My personal journey with Louie Zamperini, Billy Graham & Los Angeles
by Janet Chismar, Trending Christian Senior Editor
Louis Zamperini accepted Christ at the 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in LA.
How often do you see a film whose central character is a person you have met in person? I never had–until last night. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a few actors, this was the first time I personally knew the man being depicted on the screen.
I am, of course, referring to Louis Zamperini and the film version of Unbroken.
As I sat in the theater yesterday, my heart was flooded with memories and with gratitude to God for how He has moved in my life. Let me take you on a quick spin around the circle. (And then I will get to the film, I promise!)
Back on Dec. 9, 2007, I applied for a writing job with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. By February 2008, I had moved from Los Angeles to Charlotte, N.C., and started to work for one of the most admired and godliest men on the planet—Billy Graham. It was an amazing five –year stint, during which I met and wrote about amazing people from all walks of life, in all parts of the world.
But, even today, I count my interview with Louis Zamperini for billygraham.org and later, Decision Magazine, as my all-time favorite. I have never met a more compelling man who was so warm, kind and inspiring.
The context for the first 2011 interview was the book release of Unbroken and Mr. Zamperini’s connection with Billy Graham. Even by phone, I was blown away when speaking to Louie. Then, later that year, Louie came to Charlotte for a book-signing at the Billy Graham Library and I had the honor of meeting him in person.
One of my most treasured possessions is a photo of Louie and me in the Library’s replica of the “Canvas Cathedral” – the tent in which Mr. Graham preached in Los Angeles in 1949, and under which Louis Zamperini surrendered his life to Christ.
About a year-and-a-half after that meeting and photo, I left my job at BGEA. In 2013, I found my way back to Los Angeles, physically broken, and in need of surgery. After one hip replacement and a few more readings of the book Unbroken for encouragement, I began working at Trending Christian News.
And that is how, exactly seven years after I applied for a job in Charlotte, I ended up in a theater in Los Angeles, watching “Louis” on the screen in Unbroken. Sadly, I did not get to “watch” Mr. Graham. That chapter of Unbroken (the book) is missing from Unbroken the film.
A photo/caption montage at the film’s end quickly recaps Louie’s PTSD, alcoholism and subsequent commitment to “God.” Jesus Christ isn’t mentioned per se, but in an opening sequence, young Louie hears the Gospel message while at church.
Later in the movie, he and his friend Phil talk about prayer, and when the men are adrift on the Pacific, Louis promises God to live the rest of his life for Him if he survives.
One disappointing scene (from a theological perspective) shows Phil telling Louis that after you die, an angel sits on the end of your bed and “answers all your questions.”
Overall, there was a bit more discussion about God and faith than I expected, given initial coverage, but far less than the book and Louie’s real life story.
A perk of attending the Los Angeles screening was an intro and Q&A with Louie’s son, Luke Zamperini, who shared the entire ’49 Crusade story and answered many other questions.
I will share more of Luke’s insights and a formal review of the film on Dec. 22, so be sure to stop back then.
Finally, if you are hungry to see more of Christ’s impact on Louis Zamperini’s life, BGEA is releasing a documentary style film telling the full story, including Mr. Zamperini’s experience in 1949, in his own words. The short film, called Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace, will be available for viewing on the Billy Graham website on Dec. 25.
My original interview >>
Learn more about Unbroken, the film by Angelina Jolie, here >>