Francis Lawrence Set To Direct UNBROKEN Based On Bestselling WWII Novel
As a youth, Zamperini transformed from a Depression Era troublemaker into the “Torrance tornado,” a world class runner who became the youngest American to compete on the U.S. team. He ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and though he didn’t medal, Zamperini ran a final lap so fast that Adolph Hitler asked to meet him. Expected to mature into gold medal form–and a threat to break the 4-minute mile–by the 1940 games set for Tokyo, Zamperini ‘s dreams were dashed by WWII. By the time he crossed the Pacific en route to Japan, Zamperini was an Air Force bombardier. After emerging unscathed after several dangerous bombing runs, Zamperini crashed in the Pacific while on a rescue mission. Most of their crew-mates dead, Zamperini and two others floated in a raft for 47 days. After surviving hunger, thirst and incessant shark attacks in a raft that drifted 2000 miles, Zamperini was caught by the Japanese Navy and then the hardship really began. First dispatched to a hellhole called Execution Island (named because Japanese guards routinely beheaded prisoners), Zamperini’s Olympic feats got him transferred to another POW camp where he could have lived in relative comfort. But when he refused to read anti-American propaganda statements over the radio, Zamperini was sent to serve hard time. Starved, subjected to medical experiments, slave labor, and brutal beatings by guards, Zamperini was specifically targeted by a sadistic overseer named Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Called “The Bird” by the POWs, Watanabe made it his mission to break Zamperini’s spirit with brutal beatings and mental and physical torture. Zamperini would not break, but the guard kept trying right up until the war ended and the war criminal slipped away and eluded manhunts. The Bird lived on in Zamperini’s nightmares, though. After once waking to discover he was choking his terrified wife, Zamperini was convinced his freedom depended on returning to Japan to kill his tormenter. On the verge of divorce, alcoholism and a total breakdown, Zamperini discovered another way. Dragged by his wife to a tent where Billy Graham preached, Zamperini embraced his message and decided to forgive all of his captors. The nightmares ceased. Zamperini even traveled to Japan and met most of the guards to forgive them in person. When The Bird finally resurfaced, Zamperini returned to Japan and prepared to meet and forgive him, too. Watanabe refused, but Zamperini outlived The Bird, who died in 2003.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.