Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Learning from "Unbroken"

This past weekend, I watched Unbroken for the first time. (I know, I know, you're supposed to read the book before you watch the movie. My family decided to rent it.).

I was really impressed on multiple levels. Though the story is not speculative in nature, nor produced by a Christian company, it has many aspects that I believe are applicable on a personal level as well as from a writer's perspective.

The Storyline 

For those of you who don't know, Unbroken follows the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian who ends up serving the U.S. during WWII. His plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean. He, along with two other crew members, floats in a tiny life raft for well over a month before being captured by the Japanese and placed in a prisoner of war camp. At one point, he is offered the chance to leave the camp if he publicly slanders the U.S., but he refuses.

The story of survival by itself is remarkable, but his courage is even more inspiring. To refuse the chance to leave takes more courage and moral fortitude than I think I have.

His Faith

Another thing that struck me about the movie was Louis's faith. Although he was not a Christian at the beginning of his ordeals, he later becomes one. He credited his faith with allowing him to forgive those who mistreated him.

Here again, we have an inspiring aspect of the story. Rather than blaming God, or his captors, he realizes that God is bigger than his problems and actually helped him through the ordeal. He still might have held a grudge against his captors (which I think we can all understand), but he turned to God's grace to help him learn to forgive. How much we can learn from this!

From a Writer's Perspective

This movie wasn't a "Christian" movie, but it portrayed a Christian life as clearly as many movies that have been published as "Christian" (and I daresay that it was executed far better than if the story had been done by a Christian movie company).

There were several important ideas from a Christian writer's perspective that I thought important:

  • Christian life wasn't portrayed as a cakewalk, because it isn't
Something that I see occur frequently in Christian literature is, "Oh, We accepted Christ? Everything is hunky-dory." That's not how it works. In this true story, Louis goes through many more months of severe hardship and still has to deal with the aftereffects of his experiences. If we want our writing to reflect real life, we should acknowledge the fact that we will have trouble in this world.

  • The "message" of the movie didn't overrun the story
I've read many Christian books that were wonderful...but just couldn't step away from the message to let the story grow. Don't get me wrong; I still love many of those books. But if we start to focus too much on the message we:
    • lose realism
    • seem cliche
    • lose readers (they probably didn't pick up a novel for a sermon)
    • and lose the potential to have more than one meaning for the work (if you focus on the message, odds are you will only convey that message; readers will only pick that up, and nothing else)
This was also one reason that I was glad the story was picked up by more of a mainline company

  • The writers didn't shy away from the ugly
This is a delicate subject. You have to consider your readership when writing and decide what personal limits you want to impose upon your writing (you may also have to consider those of your potential publishers).
Also, this is a war movie. It's expected to be ugly and rough; if it was anything else, it would ring false. A young adult adventure novel may "feel" perfectly fine without the grit.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below! What else would you like to see as "extra" posts? 

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