PG-13 for a lot of off-screen carnage. Like, the death reach the statistics level. We don't see much blood or violence, but we're told about a lot of death. Also, the movie is intensely bleak. At one point, a child points a handgun at his father thinking that he is bulletproof. The protagonist also has flashes of people's evil deeds. Some of these get pretty intense. Part of me thought that the kids could watch this, but it really isn't a family friendly movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
"They alive, d*mmit!" Sorry, I can't think of the title without going right into Kimmy Schmidt. It's not this movie's fault. Kimmy came way after Unbreakable came out. But that theme song is just aggressively catchy. I wasn't supposed to rewatch Unbreakable for a long time. I have an oddly specific method to which movie comes next. But Glass was next on my queue, and it had been some time since I've seen the first in the trilogy. So I threw this one in. Now, for a long time, I claimed that this was one of my favorite movies. I was the kid who took the controversial stance to say that Unbreakable was better than The Sixth Sense. I bet this movie ages better than The Sixth Sense at least, probably because of the comic book film boom that we're currently experiencing. But I knew that I needed a refresher on the OG entry in the series before I really approached Glass.
It totally holds up. It's better than I remember. Unbreakable was always one of those movies for me that I aggressively recommended to people, secretly knowing that that they would probably hate it. It makes me a bad person who desperately wanted people to like the things that I liked. But I realized that the reason that people didn't like it is because it is shockingly boring. For a movie about superheroes and supervillains, practically nothing happens in the film. Really, the central conceit of the film is that we never really know if David is superheroic or if Elijah is just playing the long con. But in my head, that's what makes the movie really interesting. I'm not saying that I need my superheroes to so grounded that we can't even tell if the film is a superhero piece. But I like the idea of applying a formula over a film that intentionally subverts formula. Everything Elijah says (which I want to talk about later) refers to the formula of comic books. While he's meant to sound like Campbell, he really is stressing that comic books aren't all that original. They tend to do the same things over and over again. His theory, the concept that comic books are simply transcribed history, is a little silly, but it gives the character a bit of gravitas. So when we're watching Unbreakable, we're really seeing how every day life applies to Elijah's (kind of made up) formula.
I'm always worried about sounding like Elijah. I love Samuel L. Jackson in this role and none of the following things are a commentary on his performance. It is flawless. It's more about the writing. I am currently teaching John Lewis's March. As supplemental material, I'm showing the kids Robert Kirkman's The Secret History of Comics, specifically the "Voices of Color" episode. My entire grad school career was built around the notion that comic books are simply a form of storytelling and that they should be used in the classroom. Trust me, I'm well on my way to becoming a Mr. Glass. But Elijah never really reads as human to me at times. As much as I talk like Mr. Glass, I don't really respect his rules about the comic book. Shyamalan gives Glass all these lines about absolutes. "The villain is the exact opposite of the hero". "Villains have bigger eyes because they see the world differently." It's fun, but it's also kind of malarky. Sometimes, the villain is the opposite of the hero. I'm sure that some artist out there probably justified stylistic choices under the banner of artistic mumbo jumbo. But in a lot of cases, it's just the artist being the artist. Like, I want to jump on board and talk about the philosophy of superheroes, but it is just talking about tropes like they have deeper meaning.
I feel like Bruce Willis always plays a crappy husband. I like how that is the center of David's personality, but we've seen him play this same part before. Heck, he even played it in Shyamalan's last entry before this, The Sixth Sense. There's this choice that Shyamalan imbues David with. He is always sacrificing what makes him special to be the quiet hero to the ones he loves. With Audrey, he intentionally abandons a football career to allow Audrey to feel a little more comfortable about David's safety. (Question: Why doesn't Audrey know he was faking? She was in the car and rescued by David, who seems perfectly fine when help comes.) But with his son, it almost feels like he is trying to hold onto a sense of normality so his son could have something safe with his father. It causes both of them misery. David wakes up every day feeling misery. Joseph feels gaslit. It's this cycle where the two end up keeping this secret together.
But considering that secrets are what kind of start ruining Audrey and David's relationship, isn't it a little weird that David rejuvenates his relationship with his wife by keeping another secret. David pushes the paper across the table to Joseph, who is appropriately shocked. It's this amazing shot of Spencer Treat Clark completely flabbergasted. (Shyamalan will use this footage in the sequel.) But he's intentionally keeping this from Audrey. It's romantic in the sense that he knows that Audrey doesn't want David being involved with violence or danger in any way, shape, or form. But on the other side, David always feels unhappy because he's been keeping this secret about his potential quiet for his entire life. What is going to stop the story from progressing the same way that it did before? If David is meant to be a dynamic character, is he really changing?
The movie really sells that David is this dynamic character. He goes from being a nobody to being a superhero. But David's central conflict isn't that he was powerless and now he's powerful. It's that he internalizes everything. He doesn't feel the need to express things that are bothering him. When Audrey asks him point blank to tell him if he's been with anyone, he clearly states the negative. But we know that, in the credit sequence on the train, that he hides his wedding ring when a pretty girl starts talking to him. He hits on her so much that she feels uncomfortable, and stresses that she's married. So while he's technically telling the truth, that he's not been with someone, it wasn't for a lack of trying. He keeps secrets with the assumption that the truth is going to break them. He even gaslights Joseph. The only reason that Joseph is in the circle of trust is because he was there when Elijah revealed his theory. Joseph needs his father to be special because he's kind of been a deadbeat his entire life. Making him a superhero gives that intense secrecy a reason for existing.
I love the twist in this one, but I don't know if it was good for M. Night Shyamalan's career. When The Sixth Sense came out, everyone kept talking about the twist over and over. To follow that film with another movie that had a pretty great twist (but one not as strong as The Sixth Sense) made him the twist guy. I mean, I still make Shyamalan twist references. But I do have to question one of the moments in the twist. Glass makes Elijah full on Lex Luthor: Criminal Genius. But in this one, he feels simply part of the greater tapestry of discovery. But there's a moment where Elijah takes David's hand to wish him well. I 70 / 30 believe that he gives his hand on purpose. There's a need to reveal everything that he's done. He wants to be the bad guy for David. I don't quite know why he needs David to try to stop his evil deeds. (The text revealing what happened after is a pretty weak step on Shyamalan's point.) But there's this big question of "Why?" As the audience, it's extremely satisfying knowing that Elijah set up all of these disasters. But from a grounded perspective, why would he do that? Why make an enemy of David just because he can? It's such an odd point and I only have theories that stand up under squinting.
But Unbreakable is an absolutely rad movie 20 years later. I loved Split. I'll talk about Glass tomorrow. But Unbreakable is genius not in spite it being boring, but because it is boring. That boring attitude allowed for character and setting to take the front seat instead of glitz and glamour. Also, I think Samuel L. Jackson is standing in front of a copy of Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. towards the end, which is great.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.