Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort, Unbroken, is not an easy viewing. An adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s novel about Louie Zamperini, the film tells a heartbreaking tale of survival and persevering through the darkest of times. But even with scenes depicting this man’s trials at sea and in a P.O.W. camp, there was one event in particular that Jolie deemed too gruesome to include in the movie.
Be wary of spoilers from Unbroken and the original novel...
Those who’ve read Hillenbrand’s novel and seen the film will likely have already deduced which scene we’re referring to: the death of Gaga, the injured but friendly duck that hung around the camp and brightened the soldiers’ days. In the book, one of the more vicious guards horrifically brutalized this helpless animal as a means to further crush the prisoners. It was this scene that Jolie believed served no purpose in her film.
Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, she said:
"We were never going to do what really happened to Gaga because we felt like it was unnecessary."
Hillenbrand even felt the scene, which Zamperini said was the one moment that haunted him most, was too disturbing for young readers. "I know that if I were 12 and reading it, that would upset me," she told The New York Times, which was why she decided to eliminate the scene altogether from a newer version of Unbroken in order to attract the young-adult crowd.
Despite the graphic nature, Jolie still wanted to include some version of or homage to the duck in her film. But at the end of the day, she just couldn’t justifiably adapt it. That being said, the production did go through the process of trying to find an appropriate duck for the film - ad it turned out to be a rather exhausting and fruitless effort. Said the actress-cum-director,
"So it was like: ‘Okay, we need to find a really skinny duck with a limp.’ So we had a search. We found some ducks but they were big and too healthy. So they put the ducks on a diet and then the one who would be Gaga had to have a splint on. We were actually having meetings about the ducks! So we tried these splints, but it was bothering [the duck’s] legs. It just made the duck want to lay down. [Laughs] At a certain point we just thought, yeah, okay, we can’t do this.
After watching Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) survive a plane crash, 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean, and then an extended and tormented stay as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II, this gruesome moment could have understandably scarred a few audience members. Plus, this scene alone would’ve likely skirted the PG-13-rated Unbroken into R-rated territory (which, if you’re unfamiliar with the book, should give you some idea of how brutal the scene in question really is). The film has been doing consistently well at the box office without it, even going as far as besting the Christmas Day opening of Into the Woods.