Create comics a modern mythology

Unbreakable - unbreakable
Criticism from the FILMSTARTS editorial team
Unbreakable - unbreakable
By René Malgo
After the resounding success with the horror thriller The Sixth Sense The expectations of director and screenwriter Manoj Night Shyamalan rose to infinity. He surprised his fans in the new millennium with a film about superheroes. But Shyamalan wouldn't be Shyamalan if “Unbreakable” didn't approach this topic, which has recently become very popular in the cinema, from a very unusual perspective. Despite undeniable weaknesses, the ambitious project can in large parts be described as a success in a remarkable way.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is your typical average citizen. He makes his living as a folder in a football stadium. His marriage to Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) is in turmoil, life could have been much better. The unbelievable happens during a train journey. The train crashed, only David Dunn survived - without a single scratch. Soon after, he was contacted by the weird Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who runs a museum for comic arts. Elijah reveals to David that he is unbreakable. That he, like the mythological characters from sagas and comics, has what it takes to be a superhero. The sensible David doesn't want to hear about this crazy idea, but probing questions and thought-provoking remarks from Elijah make him investigate nonetheless. David has to realize that he is actually different from the others. And at first he doesn't like that at all ...

A couple of text panels at the beginning inform the viewer that “Unbreakable” is a film about comics; and that “Unbreakable” intends to take said art form seriously. In America the so-called comic culture is very big. Especially since the intellectual outpouring of the great pioneer of American comic art, Will Eisner, this form of literature has been taken quite seriously in the United States. In Europe, such conditions can only be dreamed of so far. France and Belgium have a lively comic culture, but in this country comics are for the most part still smiled at as trivial reading for children. Hollywood has long since discovered its potential and sometimes exploits the templates more, sometimes less. More serious works like the underground comic adaptation Ghost Worldwho have favourited cult comic book adaptation American Splendor, the gloomy father and son parable Road To Perdition, the multi-layered superhero film adaptation Batman Begins or the ultra-brutal pseudo-noir ballad Sin City meanwhile prove to a wider audience that comics and graphic novels are by far not only suitable for children and have long since earned their place in modern (pop) culture. Even before those films, M. Night Shyamalan tried to set a monument to this comic culture and created "Unbreakable".

Let us anticipate the weaknesses: “Unbreakable” takes itself deadly serious and sees itself as a mystical tale about a newly created, modern legendary figure. There is nothing reprehensible about that, but since superhero stories are always accompanied by breaks in logic, while “Unbreakable” sells its subject as reality, involuntary comedy is sometimes unavoidable. Anyone who still looks down contemptuously at comics in general and superhero stories in particular will either be annoyed with "Unbreakable" in green and blue, or simply laugh at the committed mystery drama. A good dose of open-mindedness towards Shyamalan and his deeply serious, almost religiously worshipful approach to stories from which comics are made is necessary. In addition, "Unbreakable" raises some questions that cannot be answered satisfactorily: For example, why did David not register all his life that he was never injured or sick? Why did he never experience his ability to sense other people's evil as something out of the ordinary? Has the good man never seen a fantasy film?

The final story twist expected by fans, which turns everything seen so far upside down, is delivered by Shyamalan as expected. It surprises - without being a big bang - although it raises a number of questions about logic and credibility, it rounds off the story in an astonishingly ingenious way. Suddenly Shyamalan's self-invented, modern mythology makes more sense on the whole and reveals the film's concerns. To this day, rumors persist that “Unbreakable” was conceived as the prelude to a trilogy. The idea is not so absurd and even desirable, because “Unbreakable” can definitely be seen as an introduction to David Dunn's superheroism. Basically “Unbreakable” is one big prologue - but a very fascinating one. The finale reveals the true character of certain characters and establishes the antagonist, important for superhero parables, as a pure counterpart to the protagonist and hero.

M. Night Shyamalan is a great director. He also shows that in “Unbreakable”. His direction is one of the subtle notes. He excellently integrates David Dunn as an antihero and average person in the opening scene. On the train, David clumsily tackles a woman who turns out to be married and not interested. In this scene David is given a solid characterization and a clear background: Marriage no longer works, he is a seeker. Looking for yourself, a new life, closeness to any person. It gets even better when David is picked up from the hospital by his wife. The camera lights flash, and the bereaved of all those who have died look at the only survivor in amazement. Hand in hand, the man and woman leave the hospital, as they are out of sight of all gawkers, their hands loosen again. Son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) does not notice this. He is too happy because of his father's survival. These carefully filmed scenes are intense and tell a lot without losing much of the words.

Eduardo Serras (The girl with the pearl earring) extremely noble camera work is by no means bad and captures the film in coherent images. "Unbreakable" lives from its dense atmosphere and consequently does without any action. Shyamalan's drama does not flirt with the usual show values ​​that a popular superhero adaptation intends to offer. The train accident is not shown in the first place, the only action scene in the film is staged so slowly that the viewer doesn't really have the feeling of seeing action. But it is precisely the slowness of the staging that increases the tension. The film brings its antihero very close to the viewer. Step by step, the audience follows how David finds himself and his undiscovered abilities anew. He must first learn to cope with the new knowledge. And it's not that easy. In addition to the strange Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson), especially his son (Spencer Treat Clark) believes in his supernatural abilities. His wife (Robin Wright Penn) fears the Elijah who keeps popping up in their lives. She thinks his theories are crazy and she wants her son and father to stay away from crazy people. The train accident brought the couple closer together again. They want to try again, get to know each other all over again.

It is exemplary how Shyamalan tries to combine everyday, personal problems with the fantastic, the development of a superhero. It is precisely in the scenes between David and his wife that the film has its strongest moments and functions as a normal, deeply touching relationship drama beyond common clichés. The scenes between David and Elijah are also strong, but often strange. David is attracted to the loner and comic fanatic, but feels only partially at home around him. Elijah highlights the mythological significance of comics and claims that they are a reflection of reality. In some of his theories, Elijah (and thus the film) goes a bit very far, but it cannot be said that “Unbreakable” does not provide any interesting or unusual ideas.

“Unbreakable” also benefits from the excellent acting of its actors. To pulp Fiction and Die hard 3 the two gentlemen Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are reunited in two unfamiliar roles. Both are doing very well. Willis underlines his ambition to want to convince in character roles as well. Robin Wright Penn (Forrest Gump, A home at the end of the world) as a film wife and Spencer Treat Clark (Mystic River) as a son who is neither annoying nor precocious, but acts just like an adolescent is like that. They all give the mystical film that important personal touch.

The brilliantly filmed, idiosyncratic mystery drama will not be for everyone, but it is definitely one of the underrated works of its craft. The film has great potential for series and Shyamalan's ambitious desire to create his own modern superhero mythology is worthy of all honor. If “Unbreakable” is actually the prelude to a trilogy, it remains to be hoped that Shyamalan will soon set about continuing the story, because the characters were introduced in an exemplary manner, the foundation stone has been laid and a consistent continuation of the line taken in “Unbreakable” could be very high Bring interesting and exciting things to light ...
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