So sue me. I tried to watch Unbreakable a couple of times over the past 19 years but I always fell asleep halfway into the movie. After two tries, I’ve finally given up, but then came Glass, the culmination of M. Night Shyamalan’s trilogy which kicks off with this very movie, and my curiosity was piqued anew. I decided to soldier on and caught this classic on Netflix, and the fact that I finished it (third time’s the charmed, after all), was a positive sign that it wasn’t so bad after all.
Synopsis: When Eastrail 177 derails, it is an absolute tragedy. 132 people die and only stadium security guard named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) survives. It seems like a miracle but he does not even suffer a scratch on his entire body despite the magnitude of the accident. Several days after the accident, he receives a note from comic book enthusiast/art dealer Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), who suffers from a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which means that his bones are super fragile and breaks easily. Despite his handicap, Elijah’s intelligence helps him forge a successful career for himself. When he hears about David’s experience, he posits his theory that David is his exact opposite — and they are both superhuman beings on different ends of the sphere connected by their gifts.
Its a different experience when you watch a trilogy in a different sequence. For me, it was the second movie (Split) first, then the third (Glass), before I finally delved into the origins, so to speak. I think that after seeing the culmination of 19 years of developing the saga, one gets a finer appreciation of where it began, as I did with Unbreakable.
Don’t get me wrong. I still felt that Unbreakable, categorized as a superhero thriller, was slow and tedious in telling its story. Seeing the following movies first just gave me a new appreciation about the resulting continuity in the series. David’s son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) was played by the same actor in both Unbreakable and Glass which was really cool because the relationship between David and his son was one of the most compelling aspects of Unbreakable. I loved the development of this dynamic because in discovering his abilities, David took the journey with his son, who had absolute faith in his father. This was the same with Elijah’s mother Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodward), also played by the same actress in both movies. Her absolute love and faith for her son and his purpose in life was not creepy to watch at all, but rather depicted the purity of a mother’s love.
Unbreakable was not a typical superhero movie. I felt that it was more of an exploration of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s artistry as he took tentative experimental shots which he emphasized with extended lengths of silence. As a result, the movie was quite different. It was not flashy outwardly but rather focused on the characters’ inner struggles. It was quiet and it was broody and for some, it would even constitute as a bore, as I felt with my first two tries in seeing it. After seeing its entirety, I would consider the pacing and sequencing good overall.
In my opinion, the strength of the movie comes from establishing the comic book parallel to set up the flow of the opposite paths that David and Elijah took with their abilities. The final reveal of Elijah’s grand plan and what commitment it took for him to find his arch nemesis was so on point. It did not hurt that the strong performances from both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson kept the audiences invested and engaged in the characters.
All in all, Unbreakable would have been good standalone movie should M. Night Shyamalan have decided that he would not pursue the development of a trilogy. Although the title clearly referred to Bruce Willis’ David Dunn, it was just as much as Mr. Glass’ movie as well as his arch-rival’s. While I was a fan of the comic book parallels, I think the coolness quotient of the film plumetted when Shyamalan simply stuck the epilogue on a still shot of Willis and Jackson in the final frames of the movie. However, after seeing Unbreakable, I wonder if the succeeding movies were not just attempts to cash in on the franchise because the message of both Glass and Unbreakble were absolutely identical if not for the addition of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s 23 personalities including one superhuman beast. Just saying.