Unbroken: Path to Redemption continues the true story of former prisoner of war and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini. The first dramatic chapter of his narrative unfolded in 2014’s Unbroken, and this sequel follows Zamperini as he leaves the military to begin a rocky transition to civilian life in the mid-1940s.
Plagued with post-traumatic stress disorder after his emancipation from a Japanese POW camp, Zamperini is consumed by the terrors of his past. Unable to break free, he turns away from his loving wife and young daughter and seeks refuge in the bottle.
But one night, Zamperini has a supernatural experience, one that forces him to lay down his pride at the foot of the cross and to confront the terrible demons of his past.
After Louis returns from the war, he wants to live life to the fullest. He’s an eager, positive young man with big dreams. In those early post-war days before he meets Cynthia, he invests in his relationships and enjoys being around others.
Once Cynthia comes into his life, they marry and pursue their dreams and passions together, despite being poor and unable to find work. As time goes on, Louis falls into depression and a drinking problem, but his friends and family strive to help him. Louis’ older brother, Pete, is someone Louis looks up to and seeks out for counsel. Even when Louis wants to shut the world out, Pete still challenges his brother to be a better man.
Cynthia, for her part, is dedicated to Louis and vows to stay by his side (apart from a moment when she briefly threatens to divorce him at a low point in their relationship). She is patient, loving and persistently interested in his physical, emotional and spiritual well-being—and she is his biggest fan. Cynthia gains courage and hope to stay faithfully present in her marriage from her friends and from her own faith.
Louis recognizes that his wife is willing to stay by his side, even in the most difficult of times. When their daughter is born, he names her Cynthia, “to honor the best part of me.” And he’s initially very involved with the baby, getting up with her in the night and allowing his wife to sleep.
After Louis’ traumatic experience as a prisoner of war in Japan, he grapples with God’s goodness and sovereignty. He blames God for the unspeakable abuses committed against him by a Japanese guard known only as The Bird. Louis constantly hears the voice of The Bird in his head, always telling him that he is “nothing,” that he is “worthless” and will never be free from his personal demons. He also harbors deep anger toward God for his past suffering and an inability to compete again in the Olympics.
Louis’ most prominent spiritual experience comes at a Billy Graham crusade. Before that moment, Louis heard about the evangelist’s crusades from his wife, as well as from publicity on TV and on the radio. Eventually, he attends one of the mass rallies, where he has a powerful encounter with God after remembering the vow he made to God out at sea: “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” And so he begins to read his Bible.
Years later, Louis returns to Tokyo to personally forgive all of the men responsible for his imprisonment. He even seeks out his main tormentor, The Bird. Though the former guard and torturer is nowhere to be found, Louis leaves a Bible for him to read. Real-life clips also show Louis giving his testimony at a Billy Graham crusade and later starting an organization called Victory Boys Camp.
A Catholic priest tells Louis that he has been praying for him. Similarly, Cynthia tells Louis that he is an answer to prayer and that she prays all the time. She encourages him to attend church with her and to give the Billy Graham revival services a try. He’s hesitant at first, due to some negative experiences he’s had with hypocritical Christians. But after Louis’ epiphany, he begins to grow spiritually.
Cynthia and Louis get married in her childhood church. Cynthia often wears a cross necklace. Another cross reads “Jesus Saves.” Both Cynthia and Louis become more grounded in their faith. A church choir sings hymns.
Louis and a friend scout the beach for attractive women. Louis says that he’d like to be “a polka dot” on a woman’s swimsuit. Women wear two-piece bathing suits and men go shirtless. Louis and his wife, Cynthia, dance, lie in bed together (fully clothed) and kiss often.
Louis suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (though it wasn’t diagnosed or named yet at that point in the 1950s). Accordingly, his nightmares and hallucinations are easily triggered by various sounds, smells and surroundings. He’s offered rice at one point, and it triggers a violent memory—resulting in Louis’ aggressive behavior toward a waiter.
Louis’ horrific flashbacks show him being held captive in the prison camp, where he’s brutally beaten with bamboo poles, waterboarded, and made to feel less than human by his notoriously evil captor, The Bird. Louis also dreams of nearly dying at sea, where he fended off sharks and had other harrowing survival experiences. Other PTSD flashbacks include recalling explosions and being shot at.
Louis and others also remember those who gave their life in war (as well as those who were severely injured). One of Louis’ main goals for a time is to kill The Bird.
Radio news reports mention many deaths due to war; Louis is mistakenly reported as being dead. In his anger (and progressively drunken state), Louis argues with his wife, aggressively grabbing her and throwing her toward the bed. He also boxes, smashes a record, throws things and dreams he is choking his wife.
Louis breaks his ankle while running. Cynthia finds a box that holds a gun and a picture of an emaciated Louis.
Cynthia tells Louis to “go to h—” at one point. We hear someone say, “What the heck?”
Men and women drink wine, beer and hard liquor. Louis struggles with alcoholism. He often drinks to excess, followed by vomiting. Many scenes show Louis visiting bars, stumbling home and hiding bottles of alcohol from his wife, all of which illustrate how deep his alcohol problem really is.
A psychiatrist offers hypnosis and narcotics to help Louis sleep. Louis says his arm was “pumped full of garbage” in Japan.
Louis is asked to travel across the country to raise money for the military, but he only agrees to do so in order to escape his PTSD. Ironically, though, his participation in that tour is where he begins to drink.
When Louis and Cynthia get married, a proud Louis is unwilling to take a menial job, which leads to unhealthy habits (such as frivilously spending money) and an obsession with seeking revenge on his captors, especially The Bird. Louis is often selfish, angry, sullen and depressed; Cynthia feels forced to hide her pregnancy for two months for these reasons.
When Cynthia asks Louis to seek help for his problems, Louis lies and says that he is. But he’s unable to let go of his pride and actually follow through, seeing that request as weakness. Cynthia describes to Louis a hypothetical future scenario in which his daughter is ashamed of the man he’s become.
Louis mentions that chocolate does something to his insides that “ain’t pretty.” He also jokes that while he runs a race, others competitors will have to “look at my backside.”
None of us like to admit that we are weak. It goes against our nature. We want to have it all figured out. We want to present ourselves as pretty and packaged and ready to ship.
God’s Word promises that our weaknesses reveal His strengths as He works in and through us, that we’ll be made strong through His power. (See 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.) It’s an idea that’s completely countercultural. That’s because it asks that we admit our failings so that we can receive strength that can only come from the One who is strength.
Louis Zamperini, a real-life war veteran, knew what it meant to be weak. To be powerless. To be vulnerable. He experienced weakness at the core of his being. He suffered things that most of us will never fully understand. He struggled with PTSD, alcoholism, anger, bitterness and a desire for vengeance. Louis’ marriage and his family life suffered as well at times.
But God wasn’t far from Louis Zamperini. And just when he thought he’d lost it all, he found hope in the only real Hope.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).