Angelina Jolie Defends Decision to Avoid 'Christian' Label In WWII Film 'Unbroken'

Dec 12, 2014 02:20 PM EST

Angelina Jolie has defended her "universal" portrayal of faith in her new movie Unbroken, stating that the decision to avoid specific denominations was approved by the World War II hero on whom the story is based.

Jolie has already garnered positive attention in various faith circles for her work as the director of the upcoming film, which tells the story of Olympian and U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Louis Zamperini and his discovery of God after being held as a prisoner of war for over two years in Japan.

But this general faith depiction is something that Jolie says she discussed with Zamperini while the film was being written. Despite some early reviews speculating that Christian fans of the original book might become offended that the Christianity part was left out, Jolie feels she made the right choice.

"We made it universal, not specific to one faith, and that was something that was agreed upon with Louie," Jolie told reporters earlier this month. "He said he wanted the message to reach everyone. He said to make faith and forgiveness universal."

In the original novel by Laura Hillenbrand, the main climax of the story happens when Zamperini embraces Christianity at a Billy Graham crusade in 1949, not long after being released. Through the knowledge of God's own grace, Zamperini discovered peace by forgiving his captors.

But Louis Zamperini's son, Luke, says that Hillenbrand's book was not a Christian book and the family is pleased with Jolie's interpretation. "The film, I think, portrays beautifully his faith throughout," Luke said. "The message is there, and it's there in a way that's going to get people to think, to find out for themselves exactly what this means. This is the way my father also presented the gospel to people. He just told a story and let them come up with their own conclusions."

"He said this is about reaching everyone, this should speak to everyone, and we were very clear on his parents' faith, they being Catholic," Jolie said in regards to making the film broad to reach a wider audience. "We're very clear on him praying. If you were looking for symbolism and miracles in the film, you will see them."

Zamperini's daughter, Cynthia Garris, expands on this by stating that if Jesus were shown in the film, it might turn some people off.

"If they wanted to know more about how he got through it, how he survived it, they could investigate it," she said. "He never wanted to preach at them but live the example. It was absolutely sanctioned by him. This is what he told us he wanted."

Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini
Angelina Jolie and Louis Zamperini (NBC Universal)

Jolie made the news earlier this week when it was said that she dropped to her knees to pray for a miracle during filming. At the time, Jolie needed the skies to clear up to finish one last important shot, but it had been stormy the whole day. So she dropped to her knees, doing what she said Zamperini would do in the same situation.

"It stopped raining," Zamperini's daughter recalled. "The sun came out, a rainbow came out, she said, 'let's get this take' [and] they shot the take. When she said 'cut,' it started to rain again."

While Jolie has not made any public proclamations of faith, Garris recalls a time at Zamperini's deathbed when Jolie seemed moved by God.

"I'll tell you, when my father died we were all with him in the hospital," Garris said. "(Jolie) came about 45 minutes later and she was pointing above saying, 'I know he's with us. I know he's there with God.' And he even moved her. I think maybe in God's plan for Angelina, she was supposed to find Louie and make this movie to find her way to a life that would encompass the Almighty."

Louis Zamperini died this summer at the age of 97, but was able to see an early cut of the film before his passing. Unbroken will release in theaters on December 25.

Louis Zamperini
Louis Zamperini seen in a photo released by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.