You might just say the internet is pretty “split” on this movie. Luckily M. Night Shyamalan’s vision is “unbreakable”. Now let’s talk about “gla…” oh wait, wrong context. Here’s my review for Glass – that’s better.
The heroic Overseer, David Dunn, and the villainous Horde, Kevin Wendell Crumb, find themselves committed to a mental asylum where superhuman abilities are believed to be nothing more than superstition whilst the ingenious mastermind, Mr. Glass, schemes in the shadows.
The nineteen years in the making sequel to Unbreakable has finally arrived from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan, through the detour that was Split, amounting to 2019’s Glass. Not exactly the smoothest of paths Shyamalan has taken to reach this point, career-wise, but nevertheless, we’re finally here, experiencing the follow up to a cult classic superhero film that was released way ahead of its time. Smart and introspective in ways that only Brad Bird’s original Incredibles managed to match, 2000’s Unbreakable broke down the finer details of its genre, piece by piece, creating an intricate study of comic book films that the world, quite frankly, was not ready for. Considered by most as their favourite and the best Shyamalan film to date, Unbreakable suitably broke genre conventions for a genre that barely even existed at the time. So now, nineteen years later, in a cinematic landscape bathed in superhero antics where Marvel Studios rules the box office, Batman, Superman and Spider-Man have had over three on-screen incarnations and films centred around men in iron suits and star-spangled uniforms teach younger audiences on the morals and ethics of heroism, Glass has seemingly uncovered the most opportune moment to achieve release.
Following on from Unbreakable, a hard-hitting drama aligned with the character of David Dunn, and Split, a psychological terror fractured in place with the character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, Glass leant towards a more unconventional tone, mood and central genre. Positioned more in the status of a fragile and rather sedated, but wildly intelligent, jigsaw puzzle, Glass quite easily embodied its narrative’s protagonist of Mr. Glass in pure essence, whilst bridging the gap stationed between drama and psychological thriller. Glass was a slow-moving, unapologetic meditation on not only the comic book genre’s infliction on filmmaking but more-or-less the comic book genre’s infliction on our day to day lives.
People who believe Glass to have been M. Night’s exact, unflinching plan for an Unbreakable sequel, plotted in detail straight from the year 2000, would be wrong in their belief. There would have been no way that the last two decades in Shyamalan’s career and the trajectory of modern day filmmaking would have not altered how Glass panned out as a narrative. Glass was obviously a strong response to superhero cinema of today; not to mention its complete embracing of Shyamalan’s most recent film, Split, by placing an outstanding James McAvoy front and centre. However also, to the keen eye, it would not come as much surprise how Shyamalan, as the evolving filmmaker he’s revealed himself to be, has also produced quite the great effect on how Glass has become Glass.
It’s no secret that M. Night has had quite the satisfactory career in film but also, equally, one of the most profound. Going from a cinema classic like The Sixth Sense to a cult classic like Unbreakable to an underrated fan favourite like Signs to an overlooked thinker piece like The Village to artistic misfire, Lady in the Water, hilariously bad original piece, The Happening, appalling studio product, The Last Airbender and finally, one of the most forgettable Hollywood films ever made, After Earth – the man, quite literally, went on the most visible downward spiral of any director, ever. And then, Shyamalan, seemingly returning from what can only be described as a humbling experience, began work on a low-budget horror called The Visit to which was not only more aligned with his roots but sparked hope Shyamalan was back on track. Then, a few years ago, Split assured M. Night’s talent as a formidable filmmaker had not yet been vaporised but was instead on a rather uphill charge and now, in 2019, Glass has come along to confirm Shyamalan is no longer getting worse with each film, but officially getting better.
True, Glass has not been getting the best reviews or criticisms as many may perceive this film as a step back for the tragic director… but I think differently. Sure Glass was not a perfect film, but it was a very smart one, not worth the hate. On technical terms, I would say Glass was a better film than Split purely because it was a more competent and layered film than the 2016 thriller that based most of its talent off its lead actor. Also, of course, you have to factor in where in Shyamalan’s filmography Glass has been released. When The Visit came out in 2015 nobody expected the new Shyamalan film to actually be good and so when Split was released the following year people either couldn’t believe the film’s genuine genius or perceived it as more a fluke. Glass was not only the long-awaited sequel to Unbreakable, the follow-up to Split and a new superhero film, but also the third chapter in Shyamalan’s recent return-to-form winning streak, which therefore made it a film with so much anticipation bestowed upon it, that it was been burdened to carry the weights of the world on its shoulder from day dot. People were always going to look at Glass as the confirmation film on whether Shyamalan was truly back or not – so therefore, Glass, I believe, has become the subject of great, unnecessary scrutiny.
Glass was a film that not everybody shall agree upon, but is definitely a film that will provoke healthy discussion on the artist’s ideas and concepts on modernity – which is kinda the point of filmmaking. Glass was subversive and advanced in its narrative and storytelling. The twists and turns were not exactly moments made to shock when watching the film, but rather elements to retrospectively assess as the unsheathing of a new layer in the ever thickening plot of Glass. This film unravelled itself long after the concluding scenes; Glass was basically a film audiences could easily leave feeling underwhelmed with but would later revisit from sheer curiosity and speculation that maybe there was something else in the film than a simple singular viewing would not be able share. Glass was a deep film from Shyamalan that felt well-planned out and intricately detailed.
The cinematography, especially, from Mike Gioulakis, truly offered an unique and twisted insight into the mindset of the characters and Shymalan’s overall vision. The employment of constant point-of-view shots and various angles to capture the intimate and yet sickly dark psychology of Glass‘s characters really helped to allow the film to feel slightly unhinged and unexpected in execution. Not to mention some shots were just quite frankly gorgeous with a cold and haunting colour palette to both compliment and contrast the looks of both Unbreakable and Split. Back in early 2017, a friend of mine noted that the first ten minutes of Split and its opening title sequence was some of M. Night’s best technical work ever, as I would go so far to extend that statement by saying that the direction of Glass and the technical execution of this film may just be M. Night’s best since the days of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable – like Zodiac is David Fincher’s Finch-iest film ever, I would call Glass Shyamalan’s most Shymalan-y film ever.
Glass inhibited a lot of what originally made M. Night so great and so praised: the film bathed in a psychological horror setting, incorporated effortless twists and turns, was essentially a slow burn, a social commentary, committed to a singular vision and actually hit on topical themes coinciding with both reality and the fictionalised world of cinema. Shyamalan really seemed to use Glass as a vessel to comment on his ideas on superheroes and what they mean to our society – how they inspire us and give us purpose. Shyamalan made sure to extend on the thoughts of Unbreakable and how good cannot exist without bad to oppose it – how the light needs the dark as does the dark need the light. And so, if you were to investigate further, Shyamalan makes sure to assure his audiences that if any era, it is the superhero era we currently live in. Shyamalan drives home how cinema has become dependent on the superhero genre to the point that we should no longer fight against the coming of the genre but instead rather accept it for what it is – like, in Glass, society must accept superheroes for what they are. And these ideas are not translated any better or more fluently than through the character of Mr. Glass, himself.
People may think that for a movie called Glass, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass barely featured and only really made a dent on the film in its final act or so. Yes, the literal reading of the title may acknowledge a more physical impact from the character of Mr. Glass, but to take the title more metaphorically would give insight into what Glass is truly about. Leaving out Split for a second, having the title of Glass contrast the title of Unbreakable almost perfectly set up the flipside of the coin – the story of superheroes and comic books experienced through the opposite lens. Glass made its audience feel uncomfortable and unstable because from the moment it begun, subconsciously, the story entered the psychosis of Mr. Glass. For lack of a better term, Glass pictured a world where there’s still hope for the schemes and plans of Mr. Glass – if Unbreakable was a film about Mr. Glass locating his life purpose then Glass was a film about Mr. Glass thus achieving his life purpose. This film, if anything, was a completed arc for Mr. Glass – an extension, or an ‘exposure’, if you will, of the character’s true intentions and means to achieve the origin story he’s strived towards.
And yeah, you may be thinking, “but Mr. Glass doesn’t even appear till the half an hour mark” – that is true. Although, as I said, the entire film was basically a lead up to Mr. Glass’s essential endgame – the whole narrative and every character was a pawn on Mr. Glass’s chessboard as the film suitably felt like a slow and painful move to an ambiguous checkmate. The way M. Night shot Mr. Glass in his first few sequences, building towards that eventual moment Elijah would ripple the narrative, really made for some effective and compelling entertainment whilst the performance of Samuel L. Jackson equally met the triumph of the character so well. Mr. Glass’s ability to combat the narrative with his extended knowledge on comic books, even further allowed M. Night to take chances with Glass and the organic motions of its story. Hand in hand, Glass was a film built from its protagonist and earned its title like a champ.
As I noted, Samuel L. Jackson’s performance really worked in Glass as a subdued and mostly silent portrayal of the film’s core as he led a cast of some formidable talent. Bruce Willis honestly felt like he was trying hard in Glass, for which, everyone knows is kind of a big deal concerning Willis who in the last few years has seemingly only given a crap about two films: Moonrise Kingdom and Looper – Glass makes it three. However, when sharing the screen with James McAvoy, Willis might has well have had been phoning it in because compared to McAvoy literally everyone shallowed in comparison. McAvoy may have not been front and centre in Glass but his portrayal of the Horde was even greater in this film compared to Split. McAvoy gave more than 100%, chopping and changing between personalities even throughout singular shots, provoking different feelings of intimidation each time he would. McAvoy proved in Split he was indefinitely one of the greatest acting talents working in cinema today as in Glass the guy only confirmed his genius ability even further. Sarah Paulson also really offered something new to the cast, working very well off the other actor’s and their grand expressions. As my girlfriend noted, Paulson really channelled a Nurse Ratched appeal for her portrayal of Dr. Ellie Staple, with even the costuming and script complimenting this inspired performance.
To lean further on the allusion of Nurse Ratched and her placement in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, its almost important to acknowledge how deeply Glass went to observe themes of control and power. Almost like an infusion of Cuckoo’s Nest and Captain America: Civil War, Glass used setting and genre to assess the clash of power struggles and restricting oversight; an individual’s inability to achieve their purpose and do what’s right when their power is squashed by a greater power. Essentially, Shyamalan managed to set a low-scaled, mind games version of Civil War in the Cuckoo’s Nest ward, and when you think of it that way, how could you not respect this film even more?
As I said though, I don’t believe Glass was a perfect film. It may be a push upwards, towards M. Night re-achieving auteur status but there were elements that came off a bit shaky retrospectively. The finale felt slightly rushed in comparison to the slow paced move of the film’s meaty centre. I enjoyed how Glass panned out ultimately, but some concluding twists and turns did not entirely work for me, because they were not built to as well as possible – the finale kind of just happened. And I can understand why some people then would have thought Glass to be underwhelming because of its conclusion since the ending of a film can be seen as the most important element. An ending can make or break a film, and despite the fact I thought the concluding ideas of Glass were somewhat genius and/ or kind of intriguing enough, they could have been plotted out in more cohesive manner.
Also, the character of David Dunn felt extremely sidelined. The film set the character up to be a main player, but then David somewhat was shunted to the background of the story, only to really reappear prominently towards the movie’s end. If only there was a bit more given to David, I would have forgiven Glass for some of its least appealing bits and pieces, but it was almost like Shyamalan wanted to give a lot of attention to Kevin firstly, because he’s a popular and recent character, and then Elijah, because he’s supposedly the protagonist. Glass felt like it almost entirely forgot about David as soon as the story entered the asylum section of the film. I wished Glass had managed to balance the perfect trifecta, but its balance was slightly off, therefore giving the film an equally “slightly off” appeal toward its concluding arcs. Also, some of the film’s side characters including David’s son, Elijah’s mother and Casey, respectively portrayed by Anya-Taylor Joy, seemingly made a certain united decision towards the end of the film, that made sense in the context of the story to happen, but did not exactly make sense in the context of their characters. I just felt elements of Glass did not entirely work because of the writing behind some characters with a more mid-tier Shyamalan shining through at some stages of the writing.
Still, Glass was a pretty solid film, if I dare say so myself. Glass was ballsy and showed that Shyamalan still had a certain “unbreakable” edge to him that allowed Glass to really standout. And hey, maybe you wouldn’t like this film (maybe you already don’t) but at least Glass was a film that managed to have something to say and warrants further conversation. I suspect Glass to be a film that shall be discussed further and deeper as the years go on and M. Night pulls himself further and further out of the decade long slump he’s sat within for years. Glass may chip here and there and show signs of its fragility, but ultimately this film will never break, no matter how heavy the backlash and dislike that threatens to shatter it into a million little shards.
Glass is a bloody… CRUSADE!!
- Ross, A 2019, Glass (2019), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 21 January 2019, <http://www.impawards.com/2019/glass_ver2.html> (Featured Images)
- Sims, D 2019, Glass Is M. Night Shyamalan at His Weirdest, The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, viewed 21 January 2019, <https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/01/glass-review-m-night-shyamalans-meta-sequel-bruce-willis-samuel-l-jackson-james-mcavoy/579874/>