Nineteen Years, and Still Unbreakable
Ah, M. Night Shyamalan, the Indian filmmaker whose name has become synonymous with "The Twist." Although the Philadelphia resident had been working in films for years, he didn't become the household name he is today until 1999, when he released the groundbreaking supernatural mystery, The Sixth Sense, with a twist at the end that blew away audiences all over the world. Shocking turns like the one in The Sixth Sense have become a trademark for Shyamalan, and these endings tend to make or break his movies' success. Since the release of one of the most recognizable films in history, Shyamalan has gone on to produce, direct (and cameo in) legions of films. Whether Shyamalan's movies are successes or failures is widely subjective to their viewers. Some audiences loathed 2004's The Village while others praised its uniqueness; the same goes for Signs from 2002, and typically for the same reasons: that often bittersweet twist ending you know is coming.
In 2016, Shyamalan released possibly his most successful film: the psychological thriller Split. Much of Split's success was due to the phenomenal acting by Scottish actor James McAvoy, who plays the film's villain. Split was revealed to be an unorthodox sequel to the somewhat less successful Unbreakable (2000), a stand-alone film set within the same universe, along with heavy implications that another sequel was forthcoming.
Now, in 2019, Shyamalan has released Glass, the third movie in a trilogy that began almost two decades ago. While Glass filled the internet and media with high expectations, in its initial release, it has been regarded as more of a failure than success, ending the producer's unique take on a superhero story on a bitter note.
Chances are, you've probably seen Unbreakable, or are at least familiar with it, but with such a lengthy gap between the trilogy's beginning and end, a lot of moviegoers are probably looking to refresh their memories on the one that set the train in motion.
Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a down-on-his-luck security guard at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, where Dunn himself once aspired to play. David's once promising life now seems to belong to someone else's past. His marriage to his highschool-sweetheart Audrey (Robin Wright) has fallen apart, to the point where the couple hardly speak or even look at one another, while their young son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark, who would later reprise his role in Glass) watches his world disintegrate helplessly on the sideline.
Returning home from a job interview in New York City, David's train is derailed in a freak accident, killing everyone on board...except for Dunn, who miraculously emerges unharmed from the wreckage. David has no idea how or why he survived, and while the near-death experience serves as a catalyst for him to see to repair the relationship with his family, the damage seems to be already done.
The downward spiral of David's life continues, until he finds a cryptic message left on the windshield of his car: "How many days of your life have you been sick?" as well as an invitation to an art gallery, "The Limited Edition." The message perturbs David, who begins investigating into the matter, only to come to the conclusion that he, nor anyone else in his life, has any memory of him ever taking ill. However, David was once injured in high school when he and Audrey were involved in an automobile accident, and before that, he had nearly drowned at the hands of bullies in a school swimming pool.
The matter leads David to meet Elijah Price, played with verve by Samuel Jackson, the eccentric genius and owner/curator of "The Limited Edition," the art gallery focused solely on comic books. Elijah was born with type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease. Dubbed "Mr. Glass" by the kids in his neighborhood, Elijah's fragile condition meant he spent a lot of his childhood bedridden and in and out of hospitals for fractures that could happen with the slightest jostle. Price found solace in the pages of comic books, in tales of boundless fantasy. His hobby turned into his passion, and his obsession. He firmly believes that the superheroes in comics are an abstract representation of events or people that actually exist; people with extraordinary abilities, somewhat exaggerated through the art of the pages.
Elijah explains to David that, as each action has an equal and opposite reaction, the same applies for these extraordinary individuals. Elijah grew up holding onto the belief that if he can be broken at the slightest touch, then there must be someone in the world who is... Unbreakable. Elijah confides to an incredulous David that after an exhaustive search, he is certain that David is the person he's sought after for so long.
As expected, David dismisses Elijah, blaming his wild claims on an overactive imagination. Joseph, however, believes Elijah, and he too persists on every boy's dream that his dad might be special. Despite David's early criticism to Elijah's belief, the two men begin to form a bond, and as David starts to question everything he thought he knew about himself, he begins to see a new Purpose and hope in his life.
But, If Elijah is right, and David is a superhero...who is the villain?
Shyamalan's love for comic books radiates throughout Unbreakable, and that love, palpable in nearly every scene, elevates the movie even further. Most scenes are shot from angles and perspectives that give the viewer the impression they're viewing panels in a cartoon; you may notice that instead of cutting from one character to another in a scene, the camera will instead pan from left to right or up and down, imitating how one would read a comic.
Even though he's known for playing more tough-guy roles (making it somewhat ironic, since he plays the Ultimate Tough-Guy) Willis catches the somber, melancholy nature of David Dunn perfectly. Dunn feels like a real, relatable person: he has plenty of flaws, he usually tries to do the right thing, but it doesn't always work out for him. Willis provides the perfect vessel to carry the film's question: "What would happen if John Doe discovered he was Superman?"
Shyamalan isn't the sort of director you would expect a superhero movie from, at least in the conventional sense, and you'd be right; but by carefully blending supernatural elements into a fundamentally human story, Shyamalan manages to craft a near-perfect movie.
Unbreakable is the definitive "slow burn" movie, a trait almost unfounded in other movies of the same genre, yet it is these differences that helped make Unbreakable one of the best superhero movies of all time, nearly twenty years later. So, if you're planning on seeing Glass this weekend, or if you're just in the mood for a different kind of superhero story, pick up Unbreakable, and go watch a movie!