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With the notable exception of Chappaquidick, the post-Vietnam movie industry, including the later original content cable television business, has relentlessly bent history and even powerful works of fiction, imposing narratives designed to immunize younger viewers against ever discovering inconvenient truths and other voices. I started mulling this over with Angelina Jolie’s shocking betrayal of a man she claimed to deeply respect, in her deeply biased big-screen rendition of Laura Hillenbrand’s profound Unbroken. I saw both Jolie’s Hollywood production and a small budget Christian production of the rest of the story. I’ve cogitated over this and found more and more productions attaching to the idea which formed: this is all quite deliberate propaganda.
Unbroken broken as told in two movies:
The text of the hardcover edition of Unbroken runs to 398 pages. Two movies take this book as their inspiration. The first covered 333 pages, then stopped. The second covered the last 65 pages. Yet the second was closer to the story of the man, as faithfully told by Laura Hillenbrand. I put page tabs in my copy to visually illustrate what was done.
Consider the tale of two box offices, as reported by BoxOfficeMojo.com:
Unbroken: Path to Redemption
Notice, first, that Jolie’s version of Unbroken did not do that well, yet it certainly killed off any shot at getting to a mass audience with the rest of the story, indeed, the real story. Even the Hollywood Reporter picked up on at least part of the problem:
The Hollywood Reporter’s chief film critic Todd McCarthy writes, “What Jolie succeeds in doing to a substantial degree is representing her hero’s physical ordeal and his tenacious refusal to give up when it would have been very easy to do so. What she and her more than estimable quarter of screenwriters — Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson — have not entirely pulled off is dramatizing the full range of Louie’s internal suffering, emotional responses and survival mechanisms. Nor have they made any of the secondary characters pop from the anonymous background of prisoner extras.”
Angelina Jolie’s blindness, willful or not, to her neighbor, Louie Zamperini’s, actual life, from the book and from her many hours with the man before he died, comes through in an Elle interview on Unbroken:
Was there any scene or moment you had to cut from the final version of Unbroken you wish could have been in there?
Louie’s life was so extraordinary that is was impossible to capture it all on film. So there were inevitably things we had to leave out when telling the story. But as director I had the final say and felt that we were able to do justice to it.
What do you think is the greatest lesson we can learn from Louie’s story?
Like many of the greatest human stories, it is about the capacity of regular men and women to rise above adversity. It reminds us never to give up, and that having the spirit to fight is what really matters. It is powerful because it speaks to the potential inside all of us.
This vision, fully expressed in the movie, sharply contrasts with Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken. The author’s meticulously researched work is roughly summarized in a Guideposts story on Louie Zamperini:
He went home a deeply haunted man. He had nightmares of being bludgeoned by the Bird. Trying to rebuild his life, he married a beautiful debutante named Cynthia, but even her love couldn’t blot the Bird from his mind.
Devastated, he started drinking. He had flashbacks: The raft or the prison camp would appear around him, and he’d relive terrifying memories. He simmered with rage, provoking fistfights with strangers and confrontations with Cynthia.
In the fall of 1949, Cynthia made a last effort to save her husband. She asked Louie to come to a tent meeting in Los Angeles, where a young minister named Billy Graham was preaching.
On the second night, Graham asked people to step forward to declare their faith. Louie stood up and stormed toward the exit. But at the aisle, he stopped short.
Suddenly he was in a flashback, adrift on the raft. It hadn’t rained in days, and he was dying of thirst. In anguish, he whispered a prayer: If you will save me, I will serve you forever. Over the raft, rain began falling. Standing in Graham’s tent, lost in his flashback, Louie felt the rain on his face.
Fox News summarized the rest of the story following Louie Zamperini‘s conversion experience:
In the six decades since then, Louie mentored troubled youth; carried the torch at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles; returned to Japan twice (once to forgive his guards, in the 1950s, and again, in 1998, to carry the torch at the Nagano Winter Games); wrote a letter of forgiveness to the Bird, imploring him to become a Christian (he never learned whether Watanabe received the letter); and continued to speak about his experiences and his faith across the country. He spent seven years working with Hillenbrand on “Unbroken,” patiently fielding questions from her no fewer than 75 times.
The second movie Unbroken: Path to Redemption, did its best within limited resources to correct the record, to tell the full truth of this man’s life, but it was crippled from the beginning by the false start of the big-budget movie. You could not get a real feel for why this man was crashing into what we now style PTSD. Jolie chose to create a film that erased the irony in the book title, as well as ignoring the contemporary hot story of PTSD in Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans, reinforced with a renewed consideration of the Vietnam veterans’ experience.
Here was a chance for a female director to make a real difference, to tell this very different sort of war story. However, doing so would mean affirming things she and her crowd completely reject. She believes the oldest lie of all “we can be like God,” where Zamperini’s life story affirmed “we need God.” Burying that dangerous idea was worth tanking a potential box office hit.
Two classic novels, dangerous ideas buried forever by Hollywood:
Both Robert Heinlein’s juvenile science fiction novel, Starship Troopers, and Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, carry messages, beliefs, considered too dangerous to the left’s control of young minds. Heinlein wrote from the context of the aftermath of the stalemate in Korea. He was looking for some way that a free people could stand in the long run against determined tyranny. His ideas about civic virtue and duty do not sit well with many. L’Engle had no political or social agenda, but her version of Christian faith suffused her writing, even more dangerous to the left’s control of young minds.
Starship Troopers; Paul Verhoeven used his film to utterly deface Heinlein’s work. He used the movie to smear Robert Heinlein’s ideas as fascistic:
Verhoeven added that Heinlein’s philosophy was fascistic; for the director, as well as screenwriter Ed Neumeier, their film was having an open fight with the novel. The idea behind “Troopers,” according to Verhoeven, was to create a story that “seduced the audience” on one level, but then make it clear to the audience what they were admiring was actually evil.
[Chris O’Falt said]…it is hard to understand how people missed Verhoeven’s obvious satiric perspective, with its heightened artifice, campy performances, propaganda newsreels and clear references to Nazi flags and uniforms.
Wrinkle in Time: A review in Vox outlines the problem:
In the novel, Christianity lays thickly upon Wrinkle, influenced by L’Engle’s own beliefs (for years she was the writer in residence at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a progressive Episcopal congregation). In that way and others, the book is like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series: not blatantly preachy or too ponderously allegorical but integrating long quotations from the Bible and Christian theology into a story that still works whether or not you pick up on the Christian context.
Much of that Christian content has been excised from the film version of Wrinkle. […] The movie seems fine with preserving and foregrounding other religious ideas: Figures like Buddha still get quoted in the movie, and there’s some religiously oriented language about becoming one with the universe, alongside a smidge of yoga.
But more importantly, it undercuts the story, preserving a more vague spirituality at the expense of any particulars in a tale that’s all about particularity. One wonders while watching the film if Disney underestimates young viewers’ ability to understand that there are different religions (something that L’Engle herself was clearly interested in), many of which are interested in the matters the film addresses, and whether the better choice for someone looking to make a religiously inclusive film might have been to preserve the film’s Christianity but add influences from other systems of belief, rather than smoothing them all out into a vague swirl of “love.”
No, Disney executives do not underestimate young viewers. Disney leaders fear young people have or will consider the wrong ideas, frustrating the fundamental transformation being pursued through uniform cultural messaging. It is important to make every story tell the oldest lie. D.C. McAllister caught this in her Federalist piece comparing the book and movie:
The love we need, the love that sustains, comes from an objective, fixed source — our Creator. Otherwise, we are relying on our own strength, and we will fail. […]
Sadly, the film fails to communicate this great truth. Instead, it focuses on the self as the source of our strength, abandoning L’Engle’s profound message of God’s power and love. In this, it has failed to communicate a universal truth that is found in so many works of fantasy and myth. It has failed as art.
Ellie Bufkin, also writing in the Federalist, observed just how relentlessly L’Engle’s voice was excised by Disney:
Screenplay writer Jennifer Lee spoke about the choice to remove religion, insinuating that L’Engle used Christianity as an archaic crutch to talk about the fight between good and evil. Lee said that there were “bigger issues” in the world today, and so they chose to remove God from their story.
Disney made a TV version of Wrinkle back in 2003, four years before L’Engle’s death. Religion had been entirely removed from this version as well, and the author did not like it. She said, “I expected it to be bad, and it is.”
The heart and soul of L’Engle’s novel is her own faith. Unafraid of criticism and actually being banned from very conservative Christians in the 1960’s, she included her faith, in addition to the idea that God shows light in people on earth as well. Lee apparently assumed that the only reason L’Engle included her faith was because she grew up in a time where she felt that she had to, and that assumption led Lee to write a screenplay that amputated the overarching theme of the book.
The box office was not kind to Wrinkle in Time, but the mission was accomplished:
While BoxOfficeMojo.com did not report a production budget, The-Numbers.com reported a budget of $103 million. If Disney made a dime at the box office, it was about $32 million in limited overseas ticket sales. If the rationale was to strip out Christianity as a way to make the movie sell in countries with other faiths, it was obviously a complete flop. Disney might be that stupid, but I’m doubting it.
Rewriting History: It has been repeatedly observed that Oliver Stone’s JFK dominates the rising public perception of the president and that moment in history. Nevermind that his work is unhinged from reality, if a younger person is supposed to know something about JFK, for school perhaps, where do you think they are going to look? Yes: Stone’s JFK.
We might expect more of Ken Burns, with his Public Broadcasting Service funding. But we would be disappointed. He deliberately, grossly distorted the Vietnam War in service of his fellow leftists, with the intent of forever propagandizing young minds on the subject. Scott Johnson summarized “the Ken Burns version” succinctly:
I watched all 18 hours of the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick/Geoffrey Ward documentary The Vietnam War. Ten years in the making, it draws on enormous resources to fix our history in falsity. It seeks to endow the war as portrayed by the antiwar left with the status of the authorized version. A credulous consumer of the antiwar literature of the era, I began to get a clue around about the time the NVA had its tanks rolling toward Saigon in 1975. Burns affords us access to views expressed by our Vietnam vets featured in the documentary ranging all the way from A to B.
I highly recommend the Powerline posts for a very informative series of relevant links to Burns’ dishonesty in this work. For further, though more minor, examples, consider Truth, in which Robert Redford plays Dan Rather and Cate Blanchet plays Mary Mapes, or Confirmation, peddling the lie in 2016 that Anita Hill told the truth.
Truth buries the truth of Rather and Mapes lying to the American people, fabricating documents, to change the outcome of a presidential election. The ticket for doing the dirty deed, just before the 2016 election campaign:
Opening Weekend USA:
$66,232, 18 October 2015
Cumulative Worldwide Gross:
Justice Clarence Thomas was targetted by an HBO movie, Confirmation, with the intention of setting in a new generation’s mind that Thomas is illegitimate, a theme that reemerged with the Kennedy retirement and the smear operation against Kavanaugh.
Now, what is more likely to catch J.Q. Public’s eye, a cable or streaming service transmission of this “flop,” or the long series of detailed posts that formed the foundation of the Powerline brand? To ask the question is to answer it. “Mission accomplished.” It is fair to apply the same analysis to bigger budget Hollywood pictures. Paul Mirengof, writing about Confirmation, lays out the stakes in this game:
Movies are, in fact, a great method of undermining, if not overturning, judgments on questions of historical fact. When people see something on the screen they tend to conflate it with reality, especially if they weren’t around when the dispute was litigated or have largely forgotten about the matter.
Look always for faithfulness to leftist political narrative, not to inconvenient truths of history or of authors’ voices.