I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s second feature film Unbreakable (2000) when it was released in the theaters back when I was 17. During the summer of that same year, the first film in the X-Men franchise was a box-office success, leading Hollywood to ravenously seek out the movie rights for popular comic book characters. But M. Night Shyamalan, even after the mega-success of his first feature film, The Sixth Sense, decided to do what Sam Raimi did with Darkman (1990): He made his own comic book hero and villain brought to life on screen.
Directly influenced by comic books, Unbreakable reunited Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson as co-stars, with Willis’ David Dunn being an ordinary security guard who, thanks to Jackson’s comic book art dealer Elijah Price, begins a journey of self-discovery that changes his purpose in life. The film was a grounded take on the idea of super heroes. They didn’t need flashy capes or over-the-top super powers. The film showed what they’d be like if they were real. For some, that made the film boring. When I first saw it, I was pissed. Because of Elijah Price’s revelation in the ending and the statistics given about comic book readers in the film’s opening, I hated this movie at my first viewing. Those two factors had me thinking that the film was a not-so-subtle jab at avid comic book collectors/readers (I’ve been one since I was 9), as though it was saying we’d turn out like Elijah Price if we read comic books “too much”. In retrospect, my initial interpretation of the stats (and how it connected to the ending) was largely due to the time period the film was released: The early 2000s. Back then, comic books (or their movie counterparts) were not chic, they were neither prevalent nor considered hip or cool like they are presently. Being a comic book fan back then meant you were a nerd, outsider, and therefore a yearbook candidate for “most likely to burn down the school“.
In the years since, I’ve viewed the film many times and I now think it’s a well-done movie and a very underrated one at that. The score by James Newton Howard is magnificent and the story made the film one of the first realistic takes on the idea of super heroes/villains. That said, I can’t wait for Glass (2019) to come out. But the scene in Unbreakable that constitutes a great action moment is when Dunn finally comes to a stark realization: He’s got super powers and can use them to be both a protector of innocents and a defender of justice.
But what are his powers? What makes him super? David Dunn’s body, particularly his skeletal structure, has an overall superhuman density and durability, which gives him superhuman strength. He can bench press at least 1 ton and rip the door off a car. His durability is such that he can withstand blunt force trauma from major vehicular accidents (car and train crashes) with no harm to himself whatsoever. It’s been implied that his body is also strong enough to withstand bullets. He also has an enhanced immune system which has prevented sickness or physical ailments throughout his life. It should also be noted that he has never been physically injured. David has psychometric abilities that attune him with people’s memories upon physical contact, allowing him to perceive whatever immoral, illegal, and violent acts they have committed. David also suffers from a weakness of water, though this appears to be purely psychosomatic due to childhood trauma involving him nearly drowning in a swimming pool.
He used his psychometric powers and made contact with a train station janitor who recently committed a home invasion. This janitor is covered in orange overalls (Shyamalan’s use of color in this film is brilliant, btw) and holds the family captive while he occupies their home. Dunn follows him there to keep him from doing anymore harm. The juxtaposition in this scene (as well as the dramatic score supporting it) is subtle as well: When Dunn enters the home with his now-trademark rain poncho and baseball cap, his face is visible. But when he’s ambushed by the janitor, pushed into the backyard pool (his water weakness), and is saved by two children, it’s like a resurrection. He rises to his feet, but the camera no longer makes his face visible. He’s now a fully-realized heroic specter here to save the day and deliver justice. And does he ever. Check it out below: