Welcome to McKoo’s Movie Club! For more information on how it works, click here. The movie that we are discussing this week is Unbreakable. Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead, so please return after you’ve watched it if you haven’t yet.
Unbreakable is a film that was ahead of its time. Today, cinemas are inundated with superhero movies (starting next week, some multiplex theaters will have three different superhero movies playing there simultaneously). Yet when Unbreakable was released in 2000, the modern age of superhero movies had not yet fully begun. With the exception of the first X-Men film, which was released only a few months before Unbreakable, the only major superhero films that had been released were the Christopher Reeve Superman series and the Burton/Schumacher Batman franchise. Yet Unbreakable addressed common themes and elements from superhero stories (primarily comics) that have seeped into many of the most successful comic book films of today, such as the origin story, a hero’s weakness, and heroes and villains having a symbiotic relationship. Unbreakable truly feels like a movie that should have been released today, rather than 16 years ago.
One aspect of the film that I particularly enjoy is that it uses visuals rather than dialogue to tell the many parts of the story. In fact, in some instances, it uses simultaneous visuals and dialogue to tell two separate stories. One example of this is when David wakes up in the hospital and the doctor begins to question him. While we learn from the dialogue about the crash and David’s miraculous survival, we also see the story of a dying patient played out in the foreground as we watch his labored breathing become more difficult, and then we finally see a wound open up and bleed profusely. At once we see the story of two survivors of the train wreck: one that is inexplicably unharmed, and one that is mortally injured.
Visual motifs are also used throughout the film, especially seeing images upside down, and seeing reflections, sometimes just for a moment, but other times for entire scenes (such as the conversation between young Elijah and his mother that is mostly observed through a reflection off of a television screen). This could symbolize the skewed world that Elijah mentions that is observed by heroes and villains. Likewise, just like in comic books, many characters are associated with a specific color. Elijah’s clothes are almost always primarily purple, David is often seen wearing green and he wears the all-green overcoat during the climactic scene with the home-invader, who in turn wears the completely orange janitorial jumpsuit.
Additionally, the score for this movie may be one of James Newton Howard’s best scores. Rather than having a score filled with bombastic themes that are appropriate for most superhero films, the main musical theme of this film is much more slow and haunting to match the grounded tone of the film. At the same time, it is just as easily “hum-able” and recognizable when it is used in the movie as some of the most popular superhero themes, such as John William’s Superman theme or Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man theme.
Lastly, the mind-shattering ending is what cements the film as a success, in my opinion. We spend the entire film focusing on all the aspects of David that make him a hero, and the film just as poignantly points that Elijah is in every way his opposite, and yet what should be the obvious conclusion that the opposite of the hero must be the villain isn’t made clear until the reveal in the final scene that Elijah was the mastermind behind all of the recent tragedies in the city. Here, Elijah reiterates the theme of opposites (which has been emphasized by the previously mentioned visual motifs of reflections and upside-down shots) by stating this his existence and actions had no true meaning until there was a hero to take his place at the opposite end of the spectrum. This is very similar to a theme that was played out in 2008’s The Dark Knight when the Joker suggests that Batman’s existence is what has brought a crazed criminal like himself into play. A similar theme is discussed in a scene of the recently-released Captain America: Civil War. As mentioned before, this highlights a symbiotic relationship and one of the fundamental questions about superheroes: do superheroes come into being to stop supervillains? Or do supervillains exist to give opposition to superheroes?
As I said at the beginning of this discussion, many of the questions that this film poses are extremely relevant to today’s superhero-dominated cinema. I personally think that this movie is a must-watch for anyone who is a fan of the genre, and I also feel that this movie may have gotten much more critical and audience attention had it come out today.
What are your thoughts about this film? Please sound off in the comments section below! Likewise, please share this movie club with your friends on social media – it will give you more people to discuss these movies with, and may even provide you opportunities to watch it with them!