In anticipation for Glass, I will be looking back at Unbreakable and Split. I can’t remember Unbreakable much at all, having seen it years ago and I wasn’t really paying too much attention, and I’ve never seen Split, so I’m looking forward to that! But, without further ado, let’s go back 19 years to the film that began this unlikely trilogy.
Spoilers follow, you have been warned!
Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a man who begins to realise he has superhuman powers after being the sole survivor of a deadly train crash. His journey leads him to the sinister Elijah Price, (Samuel L Jackson) a comic art gallery owner, who encourages David and helps him through his journey as he comes to terms with his abilities.
Unbreakable is unlike any “superhero” film I’ve ever seen, it feels extremely grounded and it takes it’s time with the characters and the story. I felt great empathy for both Dunn and Price and I found both characters to be engaging and interesting, Price especially, his incredible intellect completely juxtaposes his physical state, despite it being quite clear from the offset that Price isn’t completely sane, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Which makes the climax of this film all the more powerful.
I was pleasantly surprised with how good Bruce Willis was in this film, I’ve never really viewed him to be one of the “elite” actors, but I have to admit, he’s brilliant in this. He does a fantastic job of portraying Dunn’s inner conflict and confusion as he begins to realise that he isn’t normal, this conflict sometimes becomes fear, showing the audience a different side to your conventional superhero origin story, Dunn doesn’t want these powers, in fact he often chooses to ignore and dismiss them. I enjoyed the intimacy of these moments and I think M. Night Shyamalan does a fantastic job of exploring how these abilities affect Dunn’s family as well. One scene in particular, when Dunn’s son threatens to shoot his father to prove that he is “super”, is harrowing.
As we near the climax of the film, Price finally manages to get Dunn to accept his powers and to embrace them. Dunn dons a rain poncho (which makes him look like a complete bad-ass, somehow.) and goes out into the night, leading to a thrilling confrontation where he saves two children from a sadistic murderer. This moment is unlike anything you would see in modern superhero films, this fight is raw, it’s real, it might not be technically as thrilling as the fights you see in this day and age, yet it is somehow just as, if not more, powerful. This is due to the fact the film takes it’s time getting to this moment, and after what is a slow burn to get David to this point, this sequence when he saves the family and becomes a hero is an epic moment of catharsis.
So, we finally reach the standard Shyamalan twist ending, where we learn that Price is in fact an insane terrorist who has orchestrated a string of disasters, including the train crash Dunn was in, in an attempt to uncover a superhuman being. He feels that his purpose in life is to become the arch-nemesis to the hero, highlighting the fact that Dunn and Price are polar opposites and that they belong together.
This ending garnered a mixed response from myself, mainly because I don’t think the reveal of Price orchestrating the attacks was done as well as it could been, although these events were alluded to briefly in the film, I didn’t care enough about them to really feel that moved when you realise the truth of the matter. That being said, all of this can be forgiven just for the sheer brilliance of Samuel L Jackson’s performance. Even when you’ve discovered that Price is an insane, criminal mastermind who has committed unthinkable atrocities, you can’t help but feel pity and sorrow for him. He is the perfect illustration of any person who has questioned their place and purpose in this world, which makes him almost relatable. If you’ve ever experienced that sense of loneliness and emptiness, you can emphasise with Price’s plight. This final scene moved me, and paired with James Newton Howard’s fantastic score, I couldn’t help but feel emotional. That final line, “They called me Mr Glass.” is delivered perfectly, you can almost see that young child in Samuel L Jackson’s eyes, relieved that he has finally found his purpose, as a viewer, I almost felt conflicted… Was Elijah Price a pure evil villain? Or was he just a tragically broken soul?
Unbreakable is one of those films that get better the more I think about it, and I realise how deep and layered it really is. It’s no surprise that many view it as one of Shyamalan’s finest achievements, and I would find it hard to disagree with that notion. If you’ve never seen Unbreakable, I implore you, watch it. If you have seen it, but not for a while like I have, watch it again… I’m glad I did, and I think you will be too.
Look out for my Split review next week!
I give Unbreakable an 8.5/10.