Osteogenesis imperfecta. It’s a real life disease that makes people’s bones a lot more delicate. But that complicated term is not what we’re thinking about when this movie begins. We’re at first thinking about David Dunn, played by Bruce Willis. He’s on a train heading home, but when he lets a girl sit next to him he hides the wedding ring he has on. Nothing comes to fruition. But then somehow, the Eastrail 177 train crashes, killing all passengers on board...except him. Not only that...but there’s not a broken bone, bruise or scratch on him. He leaves the hospital, with a lot of suspicious eyes on him, kind of rightfully deserved considering the sitch. This news captures the attention of Elijah Price, a comic-book art dealer. He has his whole life felt unlucky because he’s the one diagnosed with this. But he believes if there’s someone as delicate as he is, then maybe there’s someone on the opposite end of the spectrum? Someone whose bones are...unbreakable? Basically, Price’s theory is like imagining a balancing of the universe, an average of a quantity put around the world, like there being the lowest and highest in a set of numbers.
Call me an improper movie critic if you want, but there are very few “classic” movies I’ve seen, or at least I think I haven’t because I hear all these people calling some classics their irreplaceable favourite. Lots have called this M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece, and I can definitely say this is a film that shows real polish and art not in its backgrounds, but in its actual scenes - enough so that I can see how praised the film actually is, and now I can understand what everyone says about a Shyamalan plot twist. I think he’s earned the rep.
The opening of this movie is: “There are 35 pages and 124 illustrations in the average comic book. A single issue ranges in price from $1.00 to over $140,000. 172,000 comics are sold in the U.S. every day. Over 62,780,000 each year. The average comic collector owns 3,312 comics and will spend approximately 1 year of his or her life reading them.” After that and the opening came on, I thought, “That was unusual.” Then we get the opening sequence with Willis and the girl, and it’s shot from the row of seats in front of them, the empty seats blurring a part of the two characters depending on where it is. The movie also even has a properly timed sequence going through a tunnel. Not only must the actors and producers have rehearsed this to perfection, but Shyamalan must have timed and measured the geography, speed and distance of the train. Unbreakable is loaded with scenes where the camerawork alone feels like the art of a comic book with a message inserted somewhere in it.
But on the full hand, this is a movie simply about David, and the mystery of who he really is. He’s a security guard at an arena, and the way Price sees it, there are millions of options he could’ve chosen, but the one he chose involves protecting people and he finds that to not be a coincidence. Dunn just sees him as one of those “Just-give-me-your-credit-number” guys, and he has the atmosphere of being a fraud. The movie made me wonder if I were Dunn if I would’ve done the same as him in walking away at first. There’s also a tumble down some stairs Price does, leading to some of the most realistic and painful sounding bone fractures I’ve ever heard. As we get more realizations, as Dunn explores the possibility when he realizes an assumption he made is true, that he can’t remember ever being sick, that he is actually unnaturally strong, that he saved his now-wife Audrey when he was a football player...it’s all just a superhero origin story with reality-driven flair.
Another great scene I can discuss is during a big confrontation. Someone gets choked and he slams the choker across the bedroom walls and cracks in the walls form but he doesn’t let go. And another scene when we’re trying to watch what’s happening, with window curtains blowing in the wind between us and the scene. Scenes like that feel organic and just hoping for good timing, and maybe even asking the actors to go with their gut.
I don’t think Unbreakable is A-movie material, though, and that mainly involves a scene involving him and his son Joseph. Joseph tries to prove the point Elijah Price made because he believes him, but David convinces him to back down. It’s a terrific scene. It just made me not be able to help but wonder what would’ve happened if it went the other way, and we never get to see it. It’s kind of a metaphor for the fact this is definitely an origin story that focuses more on character realizations. Character realizations that we kind of already expect are true. It’s movie formula. Because of how long it takes for the conclusions to be made, as well as the actually terrific premise, and the fact the final climax involves something random and not affiliated with Dunn himself, during the movie I felt like there definitely could’ve been more excitement. And we didn’t get a sequel to this. Not until now, with James McAvoy having a big part in it, returning as Kevin Wendell Crumb from Split. I felt like maybe Shyamalan felt they could have the arse-kicking superheroes like Superman give the comic fans their fun while Unbreakable was supposed to look at the drama of actually realizing you could be a literal superhero.
The twist partially makes up for this; the ending, to me, is often the most important part of a film. Not all the time, but often it’s what you’ll be thinking about after the credits roll and you go do whatever you were going to do next, and I thought more about the twist than its dragging pace afterwards. It’s a twist that shook me.
Unbreakable is not my favourite Shyamalan film (The Last Airbender will probably stay the #1 in that department because of my history with it) but it’s strong, timid in a good way, and grounded in reality enough to bring its shock factor aplenty.