Angelina Jolie defends ‘universal’ depiction of faith in ‘Unbroken’

Angelina Joli with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal
Angelina Joli with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal

Angelina Jolie with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal

NEW YORK (RNS) Director Angelina Jolie defended her decision to portray a “universal” faith in her upcoming film “Unbroken,” saying she took her cues from the evangelical World War II hero whose harrowing tale is the basis of her film.

“Unbroken” features the real-life story of Louis Zamperini, who endured a plane crash in the Pacific, 47 days adrift at sea and two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

In the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand of the same name, Zamperini’s story reaches its climax when he embraces Christianity at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949 and finds the ability to forgive his captors.

Jolie’s depiction of a what some might see as generic faith prompted mixed early reviews of the film and led some to ask whether Christian fans of the book would leave the theater disappointed.

“We made it universal, not specific to one faith, and that was something that was agreed upon with Louie,” Jolie told reporters on Friday (Dec. 5). “He said he wanted the message to reach everyone. He said to make faith and forgiveness universal.”

Jolie, who directed the film, argued that the film does not neglect portrayals of faith.

“He said this is about reaching everyone, this should speak to everyone, and we were very clear on his parents’ faith, they being Catholic. … We’re very clear on him praying,” she  said. “If you were looking for symbolism and miracles in the film, you will see them.”

The World War II epic, set to release on Christmas Day, does not mention Graham but ends with a brief mention of Zamperini’s promise to serve God. Zamperini died last summer at age 97.

At a separate news conference here, Zamperini’s two children told reporters they were pleased with Jolie’s approach. His son, Luke Zamperini, said Hillenbrand’s book was powerful because it was not a Christian book.

Actor Jack O’Connell as World War II veteran Louis Zamperini, in a scene from Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken." Photo courtesy of Universal

Actor Jack O’Connell as World War II veteran Louis Zamperini, in a scene from Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken.” Photo courtesy of Universal

“The film, I think, portrays beautifully his faith throughout,” the younger Zamperini said. “The message is there, and it’s there in a way that’s going to get people to think, to find out for themselves exactly what this means. This is the way my father also presented the gospel to people. He just told a story and let them come up with their own conclusions.”

Zamperini’s daughter, Cynthia Garris, said that if Jesus came up in the film, people might not want to see it, so the strategy was to try to attract as many people as possible.

“If they wanted to know more about how he got through it, how he survived it, they could investigate it,” she said. “He never wanted to preach at them but live the example. It was absolutely sanctioned by him. This is what he told us he wanted.”

Garris recalled that while shooting in New South Wales, Australia, Jolie sought a miracle when a lingering storm threatened to disrupt a critical scene.

“She said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do, so I’ll do what Louie would do.’ She got on her knees, she demonstrated for us … and she prayed for a miracle. … Everybody saw it,” Garris said. “It stopped raining. The sun came out, a rainbow came out. She said, ‘Let’s get this take.’ They shot the take. When she said, ‘Cut,’ it started to rain again.”

Garris said her father’s ability to reach people touched Jolie, a self-professed agnostic.

“She was moved by my father’s faith to try that, and that’s what he wants for people to get from the movie,” Garris said. “I’ll tell you, when my father died we were all with him in the hospital. (Jolie) came about 45 minutes later and she was pointing above saying, ‘I know he’s with us. I know he’s there with God.’ And he even moved her. I think maybe in God’s plan for Angelina, she was supposed to find Louie and make this movie to find her way to a life that would encompass the Almighty.”

Jolie said she intentionally made the film PG-13 so it could be one her sons could see.

“It’s a movie for everybody,” Jolie said. “I want my children to know about men like Louis, so when they feel bad about themselves and they think all is lost, they know they’ve got something inside of them because this is what that story speaks to. You don’t have to be a perfect person, or a saint, or a hero. Louis was very flawed, very human, but made great choices.”


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • Read the book by Leopold Engleitner, entitled “Unbroken Will”, and you will see a true test of faith in God by a man who endured 4 years of imprisonment and torture by the Hitler concentration camps.

    That man survived through all those years, wrote his book and lived until April 21, 2013, when he died at the age of 107!!

    He was not Jewish; he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to go to war to kill his fellowman, heil Hitler, or make weapons of war!

    All he had to do to be released was sign a Declaration relinquishing his faith. He refused to do this and survived his imprisonment in spite of that!

    Because Leopoldo proved faithful to God until his death, he has the marvelous hope of being resurrected back from his “sleep” in his grave to a cleansed, new earth, to be reunited with family and friends! 😀 Those others who were imprisoned with him and did not make it have that hope as well.

    God’s kingdom or heavenly government will soon make this a reality!

  • Not only is Louis Zamperini a vision of inspiration to human kind, Angelina making this story come alive is an example of a woman who strives toward bettering human mankind! I truly admire her and all her accomplishments. And I can’t wait to see this tribute to a man who is described as an “ordinary man” who lived an extraordinary life!

  • Oh come on Joanie. She’s just another pop celebrity that stupid shallowfolk like you worship because you don’t have a life of your own. Get a grip. What she says should just not be so important.

  • “It’s a movie for everybody,” Jolie said. “I want my children to know about men like Louis, so when they feel bad about themselves and they think all is lost, they know they’ve got something inside of them because this is what that story speaks to. You don’t have to be a perfect person, or a saint, or a hero. Louis was very flawed, very human, but made great choices.”

    Jolie is correct in trying to make the movie for everybody. After all the message about reconciliation to God and living life boldly is for everyone. Jolie misses so much evidently. “Christ in you the hope of Glory,” is the only good thing inside anyone that is eternal and full of truth. If a person does not have Christ they don’t have the same thing inside them that Zamperini had as a motivation for a reason for faith that receives perfect forgiveness and points them to great choices.

    I want my children to know about great men who were great, not because of their decisions, because they knew God who is a good and Loving Saviour and he glorified them in Christ.

    Joh 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    Rom 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
    Rom 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    I believe this is what Zamperini believed was the universal message.

    This is my plea….
    2Co 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
    2Co 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
    2Co 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
    2Co 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    Php 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
    Php 2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    Php 2:7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
    Php 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
    Php 2:9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
    Php 2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    Php 2:11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  • You should give the great men (and women) themselves credit for what they did, not a god that likely doesn’t exist. Does your god not allow for free will? And did they not make their life choices from their own free will?

    Your lengthy bible dump doesn’t help your post. It just makes you look blindered.

  • If you want to respect Zamperini (as you are supposedly declaring) then respect what HE said got him through and helped him to deal with his experiences afterward. How many vets do we have with such awful problems that require forgiveness of one sort or another? What a nasty thing to write, even as you demean Zamperini’s own faith and testimony

  • We can all sit here and debate the existence of God and we can all sit here trying to convince others of what Zamperini meant by whatever he said. In the end, he believed in God, and his faith led him to forgive. His belief is real, even though people like Francis try to disprove what he believed in. Admirable strength of will and character to live through what he did, by the grace of God.

  • From what I’ve read Zamporini was not a Christian until after he was a POW so as for the Light in him he wouldn’t have known where it came from, so to that end the movie is right. He survived the war as an unbeliever he came to Christ later on after he had turned to drinking to numb his PTSD

  • Saw the movie, read the book. Angelina respected Louie’s wishes for the movie and so it was. I absolutely took away a message of strength, the will to survive, and to never give up even when it looked as if he would die while imprisoned. I liked that he asked his friend about prayer and what he prayed for. I liked that it showed he prayed in the raft during the storm. This man endured extreme torture and forgave those who imprisoned him. What a message of love and forgiveness.. And faith as well. Bc this movie was directed with truth and respect for Louie there’s no doubt in my mind that not only did Louie experience miracles during his horrible time as a POW but that Angelina and others involved on this set did too. That inspires and drives faith. I am a Christian and was not disappointed that there wasn’t more Christianity put in the movie. In this day and age that seems to deter people rather than implore them to watch a movie as such. His life inspires others. His message was of love and forgiveness and that’s what the message of Jesus was and is… Not hell, fire, and brimstone. Kudos to Angelina and I’m blessed to have now learned of this mans life… What a life it was. It would also seem impossible that he not endure PTDS and he got through it and lived a life true to his belief. May he rest in peace and in Gods grace. Thank you Mrs Jolie-Pitt for bringing it to the big screen.

  • I watched this movie two times, and i cry during the movie. This movie brings the fire again to my heart. Thank you Angelina Jolie to made this movie for this generation, thank you Louis Zamperini for the decision you made, believe in Christ. You’re a really a hero of faith!
    Arnold from Indonesia

  • There is one important verse that no one, not even R. Martin Synder in his lengthy verse-filled comment, recited. I share it out of love for Jesus: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV) If you read the verse preceding this one, then you’ll know that the verse I quoted, Acts 4:12, is referring to Jesus. Because of this verse, and its implications, ignored in Unbroken, I think I would be depressed upon leaving the theater. Right now I am saddened because I’m afraid my comment saddens Angelina Jolie.

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