Updated: May 13, 2020
Unbreakable, is a movie from 2001, directed by M. Night Shyamalan that has returned to prominence after its main characters, David Dunne and Elijah Price being linked to the movie Split, suggesting a new movie that would compose this trilogy, to be released in 2019, with the title of Glass.
Unbreakable has as its background a terrible train disaster that leaves the United States in shock. All locomotive passengers end up dead, except for David Dunne, who is completely unscathed from the accident, leaving everyone, including the doctors and himself, in shock. While, perplexed, tries to understand what could have saved his life, David meets Elijah Price, a stranger who presents a bizarre explanation on the fact. Elijah leaves a note in David's car during the ceremony in honor of the dead in the crash. A card with the address of the gallery of Elijah, which David visits with his son, who happens to have a fundamental role in history, since the boy believes that his father is someone special.
The movie Split ends with a scene in which Bruce Willis, the actor who plays David Dunne in Unbreakable appears, in reference to his character, a man who does not hurt himself and who has a special capacity of perceiving evil combat it. The movie suggests that the character of James McAvoy, who suffers from a multiple personality dissociation disorder, now has superhero powers, after the emergence of the personality number 24, called The Beast. At the same end, we know that Mr. Glass will leave the prison, and that everyone is part of this same universe, in the movie. The villain, Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, has a rare disease, in which his bones break like glass, the reason for his nickname.
Mr. Glass is the third movie in this trilogy, and it complements the trilogy's analysis. Each one of the main character deals with their own innate disabilities or abilities, according to their history and their own choices, where trauma, love, health, talents, and disabilities affect one's life as the plot of fate and their choices often interfere so much in the life of fictional characters, as in the lives of real people.
I consider this analysis of the trilogy as an analytical process, in which stories are added to the life of everyone, with new characters and entanglements affecting the unfolding of the story, as well as its understanding and interpretation.
The analysis of the film Split is available on my website. Now I present the analysis of Unbreakable and Glass.
I suggest that you watch the movies before the reading, because besides spoilers, I will not offer a summary of them, since they are easy to find and to watch.
Impossible to start this analysis without thinking about the meaning of the translation of its title. Unbreakable was translated in Portuguese as Corpo Fechado. Corpo Fechado, in Portuguese means closed body, an expression widely used by spiritualist religions here in Brazil, which means that evil cannot possess neither the body nor the mind of this person. Which means that person has a special quality of not being affected by evil, or because was blessed for a spiritual leader, or because he or she good qualities isolate them for the bad energies or bad individuals, making them “unbreakable”.
Whoever has the closed body is not subject to the influences of evil, maintaining its axis, and therefore being responsible for its choices, by its free will. However, we know that free will is subject to the complexes of each personality, and that our choices are influenced by our personal and family history, by the physical and emotional traumas, therefore also by the good health condition or its absence in each person.
The Symbol and its Polarities
We have the extreme polarity between Elijah, who carries a congenital disease, in which his bones fracture with the fragility of the glass, having been born with several broken bones, and who spent his life susceptible to the physical and emotional traumas that this deficiency provided, always protected and stimulated by his loving mother, who encouraged him to contact the world through comics. Elijah knows his frailties, his limitations and his shortcomings, and has spent his life dealing with them, dedicating his life to the comics and comic art works, at his Gallery.
In the other polarity we have David, a seemingly ordinary man, coming back from an unsuccessful job interview, surviving a train crash of catastrophic proportions, inexplicably, with no scratches at all.
The extraordinary nature of his survival receives the attention of Elijah, who begins to question David about his health, questioning whether David would not be the opposite of himself. The unbreakable as opposed to the breakable, polarities of the same symbol, where fragility and extraordinary resistance would oppose.
The Other as an Instrument of Self-awareness
Elijah is obsessed by the antagonism between the comics’ characters, because a hero does not exist without a villain, and vice versa, and is willing to find his counterpoint in a quest for meaning for his own life. On the other hand, David's life does not go well, a marriage in crisis, a routine work as a security in a sports stadium, but a son who seeks in the father the figure of hero father. His son cares about him, and watches the news of the accident on TV, knows what train he was on, and appears to be the most alive character and in search of relationship in the history.
David seems depressed, the narrative of the film seems depressing, there is no energy, the gestures are slow, there is a depressing tension in David, and an aggressive tension in Elijah. The boy believes that the father can be a superhero, and in a desperate attempt to perhaps get him out of the doldrums of depression, he wants to shoot him, believing that the bullet would not hurt him, in a desperate attempt to prove that his father could be a Super hero.
Elijah questions David all along, and as those who spend their lives more as observers, than as agents of their own lives, Elijah goes on to observe even how David works, and after an intervention by David, who distrusts a man who tries enter the stadium, try to check if David really was able to predict who would be a potential criminal at the stadium.
David suspects a man, decides to do an inspection, but the man leaves the inspection. Elijah follows him, and at the expense of his own well-being, determined to know if the suspect had the gun David had imagined he would have. In the pursuit, he acknowledges that David had "seen" the gun in the pocket of the potential criminal, and during his search, he is seriously injured, rolling down the stairs and again suffering numerous fractures.
David's special perception potential was totally unconscious to him, he did not seek the confirmation of his intuition, as many do not, believing that his life was totally banal. David needed Elijah to start paying attention to his special ability, but it was not enough, he needed the determination of his son, who admired him, and who wanted to put him in a prominent position, remembering his achievements as an athlete, of which David tried to dodge.
It was the boy who challenged him again. Helping his father to exercise, he puts more and more weights on the bodybuilding bar, which David continued to raise, until the weights had run out and had to improvise with cans of paint.
The Weakness and the Secret
How many times in life do we discover only what we are capable of because life forces us, or because we behavior unconsciously, driven by emotion or urgency, and find that we are capable of so much more? We all know that in diversities we discover talents and abilities hidden by laziness or depression.
Creativity so often arises from lack of choice and opportunity. But the "diagnosis" of a superhero, whom Elijah seeks to establish in David, has two obstacles: a weakness and a lie. Weakness confirms the superhero's nature, David nearly drowned once, stayed 5 minutes submerged in the school pool, but came back to life. David is afraid of water. Water is one of the greatest symbols of the unconscious, and of the emotions. However, the water that puts David at risk is not the oceans' water, but of the pool.
The pool represents unconscious aspects, but differently from the ocean, the pool has the delimited sides and depth, as well as a limited capacity to store water. Its depth, being limited, allows us to be stepped to the bottom to take momentum to raise the surface, as well as its edges allow support and safety. The pool, containing water that would represent aspects of the unconscious, represents unconscious aspects linked to the personal, familial and cultural unconscious, since it represents the most "domesticated" side of the unconscious, not the archetypal unconscious itself.
The lie, or secret of David, is in the car crash he suffered with his girlfriend, his current wife, from a marriage in crisis. David, a promising American football player about to sign a professional contract, pretends to have been injured in the accident that his girlfriend could have died. What makes it impossible for him to play is love and fear of losing her. His girlfriend would not have stayed with him because she could not bear to live with the aggressiveness inherent in a game and a football player, so he chooses to stay with her, abandoning his talent, his career, and his natural aggressiveness.
Aggressiveness is part of human nature, we need to deal with it, identify it, and express it in a healthy way. All defense implies aggression, through assertiveness we put ourselves in the world, present our ideas and fight the evil that plagues us. David could not be aggressive, even within the limiting and protected rules of a sport, his side could not be accepted in this relationship, and the negation of this important part of his life and his personality turned him into an apathetic being.
Aggressiveness is also necessary in expressions of joy, in sports and artistic expressions, as well as in affective relationships and in sex. Aggressiveness is energy, action potential, and its destructive power lies in how we direct it and in what intensity.
David gave up all the aggression. But not the ability to identify the aggressive potential of the other, detected by Elijah, and that he exerts in his function of security of the stadium remains. He transforms himself from a brilliant athlete, who could have been the great star of the stadium, in an apathetic and dull security.
Elijah guides David to discover his own creative potential, his talents and abilities, always based on the comic heroes. Elijah does not know real life, he knows it only from the perspective of the narrative of the stories, as someone who only knew life from the fairy tales, without ever having experienced relationships of love and friendship.
David goes to a central station and begins to try to feel there what he felt when he "saw" the gun in the man's pocket at the stadium. He begins to "feel" people, to enter their psyches, as in a state of mystical participation, he detects a possible evil agent, and decides to check if he is right, following him. David follows his instinct, following the evildoer, and finds a family that had been hostage of this man. He saved the teenage children while their parents were already dead. David fights this man with a superhuman strength, but during the fight he is thrown out the window and falls into a pool. We have here the rescue of the original trauma in which he almost drowned in his childhood, for the adolescents he had saved are now their saviors. He grabs the bat that the teenagers offer him in the tumult of the pool water, the rain, the plastic that surrounds his body, finds the edge, and is saved. Now he can deal with his own denied unconscious aspects. His strength and physical prowess do not make him a sports’ hero but makes him a hero of life.
At this moment, he deals not only with the aspects of the personal, familial, and cultural unconscious represented by the pool, but with the more archetypal unconscious aspects represented by rainwater. However, David's process, which involves his own process of individuation, confrontation with his own shadow, traumas and frustrations, is not reciprocal in Elijah.
Elijah hopes that his redemption will be through the discovery of David's talent, and concretizes the expression of his own somber aspect when, instead of seeking the light in himself, he projects the light into the figure of the hero David represents for him. Elijah is not capable of recognizing and elaborating his own heroic journey, that of a man with an extremely fragile physical constitution, but with an enormous capacity for learning and overcoming. He does not recognize the hero in himself, he only sees himself by mirroring himself in the other, albeit in a somber reflection.
Light and Shadow at the Hero’s Journey
The hero's journey is sometimes somber, as we have so often seen in history, people who stand out for the grandeur of his own shadow, and not by the self. Sometimes the archetypal shadow dictates the hero's journey, rather than the self, as we see in the case of great criminals and villains in history. And what about Elijah? He takes on his own dark aspects as heroic, after all, the shadow is also an archetype, with all the numinous implications that this represents.
Elijah does not feel his existence is enough, he must be the villain, the antagonist of the hero, to exist.
The two characters deal with near-death experiences. Elijah fights for life all the time, since his genetic condition makes him so fragile and susceptible to fractures that his life is at risk, practically all the time. Multiple fractures can have serious consequences, such as infections and organ punctures, forcing you to lead a life of care and exacerbated protection. He is aware of death, and seems to be obstinate by it, since he seeks someone who can overcome it. It could be said that Elijah went through life suffering numerous traumas, physical and psychic, since physical traumas usually are accompanied by psychological traumas. His experience of being on the verge of death did not make him an enlightened person, as some people like to think.
Extremely traumatized people, whether for physical or emotional health, need to learn to deal with this fragility, characteristic of the human condition. People who deal with serious illnesses, and survive once, twice, or countless times, can develop hubris, can identify themselves with the divine aspect of immortality, and acting out the shadow as if it were Self. How many stories do we know of people who have almost died, and who, when recovered, leave family, children, and work, begin to lead a light life, arguing that they now "need to enjoy life" by developing relentless narcissistic defenses, dragging everyone who loves them into great suffering.
Elijah suffers. He suffers a lot, but is disconnected from his own suffering, he has developed rational and fantastic defense mechanisms, based on the relationships between comic book characters. He is disconnected from his own suffering, as from the other. There is no empathy. There is a cause, an idea he pursues obsessively: to find the hero who justifies his villainy, or the unbreakable hero, who compensates for his extreme fragility.
David also suffers. But unlike Elijah, his near-death experience has two faces, one personal and one empath. The personal is about drowning he suffered in childhood, where boys hold his head underwater in the school pool. The empathic, or not personal, in the experience of almost losing his beloved woman in the car accident, that made him give up his athletic career. He does the opposite way. He avoids situations of risk, becoming aware of his own finitude, being afraid of water and drowning. He also immerses himself in the swamp of empathy, living his life in accordance with his wife's non-aggressive principle, denying an important part of his nature, giving up his career, and his own masculinity. He gives up assertive masculinity, develops an almost depressive, apathetic, contemplative, distant softness.
Both Elijah and David have serious relationship difficulties. While Elijah seeks the meaning of life through the potential risk of the hero in David, David seems satisfied with the sense of the sacrifice he made in the name of love without realizing that this sacrifice affected the very relationship he so dearly desired. Affective relationships need whole beings, and David is not whole, denied aggressiveness blunted his emotions and his ability to appreciate and connect with life.
This film demystifies the numinous power of near-death experience, which may occur, but it is not the rule. The near-death experience of an individual, or someone we love, is always traumatic in some way, and complexes and traumas can be restored or reactivated, necessitating an elaboration.
David fulfills his hero's journey by defeating the villain. He discovers that Elijah was responsible not only for the train crash in which he survived but also for other terrorist attacks he practiced, to find the perfect hero to counteract the narrative of his life. Elijah is trapped in a judicial asylum, and there perhaps the stories of the three films intertwine, gaining perhaps a greater and more elaborate sense. The development of consciousness can occur only when we know the opposites of the same symbol, as well as its nuances.
Elijah seems to have been stuck with opposites, it seems David too. Perhaps the connection between the three films is exactly this: how do the polarities of the same symbol, good and evil, relate to an individual with a disorder of multiple personality dissociation? In which good and evil are much more complicated to separate as black from white, or the light of shadow?
We will see what awaits us in Glass ...
CW 7 Two Essays of Analytical Psychology
CW 8 The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche
CW 9 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
CAMPBELL, Joseph – Hero with a Thousand Faces
Solange Bertolotto Schneider
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