In the year 2000, after M. Night Shyamalan premiered his innate storytelling ability with the surprise supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense,” he pretty much dashed expectations with a follow-up film that no one was expecting. Initially considered a poor follow-up, M. Night Shyamalan really approached a film that could well within his storytelling parameters, and he did so with a subtlety and humility that’s finally being appreciated. “Unbreakable” is a rather underrated masterpiece, and one that really does pay homage to the comic book mythology that society generally looks down upon. By approaching the comic book mythos with a straight face and a somewhat surprising dramatic dignity, M. Night Shyamalan adds a realism to the superhero origin story that’s deliberately paced and absolutely compelling to witness.
“Unbreakable” is the slow unraveling of a mystery, and a mystery that’s not only been concealed for decades, but could lead to the ultimate fate of a man named David Dunn. After a massive train crash that’s taken the lives of many innocent bystanders, David Dunn has come out of the horrible catastrophe relatively unscathed and unaffected. Much to everyone’s surprise he’s barely been scratched. Up until now David has spent most of his life living as a nobody, an insignificant working man who spends his time trying to bond with his cynical son and put upon wife while merely making ends meet at a dead end job. The disaster doesn’t just reveal a miracle to everyone around him, but also seals the fates of individuals within David’s stratosphere who take a second look at the quiet man and wonder what he could possibly be hiding.
“Unbreakable” is a very compelling and engrossing unraveling of a man’s life as he struggles to make sense of his past, and what he’s been concealing for such a long time. Eventually the secrets he’s kept from everyone have become so powerful and overwhelming that he’s lost sight of what is truth and what is a tall tale. When he meets Elijah Price, a comic book art curator, who believes he has supernatural abilities that make him more than human, David begins to explore his demons for better and for worse. There’s a distinct wonder injected in “Unbreakable” where most of the awe inspiring sequences are played with as much realism as possible, and never quite straddles the realm of over the top fiction. When David’s son Joseph is convinced his father has super human abilities, he tests his strength without his father’s knowledge potentially killing the man.
When David decides to test his limits, the sequence is played with a gradual amazement that is restrained and filmed with a sense of fragility that makes the environment around David affected beyond what he can only imagine. Ultimately David must face what self-realization brings with it and learns about his own gifts through trial and error, and a very startling moment when his son Joseph threatens to shoot him. This sequence doesn’t so much depict a boy testing his father’s abilities as it is a boy wanting to believe his dad is special, in spite of what he’s witnessed all of his life. On the opposite spectrum, Elijah Price or Mr. Glass has shown what obsession can wreak, and he places himself in an important role willingly, just to prove to everyone that he’s not insignificant in spite of his crippling disabilities.
Mr. Glass must be David’s enemy, because it’s the dichotomy that brings together fate and binds them as eternal rivals. And as soon as he can, he’s going to strike at him again and again, because like the Joker and Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor, Mr. Glass is his opposite. He’s finally found a purpose in a world where he’s been subjected to nothing but pain being confined to a body that keeps him from his achievements. David’s character gives him importance, and he’s not going to let that die any time soon. So once David Dunn meets Mr. Glass, his life is tainted and he will never escape him, because Mr. Glass is playing out his fantasies in real life.
He is bound to an eternal battle with him thus showing his sheer lack of grasp on reality once and for all. “Unbreakable” is a masterpiece, and pretty much M. Night’s crown jewel beyond his break out film “The Sixth Sense.” The movie, as a comic geek, is such an incredible breakdown of the elements of comic books, superhero lore, and the overall restructuring of the origin of a superhero. All the while M. Night brings comic books in to reality that turns in to a classic comic book rivalry and depicts the origins of a superhero with a maturity that can appeal to adults. One of M. Night Shyamalan’s most underrated cinematic efforts, “Unbreakable” is a superhero origin story for an audience that appreciates human stories and clever dissections of the superhero mythology.