M. Night Shyamalan created an underrated classic before film became as saturated with Superhero stories as it is today. To ground this approach, he explored the idea that our fantasies and myths have a basis in a grounded truth, and noted in special features and interviews that ‘Unbreakable’ is the “first act” of a story that resulted in a cult calling for a sequel to build on that first act, and that story teases a set-up for a dynamic that wouldn’t begin to pay off with “Glass,” in 2019.
“Glass” is heavily problematic, trying to hold to the concepts and visual, color-based motifs (Orange for the “muscle” villain, purple for Mr. Glass, and green for the protagonist) introduced “Unbreakable” while featuring multiple plot contrivances (David bumping into James McAvoy‘s beast, Glass’ ability to manipulate a laser despite camera coverage, characters doing what they’re told they can’t without, debatably, earning this) and introducing a third-party villainous force, all while failing to account for the swell of popularity of Superhero stories in pop-culture since this story started.
Shyamalan wrote “Split” earlier in his career, and I think “Glass” stands as a testament in contrast to that middle entry to highlight Shyamalan’s regression in character-based story-telling in favor of grandiose, event-based features. He has a chance, however, to recognize this, and I’m simply trying, today, to make a case that in the typical mythology ono which the “Unbreakable” series is based, the story isn’t over.
Christopher Vogler is a voice that existed in Hollywood, notably, to highlight the recogniseable application of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the “Hero’s Journey,” to many successful films. The story is split into stages as follows: A hero exists in an ordinary world, is called to adventure, refuses that call, finds a mentor, and crosses a threshold into a “new world.” This all happens in “Unbreakable.”
Continuing the Hero’s Journey, the hero faces tests, allies, and enemies, approaches a major challenge in the new world (The Beast from “Split”), and approaches an “innermost cave” experiencing an ordeal, at which point many heroes experience death, or something representing rebirth… and then “Glass” ends.
Typically, the hero takes possession of a reward they receive in the ordeal, experiences a “road back” to the world they left, a resurrection associated with a final sacrifice or final challenge to reinforce the change endured by the hero, and a return home with “the elixir” which can be knowledge or an item or something valuable (primary example being Luke Skywalker with his knowledge and use of “the force” at the end of “A New Hope.”)
“Glass” ends on a triumph of the villain. The lead character is dead but not lost if in the hands of a mysterious organization about which we know virtually nothing. This is the stage for a third act of a movie. When Tony Stark manages to replace his stolen arc reactor, he then sacrifices himself, telling Pepper Potts to blow off the roof of his building to destroy his villain. When the Avengers face Thanos, Ultron, and Thanos again, we build to a universe-wide death and rebirth. With DC heroes we see this in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and it’s the central premise of “The Suicide Squad.” We see this again and again and it’s just that what bothers me the most is that “Unbreakable” began with the spark of an idea that our real world’s history inspired these myths. This unique take on this concept is rich for original commentary on Superheroes and their relationship with their audience.
However, this hypothetical final entry can’t be what “Glass” was. In my opinion, the most powerful scene in “Unbreakable” is when his son becomes so invested in his fantasy he nearly shoots and kills his father. To have that character encouraging others to emerge and reveal themselves as supernaturally advanced humans, and combat some secret villain, feels simplified and thoughtless. This story needs an ending, but it needs heart and to be grounded in truth regarding the relationship between Superheroes and their audience, fans and casual viewers alike.
(Here is a link to writing on Joseph Campbell’s philosophy/theory: https://www.amazon.com/Hero-with-ThousandFacesaudiobook/dp/B01BFBXOM8/ref=sr_1_3crid=30YO8N4P6UT7B&keywords=heroes+journey+joseph+campbell&qid=1641288978&sprefix=Heroes+jour%2Caps%2C118&sr=8-3
And here is another for Christopher Vogler’s work expanding on this in screenwriting: https://www.amazon.com/sk=the+heros+journey+vogler&crid=1Y54N9ZDUHNAG&sprefix=Vogler+he%2Caps%2C81&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_1_9)
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