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


I just want to say that I agree that I didn’t read David as having super-strength (I haven’t seen Glass and don’t know how he’s represented there). Like you, I read his strength as normal strong person plus Unbreakable bones and muscles.

I also think that a man refusing to believe he’s anything other than incredibly lucky rather than a super powered anomaly makes a great deal of sense. Humans are great at convincing ourselves that we’re normal. Most people don’t want to be super heroes. We would rather go on with our lives and convince ourselves that whatever weird thing we thought happened can be explained away. Sure, not realizing that he had literally never been sick is silly. But I would argue that it requires less suspension of disbelief than most other super hero origin stories I can remember seeing on film.


Having super-tough bones and resilient muscles doesn’t reduce the amount of force needed to straighten your arms though. If David just kept his arms in one position then you might argue it’s about ‘resistance’, but he literally completes a bench press, physically lifting a heavy weight higher into the air. It doesn’t matter how you justify the mechanism, ‘strength’ is the degree to which you can exert force on other objects with your muscles - and to perform the act he does, it is clear David has peak human amounts of this quality. (A 350lb bench press, whilst not at all record breaking, is a very very impressive performance.)


I definitely don’t think the idea that David has this one power that accounts for all his abilities bears much speculative scientific scrutiny - there’s no way to square instinctive tactile telepathy with that, for starters. Much like the idea of someone reaching middle age without noticing that they’d never fallen ill, it asks a little latitude of the audience.

I don’t think Rob’s wrong to suggest Shyamalan simply isn’t capable of shooting a whiz-bang action set piece, either. But I do find the way the final confrontation leverages this simple, inert invulnerability to be the right choice for the film. As well as its thematic resonance, I feel like a triumphant, awesomely choreographed ass-kicking would only amplify the crassness of David’s grim rescue mission.


Being Unbreakable doesn’t reduce the amount of force needed, but it does increase the amount of force possible. It’s the mom lifting a car to save a baby effect. According to this article the average person can lift 60% of their muscles’ “potential” while trained weight lifters learn to mentally push themselves and can lift 80% and can push even further under the stress of competition. The reason we can’t lift that extra 20% is that our brains know we will injure ourselves and stop us.

If David can’t injure himself, his brain might not process those psychological limits. This also explains how he could go his whole life not realizing just how strong he is. He is actually just normal “strong person” strong but has a superhuman ability to push himself. As someone else pointed out, the idea that he’s never tried to max out doesn’t really hold up, but as I’ve said before, some degree of suspension of disbelief is required for any superhero film.


This is an honestly fascinating discussion/breakdown of something that i would bet my fucking life never even crossed shyamalan’s mind. his Pelham 123 Trilogy or whatever bible just reads “DAVID - not injure (also strong !)”


There’s a lot that looks good on the first few layers of Unbreakable that don’t hold up when you really look at it. The reveal of his super strength had a great feel, but doesn’t hold up because the either David is terrible at strength training, or he didn’t get his powers until the train accident, and we know he actually had them when he was a teenager because of a different story beat. And he’s probably not terrible at strength training because he was on track to be a professional football player. So it really doesn’t work.

Forgiving that, though, I felt the text was trying to say something in the neighbourhood of what you are saying: that David’s ability to lift or grip is probably only limited by what he believes he is capable of. The whole “What else do we have” – “That’s everything” exchange, and he still lifts it, with about the same level as effort as the first attempt seems to reinforce that. And it also nicely dovetails with the film’s text that Elijah and David are complementary figures. Elijah is powered by complete self confidence, limited only by his breakable body. David is powered by a nearly-unbreakable body, and limited by almost non-existent self confidence.

Maybe I’m overly defensive about my own enjoyment of comics and genre, but I also feel like the film is not bullish on comics. The stark contrast of the (in) action scene to the vibrant, consequence-free action of the comics presented in the film, and the fact that it’s the villain acting as the voice of the value of fantasy tells me that (in what had to be willful ignorance of the exploration of grittier, more grounded super hero tales that was going on well before the film was shot) that the director was making a point of the childishness of indulging in fantasy. The best parts of the film are about ordinary life, and I don’t know if that was entirely a mistake.

Maybe it was? M. Night Shyamalan has repeatedly shown an incredible ability to whiff the second half of his films, so who knows.

I did love the deliberately uncomfortable messiness of that action scene though, despite the lazy creepiness of its setup.