When I first saw the preview for Unbroken a few months ago, I was intrigued and a bit mystified, as I reported in an earlier piece. Having now seen the movie, I am still intrigued, and remain mystified. With the Christmas day release of this film, I am convinced that something must be afoot; I just can’t quite figure out what.

Mind you, Unbroken (which “is a true story,” as the intro to the film boldly tells us, eschewing the usual “based on” semi-disclaimer) isn’t a great movie, far from it. It is often beautifully filmed, and powerfully acted, but the final sum is rather less than the totality of its parts. 

For all of the harrowing scenes of torture and degradation, the film feels strangely detached from its subject matter. The hero’s extreme nobility and heroism in the face of unspeakable torment almost seems done by rote, without much grit, originality, or panache. Of course, we can’t help but admire Louis Zamperini, the Olympic medalist and American POW who endures nearly endless abuse at the hands of his sadistic captors, but remains “unbroken” to the bitter end, but we are never properly invited to love him, because we aren’t given a chance to comprehend exactly what motivates him to persist in the midst of a slog through hell, and eventually even to forgive the demons at whose hands he suffered so terribly.

The most striking thing about Unbroken is the fact that it was made at all. The trailer, which I discussed back in August, doesn’t lie; the film portrays the white America of the 1930s and 40s in a highly idealized manner. There are no ahistorical multicultural aspects thrown in to leaven the relentless Caucasoid orientation of the cast. The fighting soldiers and airmen of the U.S. military are straight out of Norman Rockwell: fresh-faced, heartbreakingly eager, unflinchingly brave… and unfailingly white. What is more, the Japanese characters are – to varying degrees but without exception – mean, cruel, wantonly abusive, and hateful, spiteful beasts. The Americans call them “Japs” repeatedly, without any spoken or implied rebuke.

To put it simply, the aesthetic of Unbroken is white man = good, yellow man = bad. That this hasn’t drawn more attention is astonishing, though it has apparently made a few waves in certain circles.

The makers of Unbroken have been at it for a while; their canny marketing campaign, which has seemingly included hitting “red state” venues hard. I happened to be watching a professional wrestling program a few weeks ago (not typical viewing for me, but sometimes a man needs his diversions), in which the purpose of entire venue was to “honor the troops”: camo-clad young men screamed and yelled as the contestants trashed-talked and fake-punched one another. Then suddenly an extended commercial was broadcast, in which director Angelina Jolie spoke glowingly of the real Louis Zamperini, who died earlier this year at the age of 97.

The audience was shown Angie tenderly resting her head on the stooped shoulder of the wizened but still bright-eyed veteran, who dedicated his life to his Catholic faith following the war, and who visited Japan to meet with and forgive his prison camp tormentors in his mature years.
Angie and Louis
It was all brilliantly staged propaganda, but to what end, exactly? I have little doubt that Zamperini was as great a guy as we’re being told, but that said, just why are millions upon millions of dollars being spent by Hollywood to tell his story now? Is the endgame simply to fleece the “greatest generation” nostalgia one last time? Or is something else in the offing? And is it only a coincidence that, with Unbroken running in tandem with the controversial The Interview, Asians have become the ubiquitous cinematic bad guys? Inquiring minds can’t help but ask.

Andy Nowicki, co-editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the NihilThe Columbine PilgrimConsidering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. He occasionally updates his blog when the spirit moves him to do so. Visit his Soundcloud page.

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