Forgiveness, redemption, and amazing grace

by Suellen Dusek

“Unbroken: Path to Redemption” directedby Harold Cronk, starring Samuel Hunt. 1 hour, 38 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Why is God silent when good men suffer?”—Billy Graham, Greater Los Angeles Revival, 1949.

This is the question director Harold Cronk brings to the fore in Unbroken: Path to Redemption. The film is based on a bestselling book by Laura Hillenbrand and sequel to Unbroken, the 2014 film covering Zamperini’s service during WWII and imprisonment in a Japanese prisoner of war labor camp. Together, the two films provide a compelling account of one man’s heroic suffering, his return home after war, and his quest for grace, healing, and redemption.

Louis Zamperini, a contender in the 5,000-meter race at the 1936 Olympics, is a favorite son and local celebrity. The movie opens with a flurry of news articles chronicling Zamperini’s service with the US Army Air Corps, his plane crash and presumed death in the South Pacific, and the discovery that he is alive at the end of the war. However, beneath the celebratory air of Zamperini’s homecoming lie dark and sinister memories, which threaten to upend his hopes of returning to a normal life.

Throughout the film, Cronk does a fantastic job recounting the trials and downward spiral Zamperini suffers as he tries to reacclimate to everyday life. Zamperini struggles to maintain relationships with family and friends, adapt to the joys and responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood, and gain employment. He faces these challenges while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition poorly understood at the time. He experiences recurrent flashbacks of torture, vivid nightmares and sleepless nights. Ignoring his doctor’s advice, Zamperini attempts to mute the symptoms of the disorder with alcohol. The downhill slide threatens his marriage and his ability to function. However, PTSD and alcohol are only part of his problem. Zamperini is also angry with God.

One of the most interesting insights into the heart and mind of Zamperini is revealed early in the film when, upon his return, his family throws him a welcome home celebration. His parish priest, Father Cardarelli, is in attendance, and a private conversation ensues:

Father Cardarelli: “All of Torrence was praying for your safe return. It’s a miracle you survived.”

Louis: “Miracles didn’t save my tail feathers, Padre, a couple of atomic bombs did that.”

Father Cardarelli: “Don’t discount God’s role in your journey.”

Louis: “Don’t worry, Padre, I give him all the blame.”

This exchange highlights what is at the heart of Zamperini’s private battle. His bitterness toward God leaves him vulnerable and unable to deal with the fearful memories that assail him.

On the verge of divorcing him, his wife tries one more time to appeal to him. His obedient response – “Yes, dear” – changes everything.

Director Harold Cronk draws one in immediately. His depictions of PTSD episodes are terrifyingly real. Samuel Hunt, cast as Louis Zamperini, offers a compelling portrait of a wounded man who is alternately courageous and desperate. His wife, played by Merritt Patterson, is unprepared to deal with her husband’s PTSD and drinking. The film is accurate in its depictions of the problems experienced by couples dealing with PTSD and substance abuse.

Louis Zamperini eventually returns to Tokyo, with unfinished business, to visit the prisoner of war camp where he was held for two years. What he says and does there will astound you.

Unbroken: Path to Redemption explores the mystery of human suffering within the context of Louis Zamperini’s real-life story. It seeks to answer the question, “Why is God silent when good men suffer?”

Unbroken: Path to Redemption opens in select theaters on Sept. 14.

Suellen resides in West Fargo with Steve, her husband of 29 years. They have four adult children and one sweet grandbaby, whom Suellen cares for in their home. Suellen’s passion is Marian spirituality.