Him just because of those few references to faith? They may be inclined to read the book or listen to on E-books. Trust in the Holy Spirit.

  6. No need to be shocked or surprised that a non-Christian (Jolie) would decide to leave out the MOST important part of Zamperini’s life. She doesn’t see it that way and even if she did, a non-believer will go to any length to avoid “Giving God the Glory”! That is where he placed the “credit”.

    I’ve read both Zamperini’s autobiography and biography (the latter being the superior work, confirmed by himself). Don’t feed the Hollywood machine by giving your money . . . buy Hildebrand’s book instead.

  7. Whilst its obviously a shame this part of the story was left out, its worth keeping in mind that without Angelina choosing to leave this part of the story out, its almost CERTAIN that the film would NEVER have been made- let alone on this scale of production.
    If you do just a little research you’ll discover that the script has been floating around since 1957 and was never developed because they couldn’t figure out how to incorporate his faith turning point into the story, it went through the hands of a number of directors and was rejected time after time.
    Why are we so judgemental as Christians of a film about an incredible person, it saddens me to read some of the comments on this page that are so negative towards the incredible and inspiring story of the life of Zamperini which we can use as a discussion started to share the love of Christ.

    • I haven’t seen any comments on this page attacking Zamperini – they’re all attacking Jolie for her decision to remove a key piece of this story from the movie. Without his forgiveness of his captors, what he went through has little or no meaning. And unless you understand how he was able to forgive his captors, it wouldn’t make sense.

      Having read the book, I think you are incorrect regarding the ability to show his ‘faith turning point’. It would take 3, maybe 4 additional scenes. 15-20 minutes maximum. He was a Christian before he went to war (easy enough to show), he made a promise in the life raft that if he survived he would give his life to God (again, not terribly difficult to show) and it was attending the Billy Graham revival (at his wife’s insistence) that reminded him of his promise and led to him re-embracing his faith and making good on his promise to God (again, this is incredibly easy to show).

  8. I agree with the opinions on both sides…BUT….God IS & ALWAYS will be in control! He uses anybody he wants (even Jolie) to make a point. We only see a snapshot, He sees the whole picture. In the end, God will receive ALL THE GLORY! The book is amazing, I recommend reading it before watching the movie.

  9. Also pray for Angelina Jolie that she will be convicted and saved. She read the book and was obviously very moved by the story of Zamperini’s life- may God give her understanding of the real Reason behind Zamperini’s story.

    • I completely agree with your statement…..we need to be praying for all of these people….God is amazing and can and will use anything, anyone and any situation He pleases….this is why John 1:5 is so amazing….”the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”

  10. God is and will alway be glorified : even when others try to leave him out. Pray that they Angelina Joli feels the need to go back to production and edit in this important part of his life !

  11. What is so sad about this movie (if what we hear is true) is that the conversion of Louie Zamperini was the pivotal moment in his life and what brought him out of darkness into light. I dare say that if he had experienced an enlightenment with Buddhism that would have definitely been included in the Movie. Very hypocritical!

  12. Personally, coming from a Christian perspective as I am one… I must say that it is actually quite wise the Jolie is simply using subtle references to his Christianity and not making it a pitch for salvation because THOSE DON’T WORK. The only time the big “come to Jesus” moments appear to work is when the person already had the seed of curiosity in their soul. They were already searching for its not a decision that anyone really would take lightly. Nobody can force beliefs of any religion on anyone and in a sense, if she included such a viewpoint it could risk to be a turnoff to all sorts of audiences and exclude many people who otherwise would have been exposed to the story. However, now that all are curious… Those who want to dig deeper into his story and what shaped the person he becomes will then make their own decision to explore further and read his book. So actually, she’s making this story available and attractive to all. We as Christians need to learn how to relax… If we really trust God why can’t we trust that He also has the world under control and we don’t have to be so uptight and trying to force His story. Let’s not back down on our beliefs (so always be honest)… But today, consideration is going to go much farther than making ourselves look like freaks. Jesus surely wasn’t.

  13. I read the book. I will not view the movie. Louis Zamperini was a Christian. He has given full credit to Jesus Christ for preserving his life and allowing him to live to a ripe old age. I refuse to see the movie if Zamperini’s faith in Jesus Christ is not mentioned. After I wasted my money to see the movie “Jonah,” (thinking it was based on the Bible) I have decided to never see a movie that is based on God’s blessings, power and love; but refuses to give God the glory. Shame on Angelina Jolie for leaving the most important part of a true story out.

  14. Please do not see this movie…Zamperini’s faith was the foundation of this story. I’m tired of the Hollywood/media agenda removing Christianity from our world but this is worse when its part of this truly wonderful story. There is tolerance only for their agenda.

  15. Very, very sad. What is the point of watching a movie about forgiveness if the reason he is able to forgive is left out???? I hope he truly got to share his personal relationship with Jesus with Ms. Jolie.

  16. After reading the book, I was so looking forward to seeing the movie. “NOT NOW” The part that was left out is what the entire book was leading up to. Louie’s encounter with Jesus Christ changed his life. It was the best part of the book but you will not see it in the movie. I know I won’t.

  17. The problem with leaving his faith out of the story and ending with his release is that the movie is called “Unbroken”. Yet when he got home from the war he was, by any definition, broken. If you leave out the part about him getting fixed, you haven’t explained why he lived the rest of his life “unbroken”.

  18. I knew of Zamperini’s story, and I was very much looking forward to the movie. I am not a religious person, and I understand that movies must omit or even twist the truth a little for dramatic effect. But the omission of Zamperini’s Christian conversion is so glaring and material, to me it renders the movie irrelevant. I suspect that the producers and director found Zamperini’s life-changing religious experience offensive to their Hollywood sensibilities.

  19. I am extraordinarily disappointed to read some of the comments appearing on this page. You should be ashamed, if you call yourselves Christians, to throw such nasty attitudes toward director Angelina Jolie. Get your fangs out of her, relax and take a few steps back with a new perspective and see the incredibly positive implications of her directing this film can make.
    One, as stated by a few fellow commentators, this movie would not have been made, in his lifetime for sure, without her taking on such a project with such passion. It had been in the hands of directors for nearly sixty years, with Louie himself waiting to see it come to the screen. His story can be told in so many different ways and no one knew exactly how to condense it properly. She set out to make a film that could inspire people to overcome and can inspire forgiveness.
    Now, being not a person of faith herself, she mentioned that she was moved to understand his resilience and “understand faith.” Because of his story, this woman was drawn to faith in a way that she had never been opened to before – a beautiful thing. And because of her close friendship with Louie, she was given the confidence to bring his story to the screen, even with little directing experience. Now, it is true that many people who have had films made about them, have not seen the final cut until it was nearly completed however, this is most likely not the case here, seeing that they were so close and admired each other. Louie did not approach Angelina in an unkind, judgmental way, expecting her to be praying to God and knowing all about what it means to be changed by Jesus Christ. And perhaps, his unconditional respect for her could bring her even closer to finding faith one day. The movie was made for Louie, he was able to see it in the hospital with her a few months before he passed away.
    Now, faith is a difficult thing to put on-screen to start, and it is likely that if it was attempted, by writers and filmmakers who do not have faith themselves, people would have been furious about this and that mistake in the way that it was done. It does not leave it out entirely. I would have loved to see certain things go differently as well, and would have especially loved to see the conversion, as I agree that this was indeed the most important part of his survival and his life. But, I do not believe it is constructive or even right, to make claims against Angelina Jolie for this omission. Take a step back and take some perspective because understanding people and reaching people in Christ, takes a lot more love than what I am seeing on this page.

    • I appreciate your perspective…Kenneth Turan’s review in the L.A.Times reinforces (from a secular perspective) what many of us believe is a missed opportunity here. Turan says there is “too much pain, not enough absolution” in her adaptation. Because the “compelling final act of Zamperini’s story is inexplicably dealt with as an afterthought”…”this robs the tale of one of its most dramatic elements” and “the exclusion wreaks havoc with the story’s equilibrium, making ‘Unbroken’ into a film about torture more than one about redemption.”

  20. It is disappointing Louis’ Christian conversion is not in the movie, best part of the book.
    However, the producer, opted that out.
    If ya do your homework on the movie, you will come to know, both Louis, and his grandson state, ” it would take over 5 hours to make this story complete.”
    The producer did it.! !
    Read the book.

  21. Louis Zamperini didn’t make a complete conversion to Christianity until his second night at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949. Jolie’s film covers his time during the war and was a compelling account of his survival. Jolie includes Zameperini’s prayer to God to get him out. There are positive portrayals of Christians and prayer. There are several epilogue cards at the end of the film that state Zamperini was faithful to his promise to God, that he went preaching his faith and forgiveness. I’m not really sure what our gripe is. To chronicle Zamperini’s life after the war would be a sequel or a mini-series. Please, let’s encourage people in Hollywood when they make such a positive film about a Christian. People will come to see a film directed by Jolie, or a war film who would never go see a blatantly Christian film. They’ll be entertained and intrigued, and maybe they’ll go back and check out the book. Jolie’s positive portrayal can bring more people into conversation about Jesus than all the self-righteous comments in this thread.

  22. Just saw movie after having read the book earlier. What an incomplete and utter disappointment. I wanted to demand a refund. The action, adventure, and brutality of torture won out over the beautiful, inspiring redemption story. The “if you can take it, you can make it”, theme seemed to be all that was emphasized. Be tough, hang in there and you’ll win out over your emergency, captor, enemy, etc. is a watered-down cheap substitute for the message of overwhelming redemptive grace that frees us from our selves. Where was the forgiveness that can only flow grace? Where’s the inspiration that comes from a life directed towards loving and serving others, suffering some of the same pains. How sad this movie became a “survival of the fittest” testimony to a man who returned home very “unfit”. Unbroken is unfinished and unsatisfying. I sat through all that bloody torture for no spiritual epiphany, no struggle with addiction or ptsd(something many more can relate to than prison camp), and no inspiration, whatsoever. Please read the phenomenal book for the complete version of Louis’s inspiring life.

    • Very well said…you have expressed the reasons I haven’t seen the movie.
      I had the privilege of interviewing Zamperini once, and the best part of the story happens after his return from the war.
      The Billy Graham organization has created a DVD that tells “the rest of the story.” I haven’t seen it, but I understand it is well done.

  23. I agree that the end wrapped up so fast that I was left unfulfilled. At least with the films written closings referencing Zamperini returning to forgive his captors with the ‘Birdman’ unwilling to respond let me know there was much more to be said, but the absence also left me wondering why Jolie would leave it out… Surely Zamperinis’ triumph is not manifest in the false climax of his return to freedom, but in the emptiness of continued physical life after war, the subsequent questioning why, and a transformation that drove his returning to forgive his torturers. It is the forgiveness freely offered to his enemies from one so brutally imprisoned that makes us reel back, demanding we inquire as to what would inspire him to embrace such a Life and Hope that transcends our temporal and sometimes brutal experiences. Father, forgive Angelina Jolie for she knows not what she has done.

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