Wounds of War, and the Power of Forgiveness and Faith – A Movie Review of Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Recently, I was contacted by Carmel Communications and offered an advanced screening of the newly released movie, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, in exchange for an honest review. Given my background as someone who has spent thousands of clinical hours working with combat veterans and their families on readjustment issues after the war, and as a faith-based blogger, I was excited to get an early peek. And, while I had not watched the first movie of the series, Unbroken, I was confident that a good movie could stand on its own, without relying too heavily on the movie that told the beginning of the story.

Sure enough, Unbroken: Path to Redemption, stands alone. I was able to easily follow the movie’s plot line and the characters, without having seen the original movie. And, the messages within the movie stand strong.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption follows the aftermath of WWII for the former Olympian, turned GI, turned prisoner of war, turned combat veteran, turned husband and father, Louis Zamperini. As clinicians will routinely remind combat veterans, readjustment issues to civilian life after combat are normal. Even post-traumatic stress disorder is considered a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance such as war. And, Unbroken: Path to Redemption does not skirt the readjustment difficulties Louis Zamperini faced, the impact his post-traumatic stress disorder had on his interpersonal relationships, and the healing Louis Zamperini sought, and found, with his faith.

However, what was perhaps most striking to me, as I assessed this movie, was not the story of the main character. Rather, it was the story and transformation I witnessed unfolding in the character of Cynthia Applewhite Zampirini – the young woman who would eventually marry Louis. As a clinician, I applauded her strength and independence. I cheered her willingness to show a side of compassion and forgiveness when needed, while balancing that with needing to protect herself and their family. I was amazed at the similarities I found between her character portrayed in the movie, and myself, particularly in the role our Christian faith plays in helping guide us when we are most in need of strength.

In the movie, a kindly neighbor told Cynthia Zampirini, “God often uses difficulties in our lives to prepare us for a greater purpose.” And, that message, months after the screening, still rings in my ears. War can be necessary, but war is also atrocious. The aftermath of war – the fallout, if you will – can last generations. Whether the effects are due to radiation poisoning, or the change of a family unit because of hidden wounds, the impact of war lasts. War creates a bond with those who have served, sometimes creates a barrier between those who have served and those who have not, and it creates a culture in the family that can either make or break the family. But, that impact can also be preparing generations for a greater purpose.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption explores each of those impacts of war. Within the first twelve minutes of the movie, viewers are reminded of just how powerful an impact war has on individuals when Pete Zampirini muses, “Maybe the war’s not over just because they say it is.” And, as we prepare to honor Veteran’s Day in November, that is precisely the message that is heralded routinely in my writings. A paper can be signed, and the television can report that “the war is over.” Sometimes, there’s even a declaration of winning. Yet, this movie shows just how insidious the invisible wounds of war can be to the combat veteran, and their family – whose war just begins to rage internally upon return home from the war zone.

Maybe the war's not over just because they say it is.

As I watched the struggle of Louis Zampirini – the night terrors, the sweats, the flashbacks, the intrusive thoughts, the self-medication to dull the senses, the explosive anger – I saw the strength and courage of his wife, trying to help where she could, seek council when she needed, and find strength in her faith in God. 

I marveled at how Jesus truly reveals Himself to each of us on His own time. Watching the ways God intersected with Louis Zampirini’s life, and the opportunities Louis missed to recognize God’s presence, I realized just how Jesus may extend Himself to us on numerous occasions, but there must be a willingness and readiness to be open to receiving Him. Louis Zampirini ultimately found strength to overcome his readjustment issues, and to battle his internal demons from war, and he credits his healing to the time when he finally found, and accepted Christ. 

And, as the credits played, showcasing interviews with Louis Zampirini, I found myself mesmerized by the following quote, “Forgiveness must be complete, no matter who the person is… and the only way I can forgive them is to pray for them… instead of hating them, I pray for them.” It is a quote which resonates as I sip from my favorite coffee mug while typing this review – the message of Divine Mercy. This movie, and Louis Zampirini’s quote, serve as a reminder that God asks we forgive others, as we ask Him to forgive ourselves.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption was full of inspiration. It highlighted some very real, very telling trauma that some combat veterans suffer – especially those who have been prisoners of war – without focusing solely on the trauma itself. The movie provided context for the struggles the families undergo while the veteran may be fighting their invisible wound, rather than nurturing their invisible wound. The movie explained why so many military families grow in, or rely on, their faith.

At times, the scenes of flashbacks were intense, making me grateful that I have never personally experienced being locked in confined areas with little to no food. However, I have worked with children who have experienced that treatment at the hands of their parents and/or caregivers. A trigger warning for those who have experienced abuse and/or combat trauma would be prudent. 

Finally, perhaps my strongest words of caution with this film is to remind others that healing is not something which happens overnight. It is a process – even when God has His Divine Hands playing a part in the healing process. The healing process is also complicated. As Edward Tick, PhD asserts in his book, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, there must be a complete reconciling between physical wounds, emotional wounds, and the too often overlooked, spiritual wounds. There will be steps forward, and steps that take the wounded back. And, even when an individual gives total control over to God, and rests their experiences in His Hands, the healing doesn’t take place automatically.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, whether a manifestation of combat, sexual assault, or child abuse, is real and continues to provide trauma for years – sometimes generations – when left untreated. However, as the wounded fabric of physical, emotional, and spiritual fibers in an individual are exposed and treated, the healing process will allow for a much more beautiful, powerful, inspirational tapestry to emerge.

The healing process allows for a much more beautiful, powerful, inspirational tapestry to emerge.

That, dear reader, is the true power and testimony of Unbroken: Path to Redemption. The process of healing will take time, but it is not impossible. Having compassion toward the wounded, and finding strength to assist the wounded rather than waiting them off or abandoning them, is the most merciful course of action. The key impression from this movie spoke to the Divine Mercy message – that while there is mercy in seeking justice, there is also mercy in forgiveness. And, when we are unable to seek justice for whatever reason, we are all called to seek forgiveness in our hearts for the (sometimes) unspeakable transgressions of another.

Every adult should watch Unbroken: Path to Redemption. It tells one man’s story of his path toward redemption, but yet, also offers invaluable insight into the military culture, veteran’s issues, family values, and the power of forgiveness. It offers each viewer an opportunity for awareness and self-reflection. Simply put, Unbroken: Path to Redemption embodies the message of Divine Mercy, and the importance of turning fully to Christ in prayer, murmuring, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

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