In M. Night Shyamalan’s science-fiction superhero drama Unbreakable, we are shown a reflection of the real world, with some extraordinary supernatural elements. Bruce Willis plays David Dunn, a security guard who miraculously survives a disastrous train crash, while every single other passenger unfortunately perishes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, a man with the devastating condition of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as “brittle bone disease,” (Character vs. Nature Conflict). The resulting intertwinement of their lives results in a truly memorable story.
After Price hears the news about Dunn’s survival of the train derailment, he tracks him down and has some very peculiar questions for him. Has Dunn ever been sick, or had an injury? Price, an enthusiastic, almost religious collector of comic books, seems to believe that Dunn is a superhero himself. To Dunn and his family, Price seems delusional and mentally troubled. This causes some intense emotional discord between Dunn and his family, notably with his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). During one particularly impassioned scene, we see the sheer anguish and affliction that this family is experiencing. Their lives have been turned upside down. Yet, while he has trouble admitting it, David Dunn cannot help but feel that Elijah Price might have a point. He honestly cannot remember ever being sick or injured. Is this just Price getting into his head, or is there something more to the story? (Character vs. Self, Character vs. Unknown Conflicts).
As far as Dunn’s categorization as a literary hero, he most appropriately fits as a combination of an epic hero and an accidental hero. After putting some puzzle pieces of his life together, Dunn recognizes that he does indeed possess superhuman abilities, from physical strength to telekinetic emotional connections. However, this leads him into dangerous situations that cause him great amounts of grief and distress. He did not ask for these powers, but they place him in a position that can save lives and change the world around him. By the end of the film, we see him fully transform into a selfless vigilante, risking his own well-being for the sake of others.
In looking to Elijah Price, we see a representation of a romantic hero. Due to his disease, he cannot live a normal, everyday life like able-bodied people can (Character vs. Society Conflict). However, instead of giving up, he makes the decision to use his advanced intelligence and fascination with comic books to find his place in society. He amasses an incredibly expansive comic book collection that supports him financially. But, his true goal in life is to discover a superhero in the real world. In his eyes, comic books are historical accounts that have been passed down through the generations. Just as obsessively as he studies comics, he meticulously analyzes catastrophic events, searching for a “lone survivor.”
As for technical aspects of this film, Shyamalan masterfully created the dark, gritty tone through dim lighting, with a color palette focused on gray, dark blue, and brown. The musical score from James Newton Howard added to the emotional depth of this film as well. Additionally, the perfect balance of silence and ambient noise further developed these moods. In the department of cinematography, one especially prominent aspect that I noticed was the incorporation of reflections. This created a sense of mystery and wonder, also forming an intimate link between the audience and the characters. Another intriguing visual element was the display of flashbacks, giving insight into the lives of unfamiliar characters. The editing in these scenes was fantastic, showing us a quick glimpse of major events of the past that would impact the future of the story. The intricate web of storytelling, sound design, cinematography, and editing woven in this film was quite impressive. I look forward to checking out more work from Shyamalan in the future to compare it to this work of art.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
For violence, mature themes, and sexual references