Should Kids See ‘Unbroken’?
One of the longest-running best sellers of all time, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, has sold more than 4 million copies. And, as a fan of Hillenbrand (who also wrote the wonderful Seabiscuit), it’s one of the most powerful, inspiring non-fiction stories I’ve ever read.
However, as well-crafted and compelling as the movie version by Angelina Jolie is, I’m not sure “inspiring” is the word you or your teen would use. Perhaps expressions such as “incredibly brutal,” “amazing survival,” and “unbelievable but true,” will come to your lips. And therein lays a gap between the book that tells a full life story of Louis Zamperini, and a movie that focuses almost exclusively on the most horrifying set of World War II episodes from that life and pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating.
Is Unbroken violent?
Zamperini incurred the sadistic wrath of a psychotic prison warden. This may give you pause when it comes to whether your age 13 or over child should see the film. It pushed the PG-13 boundary, in my view. In addition, combat footage includes explosions. Your teen needs to have a level of maturity and a pretty strong stomach!
Is Unbroken educational?
Zamperini, who died last July at the age of 97, went through hell and lived to tell about it. In the book and movie of Unbroken, his life and those of his comrades is honored, and reminds us that we are only here, and only free, through the fortitude, courage, and sacrifice of people like them.
Does Unbroken have foul language?
Yes, but it’s infrequent and mild.
Your child should see this movie if:
Of course, if your child has read and could handle Unbroken – which is terribly brutal as well, of course – then by all means, feel free to see the film. And if your teen hasn’t read the book but you believe can handle the movie, then go — but I urge you to have him or her read Unbroken afterward (and you, too!) to get the whole, remarkable, and beautifully written story. Then you’ll see what I mean by the word “inspiring.”
Your child should not see this movie if:
They are not capable of handling the disturbing and brutal topics depicted in detail throughout the film.
Rather than a list of questions, there is room for a lengthy discussion with your teen about what’s missing from this movie.
In the book of Unbroken, there are chapters about Zamperini’s childhood, his truant behavior, his redemption through running track, and his achievements on the athletic field, including a place on America’s 1936 Olympic team in Berlin. And after the war, there is a moving account of his post-traumatic stress and his life-changing conversion to Christianity through the ministry of Billy Graham and all that that led him to do and achieve.
But in the film, you see very little of the before and after. A few minutes of flashbacks sketch in his pre-war life, and a couple of on-screen captions sum up his entire post-war experience. What you see for two, unrelieved hours, are the mind-numbing tribulations this man went through; his 47 days in a raft on the Pacific after his bomber went down, and his two and a half years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
By the way, a young adult version of Unbroken written by Hillenbrand was published this year, so if you have a developing reader that may be a good choice. If you have strong reader, the original won’t be too challenging for your teen.
Image © Universal Pictures
Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.