DVD Review: Unbreakable


Do superhumans live among us? I’m not talking about folks who can run at near-light speed, leap tall buildings without getting a wedgie, or create illusions out of thin air (without the use of sleight-of-hand tricks, I mean. That means you’re out, Chris Angel.). I’m talking about someone who is naturally above what we consider peak human levels of physical stamina, strength, resistance to injury or disease, etc. Let’s assume there is such a person for argument’s sake. Would this person know they’re superhuman, or would they assume they were just a normal human, living out their lives like everyone else? What if one of these people realized they were in fact something… else? M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable tries to answer these questions, so let’s get to it.

Unbreakable opens to the back room of a Philadelphia department store circa 1961, where an African-American woman has just give birth to a son, whom she names Elijah. A doctor steps in to examine the newborn and assess the reason behind his excessive crying. The doctor looks confused for a moment then recoils in a mix of shock and horror as he explains that young Elijah has sustained some abnormal injuries while in the womb. Essentially, both of his arms and legs were broken before being born. Cut to present day, where we see a man, later identified as David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is sitting on a train headed for New York out of Philly. There is a short scene where he attempts to pick up on a married woman while he himself is married, which ends disastrously. It’s about that moment when David notices the train is traveling faster than it should, and is on the verge of careening off the tracks. Which it then does. David awakes in an emergency room, where the doctor questions him for a few minutes, then reveals to him that he is the only man to walk away for the train wreck, and even more peculiar, he appears to have no injury.

After attending the memorial service for the victims of the crash, David id surprised to find a note left on the windshield of his car. The envelope has the words “Limited Edition” on it, and the note itself has a single question: “How many days of your life have you been sick?” David go about finding the answer, first by asking his boss how many sick days he’s taken, which eventually lead to him getting a raise for never taking a day off in 5 years. He also asks his wife, Audrey (Robin Wright Penn), who tells him that she doesn’t remember. There is some tension there, and it’s obvious that they’re having some problems (if the near-cheating wasn’t a clue).

Back in the past, this time in 1974 in West Philadelphia (born an’ raised… you finish the line!), young Elijah has grown quite a bit, but has never gotten past his easily-broken bones. This has caused a lot of unhappiness for Elijah, and has earned him the nickname “Mr. Glass.” Hmmm… do I smell foreshadowing? In an attempt to get her son to leave their apartment, Mrs. Price has bought him a stack of comic books, and told him that there will be one waiting for him outside across the street every day. The scene transitions back to the present (there’s only one more of these flashbacks, please bear with me), where a grown-up Elijah (Samuel L. “Effin’” Jackson) is attempting to sell a piece of priceless comic art to a man, only to go all “comic book guy” on him when he says it’s for his 4 year-old son. He asks the man to leave and never return to his gallery, named (you guessed it) Limited Edition. David and his odd son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) stop in, attempting to find out more about the man who left the note. Elijah eventually explains his disease to the duo, and reveals his theory that comic book superheroes are in actuality the real-life stories of men and women who were physically above the rest of the worlds’ populace, and that if one man could be born extremely prone to injury, there could be someone who is the opposite end of the spectrum.

David doesn’t believe him, naturally, and he and his son leave. After some extra badgering by Elijah, David slowly begins to come around. However, there are two major hurdles that have to be cleared before Elijah’s theory can be totally proved: As a child, David almost drowned in an elementary school pool, and he was in a car accident with his wife while in college that ended his football career. A few scenes pass, including one where David begins lifting weights and discovers he has no foreseeable limit to his strength and another where we see that he may have the beginnings of some sort of extra-sensory perception that allows him to sense when someone’s done wrong, then we are treated another flashback, this time on David’s college accident. As it turns out, not only did he not get hurt in the crash, he RIPPED THE CAR DOOR OFF ITS HINGES to save his future wife. Apparently, he faked the injury to stay with Audrey. While this is going on, Elijah deduces that water may be David’s kryptonite. Finally fully believing Elijah, he sets out to find a crowded to hone his perception power, now manifesting as full-blown visions of the evil act.

After a few despicable visions, David has one about the janitor of a bus station, one dealing with the murder of a man and the overtaking of his house. David follows the man, and eventually makes his first truly heroic deed, defeating the evil janitor and save the homeowner’s two children. David returns home, and has the best night of sleep he’s ever had, now knowing his purpose in life. The next day, he visits the official gallery opening of Limited Edition, and meets with Elijah to explain his heroic deeds. Elijah reaches out to shake David’s hand, and when he does, David receives a multitude of visions, all of horrific actions, including the train accident he was in. See, Elijah was so sure there was someone like David in the world, he orchestrated the untimely deaths of thousands of people. As David leaves to summon the police, Elijah proclaims, “Now that we know who you are, I know who I am” and “I should have known all along. It was the kids! They called me MR. GLASS!”

I’m going to try to keep this next section as unbiased as I can, but I have to say that I’ve immensely enjoyed this movie for a long, long time. The cinematography does an excellent job invoking the essence of a comic book with the use of primarily static shots. Anyone with even a minor knowledge of comics can practically see the panel layouts scene for scene. There is one sequence in which David is moving through the murdered homeowner’s bedroom that was especially amazing. The camera was placed outside the window, and the ripples of the curtain created a sort-of strobe effect, where characters movements are all but removed, which looked very comic book-y. The music also fits well with the tone of the film, and should be commended.
Now, the movie is not without faults, but they are almost negligible. The acting was so muted and deadpan throughout the entire film, I would suspect that any casual viewer would get bored by about half way through. We also had another unneeded cameo by M. Night, this time as a possible drug dealer. Since this was only his second film, we weren’t aware of the full extent of his tendency to write him himself into his films, which culminated in the massive mistake Lady in the Water. And as his films go, the twist ending was not much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the concept of arch-villain.

The most interesting point about Unbreakable is that it was, and still is from what I hear, conceived as just the origin story to a much grander tale, and that after years away from the project, there may be more work from the Unbreakable Universe in the future. All I know is, if this is just the beginning, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

I give Unbreakable an impressive 4 ½ out of 5 stars.