Last night I did the movie thing. Watched the Angelina Jolie feature Unbroken about Louis Zamperini, the World War II bombardier and Olympic distance runner who survived captivity in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
Then I watched the tail end of the movie Whiplash, which is the story of a drummer under the tutelage of a demanding, uncompromising professor.
Both stories are about perseverance. One is about surviving brutal treatment at the hands of someone who considers you the enemy. The other is about a teacher who believes that you can only become better if you are not coddled or told “good job.”
Seen back to back, the movies certainly make you think about the importance of character. The fact that Zamperini was a distance runner before he became a soldier, survivor of 40+ days at sea and a prisoner of war, makes the statement that knowing your body and mind can certainly help in facing life’s difficulties.
Yet there were hundreds of other survivors of those war camps, and not all of those people were athletes at all.
Which means there was something else at work. The movie Unbroken strongly suggests and conveys that something else is personal faith.
Faith in God is one thing. Having faith in yourself is another. That’s the message of Whiplash. The young drummer puts himself through merciless practice sessions where his fingers bleed and his entire body is coated in sweat. Still he cannot please his merciless instructor, who vets and cajoles and tortures the kid into submission.
The professor’s goal is to bring out the best in his musicians no matter what. Without that pressure, he contends, there is no way the work and talent can pay off. Mediocrity is not something to celebrate, he contends.
The difference between survival as a prisoner of war and surpassing mediocrity as a top flight musician is a fascinating difference to consider. Perhaps only by coming close to being killed, or by killing ourselves with effort, do we ever now what spirit lies within.
The abiding message is to never give up. Despite what Nike tells you, don’t Just Do It. When it comes to giving up, Just Don’t.