'Unbreakable' Was a Strange Movie in 2000. It's Even Stranger in 2019.


#1

We live in an age of endless comic book movies, but it didn’t always used to be that way. M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, released in 2000, came long before popular culture decided Thor was cool, actually. This slow and plodding origin story about a flawed man discovering he’s something more was a revelation in 2000, but sits even weirder in 2019. With Shyamalan having a chance to revisit the Unbreakable universe with his new movie, Glass, Austin, Rob, Patrick, and Natalie decided it was a perfect time to watch Unbreakable.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/xwbqa3/unbreakable-was-a-strange-movie-in-2000-its-even-stranger-in-2019

#2

I saw Glass last night and BOY is M. Knight back on his bullshit. I do not mean this as a criticism.


#3

Two things.

This movie is an obvious flex after the massive success of the Sixth Sense in a fascinating way. Here Shyamalan takes traditional blockbuster fare, slows it down, and shoots it the most arch way possible (conspicuous long takes, frames within frames) to surprisingly emotional ends.

This has to be James Newton Howard’s best score. When the main them came broke in at the end of Split I nearly lost it laughing.


#4

I don’t know if they talk about this, because I’m not too deep into their podcast, but I feel like the ending is ruined by the text appearing on screen to let the audience know what happens after the movie.

I seriously think that is the laziest trope in all of film making. You couldn’t show me what happens, or just let the implication ride at the end… No, you have to stop the emotional high I’m feeling to give me a lukewarm fucking blurb that really added nothing.


#5

I’m morbidly intrigued by Glass because I didn’t really think Unbreakable or Split lived up to the hype and what I’ve seen of Glass looks absolutely terrible, so in theory I should love it.


#6

It’s so dumb and into itself. I had a great time.


#7

Also, related to the pod: Natalie came in off the top ropes with one of the greatest Shyamalan twists of all time


#8

I forgot how dumb this movie is. All I remembered was the weight lifting, and that was still good (except what’s up with the paint cans? Instead of looping the handles over the bar, they fucking duck tape them???).

I was surprised to hear that Austin enjoyed the slow rollout of revelations. As a dork pedant, David’s powers and selective amnesia drove me nuts. 50 year old man–a former football player, no less–strolling through life seeing the darkest moments of potentially anyone he encounters, never gets sick or injured and is just like, “Huh… Really? I’d better check with my boss to be sure about this.”

All of this being just as much news to him as it is to the audience just does not work for me.


#9

Yeah, the plot needs you to never really interrogate all of the assumptions you need to roll with to get it to work, and not just on the superpowers-exist level. I also found it bizarre that David apparently managed to spend most of his life completely ignoring his obvious unusualness - especially, as you say, since he was an american football player at college, and presumably immersed in the jockish atmosphere of that kind of sport; we’re saying that he never, once, got involved in macho competitive bullshit with anyone else on the team, never once tried lifting heavy stuff to see how much he could lift? (I mean, if he actually did weight training for strength, he would have had to have actually tried to lift to exhaustion - and so he should already know that he’s superhumanly strong.)

I also didn’t like the ending part for a sort of similar reason: firstly, because I actually thought it would have been better if we ended on a downer note with David just drowning in the water (I dunno, I like depressing endings to films - Infinity War has the best Marvel movie ending, fight me); secondly, because it’s kinda implausible that he has so much trouble dealing with one putatively-human-normal psychopath (sure, it takes some time to choke someone out - but he’s superhumanly strong, so he should be able to choke him out one handed, and brace with the other, for example, or just restrain him and physically manhandle him elsewhere - this should really not be a physical test for him)


#10

And even beyond the social aspects of playing a team sport, he’d be the only one in the locker room after a game who isn’t icing down, without any aches or bruises? In football? His doctor wife doesn’t think that’s weird, and doesn’t notice that he’s actually unscathed after the car accident? It’s so loose.

I think a more potent and consistent take would’ve been a person who has these abilities, knows they have these abilities, and is willfully ignoring them so they can live a normal life, until they’re confronted by the specter of comic book villainy.

Also, I want to grant M. Night the same benefit of the doubt that everyone on the pod was regarding the train station scene, but the order of the visions and the flatness of Bruce Willis’s performance make that benefit extremely difficult to grant. Even if David is never going to emote, he could’ve had a false start following one vision before bumping into the Evil Man so we could see some internal conflict as he weighs who deserves saving. Instead, it really does just look like he’s brushing off each crime until he finds a Real Evil Murder Man.


#11

I saw Glass last night… Erm…

Throughout the first half I was reminded that M.Night Shyamalan can be a great director. He has a great sense of mood and tone, and telling a story that feels very old school in that there aren’t many special effects just closeups and performance. James McAvoy was once again the highlight, this guy does not get enough credit for how good he is. On the other hand, I think after giving one of his best performances in Unbreakable, Bruce Willis isn’t given much to do here. Samuel L. Jackson has at least something to do and gets to ham it up completely. But Willis is just there in an overall.

But that ending…

I literally can’t believe that the climax of this movie involved Bruce Willis being drowned in a puddle. I guess in some ways we’re all expectant of a third act twist from Shyamalan, even though Unbreakable and Split played it relatively straight. What if the twist in this movie, that you think is setting up it’s own cinematic universe, is that all the superheroes get killed but presumably inspire a new generation of Xmen thanks to online streaming! Bringing in the shadowy organisation designed to keep humanity in check was so beyond weak.

Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to it that I didn’t grasp. But for now, for the morning after, it’s got to be one of the most anticlimatic endings I’ve seen in a good long while. I guess this is how some people must have felt about the ending of The Last Jedi.


#12

It really is all over the place. I really did enjoy how understated that final shot was though. That was my big takeaway from the film; how good the cinematography was and effectively it used sound and music to do the work of more elaborate special effects.


#13

(should posts about Glass go into another thread, maybe?)

I haven’t rewatched Unbreakable (yet), but I’ve long considered it a favourite.

The most contentious scenes seem to be the train station, and the rescue at the house. Rob’s point that the crimes David “sees” at the station play as hierarchical is well taken, but I always read it as David looking for something he could actually prevent in some way. i.e. everything else already happened, but the home invasion is still happening. That he only manages to rescue one of the hostages plays into the sense of sad flailing that pervades the entire film. I’m not going to mount a defense of how violence to women is instrumentalised; it’s indefensible.

I love the (in)action scene, swelling orchestra and all. We talk about David’s super-strength, but (and this is a stretch given the deliberate fuzziness around his abilities) I always thought of it more as a symptom of his one real ability - that he doesn’t break. It’s less that he contains some incredible power of force, and more that his body will not yield, no matter what pressure it’s put under. Just doggedly holding on to a guy, even as you make craters in plaster from the struggle, is a fantastic expression of that. As Natalie says, it’s the reality underpinning the exaggerated fantasy of the superhero genre.

It’s interesting that the hollowness of the film’s putative “soldier villain” comes up, since I found some quotes from the promotion of Split where Shyamalan said a version of McAvoy’s character originally appeared in an earlier draft of Unbreakable. It seems clear that he would have taken the place of the home invader, and also that he would have been impossible to feasibly set up, given the already overstuffed climax. In any case, there’s no denying the solution arrived at leaves a void in the sequence.


#14

That disconnect with lived experience and everyday understanding of the world is essential to the worldview being presented. That’s the thread that runs through Unbreakable and Split, and indeed many of Shyamalan’s films (most explicitly in Signs). They are pop-culture theodicy, with pain, suffering and trauma as necessary elements in the revelation of God/Fate/The Universe’s plan for the ultimate perfection of a human mind/soul. Trauma as medium of enlightenment, with Elijah/Kevin/Shyamalan himself as the (mocked and possibly mad but ultimately justified) prophets. We must become newly and continuously aware not merely of the depths of suffering, but our (allegedly) greater ability to rise above it. I have a…low…opinion of this worldview, and have never gotten along with M. Night’s work because of it; I badly want to see Glass because I suspect it will reaffirm my biases and I’m trying to avoid that because it isn’t healthy or productive.


Shyamalan's 'Split' Only Succeeds at Exploiting Mental Illness, Trauma
#15

The Visit and Split are films that have effective parts, which, like most of Shyamalan’s work, often overshadow their underdeveloped, thoughtless foundations. Like the crew’s feelings for Unbreakable (feelings I share), they start strong, and seem to be getting better and better, only for a final act that completely undermines everything that came before.

But unlike Unbreakable, or Signs, both of which are basically awesome until their incredibly weak final acts which you suddenly realize are built on the absolute weakest, nearly non sequiturial seeds planted earlier in the film, The Visit and Split are undermined in their final acts by ridiculous, utterly infantile, arguably offensive readings on mental health revealed in their patented M. Night Twists™.

The Visit is about some kids who go to spend the weekend at grandma and grandpa’s house, only to be surprised when grandma and grandpa start acting strange. Turns out grandma and grandpa aren’t grandma and grandpa at all! They’re actually escapees from the local insane asylum!!! So guess what they do? Groan weirdly, run around, stand in place, staring for hours, and play with human shit. They’re not haunted or possessed, they’re just freakin nuts!! Give me a fucking break dude. Did your kid hear this urban legend on the playground?

Split is more complex, but no better. It’s about a dude with dissociative identity disorder, burdened by 23 wholly different personalities, one of whom kidnaps some teenage girls. [CW: spoilers for Split contain references to self-harm and abuse] Ultimately, a secret 24th personality, The Beast, is revealed, which literally gives him superhuman strength and damage resistance properties like he’s fucking Wolverine. When the Final Girl escapes, The Beast discovers that she has many cutting scars, a result of her sexual trauma at the hands of her uncle. He deems her effectively superior for her suffering (like him - he was also traumatized by trusted adults in his youth), allowing her to leave.

So whereas The Visit is about how mental illness is super scary, this one feels like a knee-jerk first attempt at wokeness: maybe trauma actually makes us stronger? Again, give me a fucking break.

Shyamalan is great at making movies that are impressive and thrilling to witness, but the aftertaste is almost always just revolting.


#16

I would definitely encourage this – if someone wants to set one up, folks can either move their posts across themselves or I will use my moderator wand to shuffle them over depending on whats appropriate.

Not trying to cramp people’s style, but while there’s some value to the Glass discussion and discussing Shyamalan’s work as a whole, Glass-exclusive stuff might be better served in its own thread.


#17

The funny part is that I would like M. Night if this is all he was doing, but this marks the second movie he’s made that doubles as a full length feature film diss track to his haters and critics that don’t understand what a special brilliant big brain super artist he is. Lady in the Water was basically a career ender because that was the point where he was almost entirely ego and anger.

I suspect Glass will have the exact same effect because it’s basically Lady in the Water 2 more than an Unbreakable sequel. The entire middle section of the film is just there to insult everyone who doesn’t like his movies, specifically trying to tie in the superhero idea of wanting to be special to most people thinking he’s not a very good filmmaker and therefore being the same as ignorant lobotomy doctors. At least he didn’t write himself in as the special perfect visionary this time.

I also kind of love that with the way the movie ends and plays out, he’s trying to be super subversive to his audience, but any chance that had of working is underdone because he REALLY wants you to know he’s totally amazing and everyone who says otherwise is a dumb hater.

This movie is his bloody “Look What You Made Me Do” moment, complete with a confusing and bloated meta-arc nobody cared about and a complete failing to play yourself up as the villain.


#18

While it’s really cool to hear the opinions and insights of the Waypoint crew on Unbreakable, hearing them go through a couple iterations of the “haha this foreign name sounds funny” jokes really wasn’t :frowning:


#19

Is that really what they were doing? Night is not a foreign name, and I’m not sure M. as an initial falls into that category either. I might also argue that using the phrase m’‘insertword’ is a bit selfflagellating.


#20

The best part of Glass is definitely the part where it explains to the audience what a comic book is lol

I don’t know why people expect anything more than the same 101-level internet accepted takes and same old jokes and stuff from entertainment podcasts. Especially stuff like casual racism regarding folks’ surnames. I mean yeah sure, theoretically, it’s, like, literally fucking insane for a podcast coming out of Brooklyn given the breadth of the population here. But when it’s a podcast coming out Wiliamsburg specifically? I mean at least they didn’t refer to him as Hadji or Gunga Din.