(Rated: PG [Canada] and PG-13 [MPAA] for violence, including some bloody images, thematic elements and language; directed by M. Night Shyamalan; stars James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark, Luke Kirby, Adam David Thompson, Charlayne Woodard; run time: 129 min.)
Seeing through glass
by Ted Giese
This review contains spoilers.
“Glass” is the final installment in a film trilogy by writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, a trilogy that began in 2000 on the heels of Shyamalan’s hit, “The Sixth Sense” (1999).
In the first film in the trilogy, “Unbreakable,” Bruce Willis plays campus security guard David Dunn, the sole survivor of a train accident, who becomes convinced he is a superhero. The man doing much of the convincing is Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a reclusive eccentric with a severe bone disorder.
Similar to “The Sixth Sense,” which kept its twist a secret until the very end, “Unbreakable” didn’t reveal that it was, in fact, a superhero film until well into the movie.
“Unbreakable” is a slow burn, allowing the audience to follow Dunn’s emotional journey from the mundane into the heroic. As an origin story, it promised more installments, but as years passed, it seemed that they would never be delivered.
Then came “Split” (2016). The trailers made it look like a feature-length episode of the television series, “Criminal Minds,” with a story that focused on a cannibalistic serial killer with dissociative identity disorder, Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy).
While most of the film plays out along these lines, the final scene shows none other than David Dunn in a diner watching a news report on the events of the film, revealing “Split” as the second installment in the “Unbreakable” trilogy.
Superheroes or narcissists?
“Glass” is primarily set in the fictional Philadelphia Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Hospital, where Glass, the fragile criminal mastermind, was institutionalized at the end of “Unbreakable.”
Joining Glass under the temporary custody of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) are Dunn, nicknamed “The Overseer” for his years of vigilante work in Philadelphia, and Crumb, nicknamed “The Horde” because of his 24 personalities.
Staple spends most of the film attempting to convince the three men that they do not have special powers but, rather, suffer from dissociative identity disorder with grandiose narcissistic ideations. Meanwhile, Glass covertly orchestrates their escape so he can reveal “The Overseer,” “The Horde” and their special abilities to the world.
In her work with the men, Staple suggests that Dunn only believes he’s physically unbreakable because he wanted to be invincible after his near-drowning as a child, and that Crumb’s multiple personalities are a coping mechanism to deal with the physical abuse he received from his mother.
Glass, who is supposedly being kept in a heavily sedated state, is scheduled for a specialized lobotomy to cure him of his delusions and give him a normal life. If successful, the same procedure could be used on Dunn, Crumb and others who share the belief that they are superheroes with special powers.
Here is the twist: Staple actually works with a secret paramilitary group called the Clover Organization, which hunts down people with special powers and causes them to “disappear.”
The Clover Organization does not care whether their victims are supervillains or superheroes; they simply want to suppress any belief that a person could be above average, even if he truly possesses superpowers.
Shyamalan presents the idea that there are all sorts of people like Dunn, Crumb and Glass who only need to be awakened to their powers, and that the “Clover Organization” alone keeps them from realizing their true potential.
Believing something doesn’t make it true
Some elements in the movie suggest spiritual connections. Staple has the three men in her custody for three days, a number that is significant in both Christianity and Hinduism. Clover members wear a three-leaf clover tattoo on their wrists. The three-leaf shamrock has long been used in Christian art to point to the Trinity.
In addition, at one point late in the film, Staple says that the organization has existed for 10,000 years and has always been about stopping individuals who believe they have special powers. For some Christians, the number 10,000 signifies the beginning of time. While these details are subtle, their presence may suggest a negative view of the Judeo-Christian ethos as a faith that limits humanity.
The ancient heresy of gnosticism, which links salvation to knowledge, is also suggested by the film. Gnosticism often depicts the serpent in the Garden of Eden as an agent of wisdom, and the Creator of the world as a vengeful, petty and evil god who desires to subjugate and limit humanity. Christian viewers will want to remember that salvation is not about tapping into one’s true potential or achieving personal transcendence, but is rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Glass” will likely be well received by those anticipating it, although they may not like the conclusion of Dunn’s story. It will also be of interest to those tired of the Marvel and DC films and looking for something different in the superhero genre.
While the film under-utilizes Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, it includes some great performances, such as McAvoy’s return to the character of Crumb and the now-adult Spencer Treat Clark’s reprisal of his role as Dunn’s son, Joseph.
As a film, “Glass” is well made and well acted, a clever piece of entertainment with satisfying twists and turns.
However, Christian viewers should be careful not to buy into its thesis on what makes for a good life. In a world that says a person can be whatever he wants to be, it is important to remember that just believing something doesn’t make it so. For the Christian, truth is not found in self-actualization, but in the Word of God.
Rev. Ted Giese (firstname.lastname@example.org) is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to The Canadian Lutheran and Reporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese.
Posted March 11, 2019