A movie is never as good as the book. This aphorism remains true with this movie/book combo. Released on Christmas Day, “Unbroken” was a good way to spend a couple of hours. However, there is no comparison to the book itself.

There is so much that does not come through in the movie. I was reading some of the comments about the movie on The Internet Movie Database, or http://www.imdb.com. One viewer said (and others agreed) that there was nothing particularly heroic about “not dying.”

The book makes clear that the lead character’s “unbrokenness” is not about not dying. It is about his spirit remaining unbroken and his will to live remaining intact despite incredible odds.

Louis Zamperini was a delinquent, incorrigible and without purpose. From the moment he could walk he was uncontrollable, smoking at five and drinking at eight. He stole. He vandalized. He had a short temper: punching girls, pushing teachers, being pursued by the police – all before high school!

Running away from home in 1932, he rode the rails, only succeeding in being chased by railroad detectives, being forced at gunpoint to jump off a moving train, and ending up “filthy, bruised, sunburned, and wet, sharing a stolen can of beans.”   He had an epiphany and headed home.

Once at home, he put all his energy that had been spent thieving into running (emulating an older brother), attending college on a track scholarship and winning a berth on the 1936 Olympic Track Team. Louis was on “track” to be the first person to break a four-minute mile. The 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and shortly thereafter Louis Zamperini was drafted and became a bombardier.

Sent on a rescue mission one May morning in 1943, his plane had mechanical trouble and had to ditch in the ocean with only three of 11 crew members surviving. For the next 46 days, the story of their survival is unthinkable – from being stalked by sharks to being strafed by Japanese war planes as they fought the elements, the thirst, the hunger and hopelessness.

After drifting all this time, they eventually “made land” on a Japanese-occupied island, thus becoming POWs. They endured humiliation and torture with bravery, ingenuity, rebellion and humor until, when they were almost dead, the war was declared over and they were freed. (Their treatment is a stark contrast to what Danya Walker’s book review described about POWs in Missouri a couple weeks ago.)

Freed in body only, Zamperini returned home and struggled to put together the pieces of his life, dealing with alcoholism and what is now understood as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The movie glosses over almost all of this struggle, giving only token lip service to the fact Zamperini became a Christian and returned to Japan, forgiving them for his treatment and freeing himself in the meantime.

“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Lara Hillenbrand is definitely one to read. It reminded me of “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides and “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw. This generation of men will soon be with us no more. Reading their stories not only educates us about the past, but inspires us for the future.

Joplin Public Library has “Unbroken” in print, ebook and downloadable audio format. The DVD is on order. Prepare to be on a waiting list, but even with a wait, this story is worth it.

But the book is still better than the move.

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