05/05/2005: "Unbreakabvle- A masterpiece of a Movie"


"You know what the scariest thing is? Not knowing your place in the world."

So says Samuel L. Jackson's character Elijah Price toward the end of M. Night Shaylama's masterpiece, Unbreakable. And it is a quote that brings together everything the two principal characters, Elijah Price and David Dunn, have been coming to throughout the movie.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a man who doesn't quite know his place in the world. He is a security guard at a Football Stadium, he and his wife have gone distant, and he always wakes up with a feeling of unexplainable sadness. In his first scene, we see him taking off his wedding ring to unsucessfully flirt with a younger woman- a Talent Scout in town to meet a rising young Football star. Hours later, the train, the young woman, and all but one passengers have died. David appears to have survived miraculously without a scratch. But this doesn't seem to solance him, what with they eyes of the victims families, and no explanation for his survival.

Elijah Price is a man who claims to have that explanation. The movie's opening scene is of his birth, with broken arms and legs. He is extremely fragile, his bones don't produce a certain protein that well. His life obsesses around Comic Books, his store Limited Eddition is less of a comic books shop than of an Art Gallery. We first see Samuel L. Jackson as the grown Price, berating an eager customer who wanted to by something for his 4 year old son.

We learn, through flashbacks, the stimulus of his obsession. Tired of his bones breaking and the children calling him "Mr. Glass", a pre-teen Elijah was coaxed by his strong mother to come outside for the present waiting for him on the playground- a comic book.

When Dunn and Price meet, Dunn is natural doubtful of Price's proposal: That if there is someone as fragile as he is, then there must be someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, someone, liek a comic book hero, put on Earth to defend the innocent. Dismissing Price as a con artist, Dunn nonetheless is troubled as he gradually realizes that he has never been sick before, and been injured only twice- both of which have an explanation.

Unbreakable is very much a comic book movie. The opening text-on-screen establishs that the average comic book reader has a collection of over a thousand comics and willl spent over one year of his life reading them. That's Elijah Price. David Dunn can't seem to be hurt. He discovers with his some that he can bench press 350 pounds, and that it got easier with the more weight his son put on. He has incredible insticts about secret crimes of people, if they're carrying a weapon, what they have done, etc. (M Night Shaylama makes a cameo as a Drug Dealer Dunn discovers in this fashion) He has the characteristics of a super hero. He even has his own Kryptonite- water, and that explains one of his injuries. So is this a comic book movie, based on the ancient pictoral sources Price spoke of? Or is is about comic books, with Price being a representation of the obsessed collector, drawn in to its world that he believes to be reality? The answer is, that it is both, and it is brillant the way it overlaps.

But there is also the human story. Bruce Willis's peformance is excellant; he is emotionally vunerable and confused and physically superpowered. This is demonstrated in the scene where he walks through the crowd, seeing their crimes as he brushes them, and not knowing quite what to do with super powers in a sea of evildoers. There is also the subplot with his wife, Audrey. (Robin Wright Penn). We don't know quite what their arrangement is, they sleep on differant floors (of the house), he is talking about movie to New York, and she cries when she asks if he has been with anybody else and says no. At a "starting over" dinner date, he confesses that the first time he thought that they weren;t going to make it was when he had a nightmare one night and didn't wake her up to reasure him.

Audrey is a physical therapist. By a bizare coincidence worth of comic books, Elijah Price is assinged to her after he has a fall and is put in a wheel cahir. He asks a lot of questions. Here it is revealed that David used to be a football star, but she couldn't spend her life with someone who plays football because she considers the violence to be the opposite of her work. As it turns out, David's other injury was in car accident with her- one that stopped him from playing football and allowed him to keep Audrey. He faked the injury, and this is when he knows his place in the world.

So he does it. He touches one man, and sees his murder of a man and his plans with the man's family. Dunn arrives at the house and rescues the children and defeats the villian, an ambigous man in an orange jumpsuit. After the deed, he takes his wife up to bed with him, and tells her that he had a bad dream. She reasures him. He wakes up that morning without the sadness. To complete his triumph, he slides the newspaper article describing his caper to his son, who always believed Price and that his father was a hero.

Spoliers ahead.

Having saved the day, David comes to Elijah, who is holding up the article ("It has begun.") He says, "I think this is the part where we shake hands". And they do.

Samuel L. Jackson's peformance is equally impressive. When they shake hands, David see that he orchestrated the train crash and two other major disasters.

To finish up that quote, "You know what the scariest thing is? Not knowing your place in the world. And now that we know what you are, I know who I am." As David walks away in horror, he says "I should have always known. It was the kids...They called me Mr. Glass."

This is not the sort of twist ending that destroys the reality established by the rest of the movie, but one that explains it. All of Price's eccentricties, his glass cane, his evil looking car, and his obsession with Dunn make sense now. He needs a hero to let himself know that he is a villian.

M Night Shyalama's directing is brillant. It is surreal, dreamlike, which is fitting for a movie that would either belong in a comic book or a book about the characters in a comic book shop. Or both.