14 January 2019

Unbreakable - Kind Of A Miracle

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There's no denying that Albert Einstein was a genius and without his laws of relativity we wouldn't be where we are today. Not that I have a clue what his laws of relativity really are, by the way. I know that they're something to do with space and time but space and time are also the two most basic elements of a sumo match and I don't think he invented the concept of fat blokes shoving each other around. I do know however that Einstein used to wear a silk gown in which he'd intentionally whip his dick out at random women and then attempt to seduce them if they didn't respond with too much disgust. I also know that the word 'genius' is thrown about a little too much these days and should really only be reserved for world-changing flashers like Einstein. But I believe the film director M. Night Shyamalan to fit the criteria despite almost all evidence to the contrary. Sure he hasn't come up with some Earth shattering theory that explains something about gravity and I don't think he's even responsible for creating a single traditional Japanese sport. However, and I don't mean to be hyperbolic here but Shyamalan did something much more impressive then either of those two things combined. He wrote and directed the 2000 masterpiece Unbreakable.

Like a man who shits his pants at the cinema I am about to spoil the movie for you and so if you've not seen Unbreakable yet then I suggest that you punch yourself in the face in self-punishment and then run off to see it. For the rest of you, I'm basically just going to vomit affection all over my memory of the film and then top it all off with a call back to Einstein's dick to make that opening seem less random. Just so you know what you're in for. And knowing what you're in for is probably the single biggest problem that this film had in winning over the audience on its initial showing. In 2005, director Christopher Nolan got down on his knees, showed us Batman Begins and then simply waited as critics and audiences formed a giant circle around him and showered him with their love. After 2000's X-Men and 2002's Spider-Man had kick-started the comic book movie boom, Nolan was praised for taking the extraordinary tropes of this developing sub-genre and then applying them to our own recognisable world. Rightly so too as the success of his brilliant film went on to influence almost every action movie for the next ten years as well as being another shot of steroids into the ever growing bollock of the comic book movie. However the exact things that he was praised for were the exact things that left audiences confused by Unbreakable that half a decade earlier. 

Sure we'd had a few superhero films before X-Men, but the only two to really hit the public conciousness where Tim Burton's Batman, Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie, and their sequels which were of declining quality and spread over several decades. People walked into Unbreakable without the awareness to the genre that they had by the time of Batman Begins and they walked in expecting another The 6th Sense-like horror movie from Shyamalan. What they actually got was a weird fucking film in which Bruce Willis is on the verge of crying for ninety minutes before falling into a swimming pool and then killing a pedophile. Essentially they'd just received a deconstruction of a genre that had barely been born by this point with the film's problem being that, like Oscar Wilde, it came out before people were ready to accept what it was. Unbreakable came out the same year as X-Men, five years before Batman Begins, eight years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and nineteen years before, “I'm sick of super-hero films” became my trigger phrase. I'm not denying either that X-Men didn't take itself seriously but it clearly existed in its own comic book world. The mutants might be metaphors for any repressed minority but it also ends with a fight on top of the Statue of Liberty after Ian McKellen had bent a couple of spoons and then turned a politician into a puddle of fucking water. 

In most comic book movies the hero receives their powers and instantly sets about using them to kiss humanity's arse. The second that Spider-Man could stick to walls he was foiling bank robberies simply because his dying uncle told him that “With great power comes great responsibility”. When my Granddad was dying he told me that I should take a job as an actual bumble-bee, but unlike Peter Parker I know when to dismiss the gibberish of a fading old man. This is also true, in my opinion of David Dunn, Bruce Willis's character in Unbreakable, who I believe has known of his powers since the car accident in his youth. Near the end of the film we see a flash-back in which he rips open a car door to save his future wife which even for the dumbest of people must seem a little superhuman. I mean if I can even hold in a fart when I'm in company I consider buying myself a cape and declaring myself to be a fucking hero. Rather than embracing who he really is like every other super-hero though, David attempts to suppress his gifts and hide what he can do from even himself. His denial is like the psychic barriers containing X-Men's Dark Phoenix, except instead of the deadly radiation of a solar flare his barriers are broken simply by the state of public fucking transport. 

After his train crash at the start of the film, David is contacted by Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah who forces the issue of his complete lack of ill health on him. People think that Bruce Willis spending the first half of the movie asking people if he's been sick is stupid because if you'd never been sick then you'd know. But if you accept that due to the car accident he already suspected that he was special then his enquiries aren't to confirm that he's never been unwell but a desperate attempt to find somebody that can prove that he's normal. I guess it's just easier to hide your invincibility from yourself when you're not the sole survivor of a news worthy disaster whilst being hounded by Samuel L. Jackson with a big black fucking bush on his head. Just look at the emotion on David's face when the old teacher informs him that he'd drowned as a child as he wrestles with the proof of his normality, right at the point that he'd finally started to accept that he might be something more. Again with most comic book movies, the hero is excited to jump off buildings to learn that they can fly whereas here, David does everything he can to avoid it before simply testing his strength by lifting up some paint cans. He even has his very own spidey-sense that he dismisses as intuition in which he can identify criminals with even more accuracy than the standard police tactic of shooting any old black guy and then possibly investigating if there'd even been a crime afterwards.

There's a huge sadness throughout the movie too, with an oppressively downbeat tone that seems somewhat at odds with Tony Stark's wise-cracking Iron Man or Steve Rogers' Star Spangled Man. On the one hand this could be because of David's confusion as to who he really is, but on the other it could be because this spidey-sense reacts to those around him and life is fucking shit. When David finally embraces who he is, we see him walk to a busy public space and sense the pain and evil of everyone around him and it turns out that people are fucking bell-ends. Although a two hour shift in a retail job would probably also confirm that to him as well. Presumably he's been sensing this throughout his entire life whilst attempting to suppress both it and his desire to do good. This reluctance to emotionally let people in has also affected his family life with his wife and child having been kept at a distance, which also distinguishes him from most other heroes. Unlike the teenaged Peter Parker or the demented leather-fan Batman, David actually has a conventional family that he not only has to worry about but are also affected by his actions. Batman could hang upside down in a cupboard every night whilst wanking himself to sleep without anybody caring except poor Alfred when he has to clean up the next morning. And David's relationship with his son is given almost as much time in this story as Tony Stark's relationship is with himself in Iron Man

David Dunn though is a normal man with a normal family and a normal job. He's also perfectly cast here with everybody's favourite frowning testicle Bruce Willis taking on the role. Willis is wrongly lumped into the big action men category of Arnie and Stallone in the public conciousness. Possibly because of their Planet Hollywood connection or possibly because he appears in films with titles like Die Hard or even Die Harder. However Willis is at his best when subverting that image which is admittedly something that even he seems to have fucking forgotten now. By Die Hard 4.0, McClane was surfing on the back of a fighter plane as though he'd booked the cheap seats with Easy Jet. However the first film in the series was so perfect because of how much of a normal guy he was. McClane didn't run all guns blazing into a room of terrorists but instead spent a chunk of the movie having a cry in the bathroom whilst pulling out chunks of glass from his feet. Then you look at the rest of his best movies and it's all pretty much the same. In Looper he's sad about his wife's death and so starts mournfully shooting children, in 12 Monkey's he dribbles his way through time travel, in Pulp Fiction he chickens out of a boxing match, in Moonrise Kingdom he's a cop that been forgotten by everyone, and in The 6thSense he gets killed in the opening fucking scene. In each of these films however he still manages to fight his own inner inadequacies to become the hero that most people assume him to be anyway. Sure he was still pretty hellbent on shooting children by the end of Looper, but I guess it is set in America and it is kind of the done thing there. 

Therefore Willis is the perfect man for this film in which he has to look like a hero whilst retaining his reality-based everyman quality. Just look at his costume too as Shyamalan takes the iconography of a comic book and then applies it to a person that shops at fucking Primark. Whereas Batman is able to hide his face with the bat cowl and allow his cape to flow in the wind, David simply has to make do with his raincoat and hood. It's worth noting the connection that this coat also has to his biggest fear of water which is also true of Batman and his fear of bats. Even David's superpower is pretty down to Earth when you compare it to Superman's ability to fly and perv on people or whatever he really does with his x-ray vision. Essentially Dunn can just take a punch pretty well which is true of Homer in that Boxing episode of The Simpsons, and it's true of Theresa May's entire political career. When Dunn falls into the swimming pool near the end, it's like when Superman is stabbed by Kryptonite in 2006's underrated Superman Returns. His crawl out of the water is also as much of a rebirth scene as when Superman is then able to charge himself to full power in the rays of the sun. Except in this case the hero doesn't then fly down to lift up an entire island to push off into space but instead goes back into a house to get beaten up by a kiddie fiddler whilst attempting to snap his neck in the process. 

And yet despite all of Willis's greatness here, the twist to the movie is that we've also been watching another origin story at the same time. Every Batman has his Joker and I don't think it's a coincidence that like the clown prince of crime, we see Elijah constantly dressed in purple. In this more real-world story, the villain is depicted as sympathetic, confused, and as lost in the world as the rest of us are. In a job interview, we're asked where we see ourselves in five years time, and yet I can't even imagine where I'll be in five fucking days. Wanking hopefully, but I guess I'll find out if I get there. Elijah's search for purpose and the relief he feels when he finally realises who he is and where he fits into this story would be equally uplifting if he hadn't had to kill so many people to get there first. Although to go back to having worked in retail, I would say that humans are overrated and a good two thirds of the people that he murdered would have likely been pricks anyway. Elijah's Mr Glass claims that he and David are friends a la Professor X and Magneto, but David is also a man of the shadows with Elijah being much more eccentric which takes the comparison back to Batman and The Joker. I also read a thing recently that argued that Elijah's character even predicted the rise of toxic fandom which I thought was interesting. It's easy to see this parallel too in the scene in which he bollocks a man for buying some comic book art for his child with the online “fans” that scream bile on Twitter over their favourite films. Not that many of us even had the internet when this ancient film was first released.

All of this blows my mind when you think about just how ahead of its time Unbreakable really was and how brilliantly it was executed. Since the film was released, Shyamalan's output has been a little up and down to say the least. His 2015 film The Visit was quite fun but I'd rather eat my own eye-balls and then shit them into a blender than sit through 2010's The Last Airbender again. But with Unbreakable, he's made a film that, for my money, is perfect in every way. I'm completely sucked into the story through Willis's performance and I always spend the next few days with its images and ideas rattling around my brain. I love this movie more than I love the majority of my family and I would happily push my step-mother in front of a moving vehicle if it was between her and never being able to watch this film again. Although to be fair, I hate that mud-slag of a woman anyway and would happily push her in front of a moving vehicle if it wasn't for the pesky British law system and its harsh views on murder. Shyamalan might have made some shit in his time but he will always be the man that made Unbreakable and for that masterpiece alone I think that he deserves the title of genius. Unbreakable is his theory of relativity with the rest of his movies simply being as relevant to that status as Einstein's big swinging dick was to his. Thanks for reading motherfuckers and see you next time.

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