My wife and I saw the movie “Unbroken” last night. My advice — save your money and read the book. The movie spends too much time on Zamperini’s wartime experiences, as important and inspirational as they are, and does not do justice to the even more remarkable rest of Louie Zamperini’s life story. Spoiler alert – if you plan to read the book stop reading here, but if you don’t know the rest of Louie’s story and don’t have time to read the book; or if you’re just impatient and want the peacefullyharsh synopsis, what follows is a part of a sermon (“Consumed”) I posted here on June 24, 2013 after I read Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent book.
“I recently read a biography of Louie Zamperini. Louie was a very promising runner in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and expected to be the first man to break the 4-minute mile and bring home several gold medals in the 1940 Tokyo Olympics. Except there were no 1940 Olympics. Louie’s life and dreams were derailed by the demons of fascism and World War II. Much of this biography by Laura Hillenbrand describes in almost unbearable detail the 2 years of inhumane brutality Louie and others suffered as Japanese POW’s. Against all odds Louie survived that ordeal only to encounter much stronger internal demons that haunted his dreams for years after the war. Those demons drove him to self-destructive behavior and alcoholism once he was back in the U.S. No amount of therapy or pleading by his wife could break the chains of the demons that consumed Louie. But, here’s the good news again, and this time not in ancient Galilee or Gentile Gerasa, but in Los Angeles in the mid-20th century.
The title of Zamperini’s biography is Unbroken, and like all good titles it is a multi-faceted description of Louie’s life. He was not broken by the death of most of his crew when his B-24 crashed in the south Pacific; unbroken by 47 days adrift at sea, unbroken by the extreme cruelty of his captors who singled him out for torture because of Louie’s celebrity and strong spirit that were a challenge and an affront to them; and unbroken when his war injuries ended his dream of Olympic gold. But when he was consumed by nightmares and hatred and alcohol that were destroying him and his family after the war, Louie was almost broken by the fear of his own salvation.
When a Billy Graham crusade came to L.A. in 1949 Louie’s wife went and heard the young evangelist preach about Jesus’ power over all demons. She went home and urged Louie to go back with her to hear Rev. Graham. Louie refused her pleading over and over again, but as spouses often do Cynthia Zamperini persisted and Louie finally gave in to shut her up. He listened skeptically to Graham’s message and when the invitation came at the end of the sermon to come forward and receive Christ, Louie didn’t walk, he ran the other way and out the back door. This happened not once, but several times; but Cynthia didn’t give up on Louie and neither did God. In God’s good time Louie did finally surrender his demons to Jesus one night at another Graham crusade. Miraculously the demons and nightmares and anger and alcoholism that had consumed him were gone for good – they never returned. You may be skeptical, as I often am, about such instantaneous miracle healings, but this one was real. Louie went on to live a productive long life of ministry to countless young men at a camp he founded and as a motivational speaker. He was truly unbroken and restored to wholeness by a power greater than all the demons known to humankind.”
Louie Zamperini died in 2014 at the age of 97. Read the book to get the full benefit of his inspirational life story. You’ll be glad you did.