The life of Louie Zamperini is an incredible one. He’s a man who seemed to live nine lives before finally dying at the age of 97 just last year — mere months before the movie about his life came out. Unbroken, the movie, is based on the bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a look at the amazing life and courage of Zamperini, who not only ran in the Olympics as a young man, but then went on to fight in WWII, have his plane crash in the ocean, survive on a raft for 47 days only to be captured and tortured for the next two years in a Japanese POW camp.
The book tells the story of his life in extraordinary detail — including passages about his friends in the war, about the duck with whom he becomes friends, and about the evil Japanese soldier, nicknamed “The Bird,” who focuses much of his energy of torturing Louie. While the Angelina Jolie-directed movie exudes the right tone and properly tells the general story of his life, it does leave out some memorable moments and important details from the book, and certain things feel watered down.
For instance, there are two other men on the raft with Zamperini after his plane is shot down — one of whom, in the book, eventually gives up on trying to stay alive and subsequently dies. But that is not portrayed well in the movie. In fact, the person who saw it with me asked how he died. He found it hard to follow what caused his death, and I had to explain that ultimately he gave up and his body gave out. The same goes for the portrayal of Louie’s arch nemesis, “The Bird.” While it’s clear that he’s evil, it wasn’t inherently clear in the movie that “The Bird” specifically had it out for Zamperini.
The movie also leaves out the duck — a detail that takes on more significance when the duck is brutally killed in the book. As it turns out, that was a specific choice made by Jolie, according to Entertainment Weekly. And what’s worse — the movie leaves out the entire last section of the book, which delves into Zamperini’s struggle with PTSD and alcoholism after returning home to the war — an element which only added to the laundry list of things the man had been through and survived, an element that makes him only appear greater.
Of course, the movie would have been far too long with that section. And of course, Louie Zamperini would have been proud of and happy with the movie no matter what. Could it have used some work? Certainly. But the feeling of hope and optimism along with the sense that if the human spirit can overcome anything and everything is still there at the end of the movie, and that’s arguably the best and most important thing to take away from both the book and Louie Zamperini’s life.