[Retro Review] Unbreakable

Last week I broke my ankle slipping on some ice. Since I wasn't going anywhere for a while, I decided to catch up on a movie I hasn't seen when it first came out, but one I had heard many good things about. That movie was M. Night Shyalaman's 2000 exploration of what makes a superhero or a supervillain, Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

WARNING! The below synopsis and analysis contains spoilers!

My initial thoughts were that in this film, every character is in some way broken. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is dealing with a personal sacrifice he made twelve years ago that has apparently limited his future. His grief over this loss leads to a restlessness that causes his relationships with his wife and son to be broken as well.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), unlike David, is physically broken. He has a rare condition that leads to brittle bones, which means he is highly susceptible to injury. Although deeply embittered by his condition, he is loved by his mother, and yet that doesn't seem to be enough. He desperately desires the approval of the other kids in school who bestowed him with the name "Mr. Glass." 

Both are seeking something. David wants peace of mind and spirit and a sense of purpose. Elijah wants to find someone else like him, even if it's a physical opposite. David denies his "specialness" while Elijah exploits it.  Only as David discovers what his purpose is does he find the peace that he had been missing.

In the end, it is revealed that Elijah is the arch villain of the story, committing unspeakable crimes to force his "opposite," David, out into the open. In an interesting reversal of the tropes, David does not use his superhero power to defeat Price; he does what any ordinary person would do - he turns him into the police.

Many people hold up the graphic novel Watchmen as the supreme deconstruction of the superhero genre. I think a serious case could be made for Unbreakable. The film asks questions about what is a hero's purpose, and that of his opposite, the supervillain. But what if, in the end, David and his villainous opposite were equally gifted by God to fulfill a good purpose, and not to occupy the opposite ends of the morality scale? What if the evil perpetrated by the villain was not borne out of necessity, but out of his choice, viewed through his bitter resentment for his life? What if Elijah had, as the old quip goes, "used his powers for good, instead of evil?"

The essence of sin is to miss the mark of God's glory (Romans 3:23), and that failure to live up to the perfect image of God inherent in people is the result of transgression, literally a "stepping across the boundary," or rebellion against God's will. In short, sin boils down to a choice (this is a pretty simplistic comparison, but it will suffice for my purposes here). Elijah became too wrapped up in his hurts and pain to see anyone else, and was guilty of great acts of evil in order to elevate himself.

Sin leads us to broken relationships between ourselves and God, nature and each other, and none of us can find rest in anything until we learn to rest in God (Augustine, Confessions, 1:1). Once we accept that our purpose is to honor God and find fulfillment in a life lived in obedience to Him, will we know the peace that transcends all of our loneliness, pain, and bitterness.

We are broken because of our sin, and we can only find peace and purpose when we are united with our Creator and live within His will for us.



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