CBN News, NEW YORK CITY — Louis Zamperini’s incredible story of courage has captured hearts and minds around the world. The Olympian and former prisoner of war shared his faith on The 700 Club and in his biography, Unbroken which became a bestseller.
Zamperini’s remarkable life story is now hitting the big screen in time for Christmas, and just five months after the 97-year-old WWII veteran died of pneumonia.
Hollywood heavyweight Angelina Jolie directed the epic drama.
“What we tried to do was the themes of Louis’s story; we would put into this dramatic period of his life, but make sure all of the themes were present,” Jolie told CBN News.
Survival, resilience, and redemption are themes Jolie aimed to capture in the film that takes viewers on a journey from Zamperini’s troubled childhood to his Olympic journey to his time as a soldier.
During his time in the military, Zamperini’s plane crashed and left him stranded him for 47 days on a raft in the Pacific. Following that time, he became a prisoner of war when the Japanese Navy captured him.
He then faced years of unspeakable torture.
British actor Jack O’Connell plays the role of Zamperini in the film. O’Connell spoke with CBN News about how he prepared for the role.
“I just had to know him. I felt like I had to at least connect with him once. And the rest was the result of Laura Hillenbrand’s very informative book,” O’Connell said.
“And so I wasn’t short of resources,” he continued. “And Angelina knew him. So, she was able to constantly refer back to the man himself. And we could make decisions based on whether that was Louis or wasn’t Louis basically.”
Hints of Faith
“Unbroken” is an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book of the same name.
But Jolie ends her cinema story with Zamperini’s return home at the end of the war. That was a year before the war hero became an alcoholic and before he met a then-popular young evangelist, Rev. Billy Graham.
Still, Jolie hints at Zamperini’s faith in the film.
“That is what we tried to get into the film. We wanted people to understand that it is not that you suddenly realize there is something beyond you in the world,” Jolie told CBN News.
“That man is not alone is something we wanted to say from early on in the raft to the prison camp, that there is this, whatever your faith, there is something there,” she added. “And whether you choose to see it is your choice and when you come to it and when you feel it, it is there for you.”
“And so, it was very important to us that sometimes in the mother praying, sometimes in the sunrise, there is always what we would refer to as the light in the film,” she said.
There is also darkness in the film.
Jolie tapped Japanese singer and guitarist Takamasa Ishihara, whose stage name is Miyavi, to play Mutsushiro Watanabe. Watanabe was also known as “Birdman” and he made it his mission to break Zamperini’s spirit.
Miyavi had to learn English for this intense role, which was also his acting debut.
“Actually I was so nervous and hesitant to tackle this role,” Miyavi told CBN News. “But I met Angelina in Tokyo and she said she wanted to make a creation that could be a bridge between America and Japan, countries that have had similar issues in conflict.”
“So, even as Japanese I was scared, but I thought it was really meaningful,” he explained. “It is not about the war. It’s not about the conflict between America and Japan. It’s about forgiveness and an unbroken spirit.”
Jolie: ‘He Inspired Me’
Zamperini met the cast before Jolie wrapped production of the film in in February. He also saw the film before he died.
Angelina showed it to him on her computer. It’s a film and a relationship that deeply touched the Academy Award-winning actress.
“It made me, it made me a better person,” Jolie told CBN News. “It reminded me, re-inspired me in my faith in the human spirit and the power of brotherhood and love and family and faith that we often, many people don’t lean on enough in life, and we often lose and forget that it is there.”
“And in Louis’ story, I think and we hope that when people leave the theater, they hold themselves a little higher,” she said. “And they face their next challenge with a little more strength.”
Report via CBN News