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I mean, it’s still kind of miraculous that this movie even happened.

Let’s get something out of the way first: Glass is bad. This isn’t going to be one of those apologia type reviews where I try to justify a poorly-executed, messy movie on behalf of its noble ideas, creative ambition, or whatever. Glass has some really solid moments and I’d even say the first half feels like it’s leading to a satisfying conclusion to what must be one of the most unlikely trilogies in cinematic history. Logistically, this movie is a complete anomaly since two studios had to share IP for it to even happen. Individual moments and scenes work well, and there’s a lot of fascinating junk hidden in the mess of it. Thing is, I don’t think it’s the stuff we are supposed to be interested in. So as usual, Shyamalan has made a fascinatingly bad movie. That’s not the worst thing that can happen. However, he also continues his long streak of not playing to his strengths and refusing to leave well enough alone. And I don’t mean that to say that this movie should never have been made. I mean letting a movie be a story strong enough to stand on its own and deliver themes and subtext by its own lights. Watching Glass is almost like dealing with a backseat driver, Shyamalan is always there over your shoulder or behind the screen to grab at that steering wheel. It’s like the guy can’t help himself.

Some context. I love Unbreakable and I did so from day one. That movie was under-seen when it was released but quickly found appreciation among its (possibly unintentional) target audience, if not mainstream moviegoers. It was a different time. Something as meta, deconstructive, and referential as Unbreakable probably seemed strange in an era before the tropes and textures of comic book superhero movies became commonplace. And like all good deconstruction, Unbreakable was able to make a case for the stuff in comic book superhero movies that is valuable in a more realistic context. Back then, 19 whole fucking years ago, comic books were still pretty fringe. 2000 was the same year that the so-so X-Men arrived as a new attempt to make comic book superhero movies palatable. While that one hasn’t aged well, it did launch an ensuing 19 years worth of X-Men and related movies that have a continuity, series of switch-backs, and retcons that are definitely worthy of their comic book origins on a structural level — if not exactly ever as high quality (with the notable exceptions of Logan and Deadpool) as anyone hoped for.

As for M. Night Shyamalan, it’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about this movie without spending about as much time talking about the dude who made it. It’s too personal a work to do otherwise. I consider myself a fan of his earlier work. That excludes his first two movies, Wide Awake and Praying with Anger as I’ve never seen them. When he broke out into Hollywood and mainstream success with Sixth Sense, I was too young to really see that movie or its maker in the grander context of cinema, but I knew it was special. Everybody did. Nowadays I tend to think it’s a bit overrated but that Unbreakable has definitely stood the test of time. I was a defender of Signs and The Village but really got off the train when Lady in the Water collided with it. Things were never really the same after that. I think a lot of us could relate to David Dunn, bewildered and disoriented like we’d alone survived the derailment that just kept going. For just about ten years now. A lot of people were hoping that Glass would be some kind of return to form. I even know a few people who totally believe it is. I disagree. I think it’s plagued by the same issues that were on display as early as Lady in the Water but in a slightly more cohesive and slightly less narcissistic package. But even that movie can stand alone as a story, I think. Shyamalan has always been overly engaged with his own celebrity, high on his own supply you might say. And starting with Lady in the Water there’s been a reflexive self-consciousness in his work that seems to keep manifesting as a plaintive cry to be taken seriously, to be some kind of game-changer, and for the meanie critics to just leave him alone. At least he had the good sense to make a character he doesn’t play the messiah this time around. Still found a way to stick himself in the movie, though, in a scene that everybody seems to agree is an indulgent waste of time.

This intro is running long but I’ll offer some more summary of my thoughts since that’s what I usually do. I think that Glass is a movie that says what it is all the way through, contriving and hand-holding and info-dumping its way to some semblance of meaning. There’s a long standing idea that art isn’t supposed to tell you how to think and feel about it, that real engagement relies on a less transmissive delivery mechanism. You’ll see people defending Glass from a literal position, with not much subtlety of thought, with direct quotes from it as a text, explaining away its narrative shortcomings by taking it all completely at face value. While this kind of literalism is actually pretty common in nerdy circles, it actively prevents or discourages a more sophisticated critical evaluation of a story. As poorly executed as this story is, it’s still fascinating enough to merit a better class of discourse then the same vapid repetition of its ideas that plague the movie’s dialogue.

At the risk of throwing too much shade on people who earnestly enjoyed Glass, I can’t help but fail to imagine the person who walks away from it satisfied. I’ve heard a few pretty good defenses of the movie by now, but I suspect that for most there’s a sunken cost issue here. Some maybe want to like Glass more than they actually do. Or maybe it’s just the current fixation on callback culture. If Glass is taken as roguish, it becomes a symbolic artifact for people who like just about anything that goes against “the grain”, even if “the grain” is wholly a product of their imagination. If you liked the movie and this doesn’t sound like you, fair enough. Take the above with a grain of salt. Still, I think it’s likely that many will revisit the movie and find themselves bored as they try to plumb its nonexistent depths, just as I think that I’ll revisit it and feel the same but only because the shock value of its twists can only work once and I will already know that the other shoe is about to drop.

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If you were hoping for a “Bruce Willis gives a shit” performance, look elsewhere.

Glass is a movie of many “twists”. Some people have said it’s convoluted but I’m not sure I agree. Overall, it’s pretty easy to follow because it stops to tell you what it’s doing as often as it can — especially toward the back half. What makes it maybe seem convoluted is that the whole movie is engaging with the expectations of its audience in various ways, often to its detriment. The first is that it was anyone’s guess how this thing would even begin. Maybe the first twist or turn is that it begins pretty much immediately after Split, the stealth sequel, ended.

It might be fair to divide Glass into three segments. In spite of its name, it isn’t really Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) that gets the full focus that his counterparts did in their respective movies. There is an attempt to reframe it so that it’s fully Elijah’s story, but I don’t think it’s successful. More to the point, he has to share the screen and story with the other two “leads” as well as a biggish cast of supporting characters.

In keeping with the idea of dividing this movie up by its characters (which if nothing else could make it easier to write about), let’s start with David Dunn (Bruce Willis).

In Glass, Dunn has been quietly engaged with his street-level vigilante thing since the ending of Unbreakable. With his wife passed on, it’s just he and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat-Clark returning 20 years later… a logistical feat in itself) operating a security supplies business that is mostly a front for their superhero operation. The press calls Dunn “The Overseer” and while he’s got a bit of a following, mostly he’s a target for law enforcement. Joseph is his “guy in the chair” (thanks Spider-man: Homecoming). We see a side of Dunn in this that we didn’t really get to see in Unbreakable, where he was mostly mopey and depressed due, it turns out, to not fulfilling his “purpose”. A metaphor for an artist unable to express their gifts, perhaps. At the end of the movie, that seemed to change. Here, Dunn smiles and cracks jokes and seems to be mostly enjoying his life even though it means confronting horror. He gets to do that, be the guy who puts it right. That’s about as good as it gets for both him and Willis’s performance, though.

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A showdown!

As hinted by the ending of Split, Dunn’s next big challenge is going to be tracking “The Horde”, which we know is really a name for the 24 personalities that live inside the head of Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy). Though he let Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) go, he’s back to kidnapping teenage girls so that The Beast can feed on them or whatever. Dunn finds him using his ability to tell when someone’s done something wrong. The surprise here is that we’re getting this so early in the movie. They have a big fight but are soon captured by the authorities.

So far so good, but this is about when the movie reveals what most of it is really going to be. It reveals this not by presenting scenes and having the audience engage with the narrative, but by repeatedly explaining itself and hand-holding its ideas to the extent that it feels more like a lecture or essay than a story. This wouldn’t be a Shyamalan movie if something wasn’t being held back, of course, but then that is explained to us as well.

With all the subtlety of a shoe.

The authorities remand them to the custody of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who is a psychiatrist that specializes in “a specific kind of delusion of grandeur”. She has brought together Dunn, Crumb, and even old Elijah for a limited window where she hopes to convince them they are delusional so that they can all… avoid more serious consequences for their crimes? The only reason this feels plausible is that Elijah has actually been incarcerated for 20 years. Still, the movie acts like Dunn’s crimes are on par with a mass murderer and a serial killer and that’s one of the first hints about the streamlining that Shyamalan is going to engage in. It’s an ethical streamlining, meant to eventually support (with about the same structural integrity as wafer cookies) the grandiose, message-driven ending.

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Paulson is pretty good. Carrying the trademark quiet, earnest dialogue with grace.

What ensues is an extended second act that is mostly Paulson “evaluating” our three leads. This means long and repetitive scenes of talking about events we’ve seen as if they couldn’t have happened the way we saw them, returning to the very thin “comics are real” meta commentary over and over, and a lot of screen time spent on the supporting characters as they… read comics as primary sources so they can argue with Staple. Joseph, Casey, and Elijah’s mom, Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard) are all caught up in this too. Each of them has their own relationship to the possibility of the fantastic, the actions of their focus character, and what Staple is doing to/with them. This stuff isn’t about character development, it’s about presenting an essay to the audience. A clumsy attempt at deconstruction long after the reconstruction already happened. If you want to deconstruct the stuff that Unbreakable and Split left us with, I get that, but is this really a satisfying way to do it?

In some very noticeable and embarrassing ways, Glass feels like a very insecure movie. It hand-holds the ideas about comics and superpowered people that were far more gracefully expressed in Unbreakable, where the main difference was a symbolic relationship and a brevity of explanation/exposition. Both of these helpful framing devices are lacking in Glass. It tells you about comic books a dozen or more times, repeating very shallow ideas about the relationship between mythos and reality. And as it’s done in laborious exposition, it lacks the brevity that made such a ridiculous idea work in its predecessor. Split, for what it’s worth, only got away with it by ignoring the meta stuff until the very end. As a result, this doesn’t really feel like the work of someone who really understands what comic books are or how they’re made, but who fixates on them as a broad cultural symbol. One that doesn’t really support the things they’re trying to do with it. All the more interesting ideas about the role comic books and superheroes play in our culture, some of which Unbreakable did express, are dropped in favor of shallow, face-value meta commentary about origin stories, showdowns, and comic parallels of the in-universe characters. Comics which seem to be made by no human hand or else Shyamalan might be forced to really commit to the idea that comic book writers are actually reacting to real events and not just each other’s IP. For a movie that treats comic books like holy texts, it’s weird that the closest thing we get to the process by which they even come to exist is the shopkeeper in a comic book store. Honestly, I think Shyamalan probably feels more kinship with that figure than he would with a Warren Ellis or a Brian K. Vaughn.

Anyway. Let’s get to Crumb. For most of Split, I kind of cringed through the vanity of the plot device that DID (Disassociate Identity Disorder) represents in the movie. Crumb is, seemingly, just another character with a severe mental illness that murders people in an exploitation film. Not a good look. However, McAvoy’s performance (another kind of vanity perhaps) is very good and though the optics and subtext of Split impeded my enjoyment, the ending that makes it part of the Unbreakable universe (such as it is) retroactively allowed me to see it for the goofy shit that it is. That made a return to the same stuff much more enjoyable in Glass and I think it’ll be clear to most that McAvoy is actually the main draw now. While I think it may be unintentional, it’s clear that Shyamalan loves the character and performance and the focus on him in Glass seems to arise from that. Might be distracting for people who either don’t especially like the character/performance or for people who expected a better balance between the leads, but welcome to Glass.

I think there’s also an argument to be made that Shyamalan isn’t quite done with problematic depictions of the mentally ill, or the practice of psychology/psychiatry. There’s a clumsy “lobotomy” analogue that is a plot device in the movie, which takes things to a point where it’s sort of impossible to deny that Shyamalan really wants to make the audience half-believe that Staple is telling the truth and the movie’s going to cheat away all the “super” stuff we’ve spent the better part of three movies bearing witness to. I think this is what’s supposed to pass for deconstruction in this movie. Of course, this is but one more of the many clumsy and frustrating bends in the path it takes to its clumsy and frustrating finale. Again, welcome to Glass.

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Looking right at us? Nah, it’s at Willis. Almost like he’s saying “take your money and be quiet, don’t even try to upstage me”.

Crumb is really an interesting fulcrum for this movie and a more in-depth discussion of Shyamalan’s strengths as a storyteller. See, the dude has always been good at making movies about empathy and how outsiders deserve it, too. I didn’t think they fully made it work in Split but I could see what the triangle of Crumb, Casey, and the psychologist (Betty Buckley) was going for. On its own, it’s kind of a tragedy that Kevin is so broken that he is both an assailant and a victim simultaneously. This thread makes its way into Glass and is maybe the best thing about it. When Split ended, I thought “well, Casey probably has some kind of psychic empathy powers or something”. Glass continues to hint that she maybe does, but one of Shyamalan’s weird choices is to restrain this, even though doubling down would have probably helped sell the whole premise of the movie better. And it’s not like the ideas he wants us to walk away with have any of that same restraint applied.

Anyway. Empathy. That’s kind of what all or most of his movies are really about. This part of Glass only really works when it comes to Crumb. By now most people will have heard that all the three leads die fairly ignominiously near the end of Glass, but it’s only Kevin’s death that has an emotional impact that feels earned. Casey’s connection to Kevin and refusal to let him sink so deep into the Horde that he is irredeemable is fairly moving stuff, when allowed to be brought to its full culmination.

What is frustrating is that this narrative and emotional payoff is not reflected anywhere else in Glass. Some people have said that it’s a deliberately frustrating movie, meant to antagonize and confront the audience to some extent. I don’t really buy that at all. There’s a strawman being erected there. One part of it is that people wanted the big action or spectacle that Glass mostly denies us. I don’t know who would go to this movie, unless they were completely unfamiliar with its context, and expect that. And anyway, it does kind of go there. Or enough to be satisfying. The second part is that the frustrated viewers are ones who had specific expectations that were stymied by Shyamalan’s bolder choices. Don’t really buy that, either. There’s nothing especially bold about Glass, and the frustration comes less from being foiled and more from having to sit through Shyamalan’s essay and trying to find the movie somewhere within it. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have a few “wants” for this movie which went unfulfilled. I do have to acknowledge that.

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Which brings me to the titular character.

Though he’s basically catatonic for most of it, Elijah arrives late in the movie more or less intact. He’s the same guy as he was in Unbreakable, if a little more unhinged. The 20 years of incarceration have made him no less ruthless and no less manic about his theories. The most horrific moment in this movie is probably the casual way he dispatches one of the orderlies, the kind one, which is another flash of Shyamalan’s hand moving just behind the increasingly, bafflingly thin veneer of this movie full of sock puppets.

Elijah has a plan. It seems pretty crazy and Elijah-ish and is delivered through the arch, comic book villain style dialogue that was, in Unbreakable, a clever way to hint at both the character’s true role as well as his nature as an outsider. By the way, Elijah Price is my favorite Samuel L. Jackson character in a long history of noteworthy and iconic movie characters. Well, it was until Glass. If I squint real hard, I can salvage my relationship to the character in spite of this movie, but only just. Elijah’s plan seems to be a big spectacle action sequence, with the twist being that it isn’t about who wins or any kind of ethical stakes (hint hint, audience) but simply about revealing undeniable evidence that these guys are real.

When the movie has spent a significant amount of time playing with the idea that it’s a delusion, which is a cheat on its face since we see the things these guys can do in three movies now, it’s refreshing that Elijah still has zero doubts. However, the plan is a just a package for a deeper plan. One that, in a better movie, would have been a huge bewildering moment like it is here. But also a narratively, dramatically, and thematically successful one. Which it is not. The plan is never to get to the big public fight, but to have cameras capture a more intimate fight at the mental hospital where they’ve been being kept. Thanks to Staple’s zealous security measures, Elijah has everything he needs.

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The lower budget means the movie is far cheaper looking than Unbreakable or even Split, but every now and then, some stylistic finesse is present.

So perhaps the movie’s biggest twist is intertwined with three others that arrive at about the same time. This is probably the kind of thing that lends itself to claims that the movie is “complex” or “convoluted” though I maintain that it’s not worthy of either word. The first twist is the above ruse. The next three are: Elijah inadvertently “created” The Horde in the same event that created Dunn, that everybody dies, and finally that supers are real and Staple is part of a plot to keep them suppressed.

Let’s take these things one at a time.

There’s a good amount of hinting that Kevin’s dad has some role in all this. Unlike some of the other twists and events, the moment where we all (audience and characters alike) find out that Kevin’s dad died in the same train accident that Dunn survived is actually supported. It lets us adjust to a new context. However, the execution of the moment owes something to Batman v. Superman of all things, and might even be a bit of a nod to that movie. Which… why? What? Anyway, it’s a big ol’ “Martha!!!!” moment and it pretty much detonates the first layer of Elijah’s plan. Maybe in a way he didn’t quite expect, but it certainly works out for him. If we look at it from the perspective of the themes of the movie and its ultimate message, doesn’t it make things a bit too intimate, a bit too comic booky to be plausible in the way the ending wants it to be? Like, if Elijah’s terrorism actually creates the only other characters he’s sure are supers, doesn’t it connect them on a level that can’t possibly be shared by others? I wouldn’t call this a plot-hole, but a concession to the goofy comic book logic that underlies Glass (and consequently the other two movies). It’s not that this logic is a bad thing, it’s that I don’t think Shyamalan really thought it through. It works against the other priorities of this movie, as if he never quite got the balance right like he did in Unbreakable. Splits balance is completely off, too, by the way. Which is why that movie has its detractors and has been roundly criticized as being a pretty regressive portrayal of mental illness and its consequences (even though it’s been said that Crumb is based on a real guy).

Moving on.

That everybody dies is why people are getting the idea that Shyamalan is antagonizing us. But I would say that this, in itself, isn’t an inherently bad move. I get the idea of making martyrs or symbols of these characters, especially because the movie makes sure to tell us that’s where this is going. In execution, though, it’s really fucking messy and reflects more of that ethical streamlining that I mentioned before. That’s because Glass really wants its titular character to be low-key messianic, so it won’t do to have the ethics reflect Dunn’s actual heroism and Crumb or Elijah’s actual villainy. Elijah sees himself as the creator of superheroes, and aims to do more of that at all costs. Dunn’s death is the most ignominious of all, drowned in a puddle like a rat as if to say “this character was never the point, heroism was never the point”. I really think that point could have been made a bit better, but I do acknowledge that some of my issues with this are just down to personal feelings about the character. Dunn is the reason I give a shit about this trilogy at all. I have a hard time believing that it isn’t the same for people that were fans of Unbreakable, but I’ve heard people flat out say this is a me thing so fair enough.

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Just let me love you my way!

That brings us to the idea that the supers are real and there’s a “normie Illuminati” that keeps them down. Well, that’s all fine and everything but the way the information is delivered is the height of bad exposition. Like, Staple looks down at Dunn and it’s from his POV as if she’s talking directly to us, and says some really comic booky shit about how this way has worked for “10,000 years” and other nonsense. This kind of stuff snaps you back to the goofy reality of the Unbreakable universe, which is trying oh so hard to have it both ways (comic book goofy, real world dour). Again, this twist isn’t a problem. It’s the way it is delivered. The clover tattoos and creepy rooms of people pretending to be normal until it’s just them… that stuff works well and should have been sprinkled all through the movie. Compare this to the way the cult was handled in Hereditary, where by the time we’re getting the info-dump we’ve been structurally supported in a very sharp adjustment to the context of the story. Glass, for all that the movie has been sitting in Shyamalan’s head for 19 years (supposedly), feels like it’s a draft or two shy of nailing down a better way to deliver stuff like this.

Then comes the big finale I’ve been talking about. Now I can really dig into it and bring together some of the stray points I’ve been making above.

The ending is really about Elijah’s big gambit to get a message out to the world that people like he, Crumb, and Dunn exist. His voice-over guides us through a final scene where Staple is thwarted, the “mere mortal” supporting characters come together on a train station bench that looks intentionally like a church pew, and the music swells over a slow pulling away of the camera as people see Elijah’s big message on their devices. This ending is such a misfire but also such a good entry point into a lot of further points of discussion that I’ll be breaking it down again.

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You mean to tell me that murder is bad?

First, Staple. So there are people who might argue that she’s the audience surrogate and her plans and frustration represent a canny wink Shyamalan is giving to his “true fans” that he fully expects people to walk in trying to figure the movie out or diagnose it (and him) only to be screaming in impotent rage when he pulls the rug out from under us. Not only do I think I just made that whole take up right now, but I fully believe any version of that is giving the guy way too much credit. Even if it were true, it’s another self-indulgent flourish and a case of Shyamalan’s inability to keep his ego and pretensions from derailing the text. In other words, it would make this movie clever but not intelligent — a distinction that a lot of people have a hard time making.

The supporting characters are a welcome element of the movie for the most part. I have some issues with Mrs. Price and how she relates to the movie’s ethical dodges, but in general I think that they become unlikely allies in a struggle to raise awareness does make sense. It echoes the extent to which Glass is functioning as an allegory for the way mental health or genius or whatever isolates and alienates people, with the support and empathy of close friends or family being vital to not only save them from succumbing to their problems but also in combating stigmas and ignorance in the wider world. To the extent that Shaymalan infuses all three movies with these ideas, and probably all his work, Glass does have something to say… if only it could say it better or concentrate more on that subtext than on pretentious attempts to “solve superhero movies”.

A side-note on Mrs. Price and the ethics of Glass. I acknowledge there’s a take on Mrs. Price where she’s a mother who loves her son in spite of his crimes and flaws. Like any mother might if their child turned out to be a monster. That’s definitely in there. At the same time, she’s an enabler who we have no reason to think sees Elijah as, even partially, the monster he definitely is. By extension, it undermines the rightful perception the audience should have that Elijah is a monster. That’s something I think the movie does intentionally to make the character’s messianic martyrdom palatable. She never challenges Elijah’s theories or, more vitally, his means of testing them. She talks to him as a confidant, a kind of low key co-conspirator. In order to have any kind of ethical sense, Glass needed for her to be the voice that challenges Elijah’s misdeeds. Instead, she’s thrown under the bus of the streamlining Shyamalan seems to be doing with the end goal of making Elijah acceptable as a messianic figure. As a test, imagine that ending delivered by Dunn instead. Imagine Elijah’s plan as being one where he positions the symbol of hope he created as the actual symbol of hope rather than himself.

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“HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT NAME!?!?!?!!!?!”

This all ties into the way we’re supposed to read the ending. I have a big problem with this since Unbreakable had an ethos about responsibility, violence, and crime. As if he’s changed his mind about that, Shyamalan dismisses “order” (which the Three Clover people claim to represent, silly as that is in the “real world” they occupy) as surely as he dismisses David Dunn as a character, favoring the chaos and upheaval he’s trying to represent through Elijah and, to a lesser extent, Crumb (consider The Beast’s preachy ravings from a sociopolitical perspective).

I think Unbreakable is about how order can arise from chaos, with Dunn representing a rebalancing in the face of the chaos Elijah created to create him. Glass lampshades this, having Staple exposit that there’s a certain self-corrective mechanism to all this. Making Glass about the tyranny of a normie-imposed order on top of a seemingly natural order of supers rising to challenge supers. But Glass subverts that tyranny, putting it at a sort of cross-purposes with Unbreakable‘s ethos that I find jarring, not clever. Though I suppose there’s something to be said for the fact that this analysis is even possible. It’s a lot more interesting if you consider it with regard to what Glass is saying allegorically about talented or creative people, though. I mean, I say this to show that it’s not a failure to understand any potential depth or layers of thematic or symbolic content in Glass. I think I understand this movie, but even the ability to dredge up these ideas doesn’t retroactively convince me that the movie works.

It seems clear to me that Elijah’s mass murdering is meant to be brushed aside as unimportant to the larger point. I think that’s an ugly turn for the story to take, honestly, and it fully undermines the seemingly positive message Glass wants to have. I paid attention to the weirdly extended scenes of Daryl (Adam David Thompson), the seemingly kind orderly that Elijah murders. Unlike Pierce (Luke Kirby), a dickhole orderly that The Beast hugs to death, Daryl gets a bit of time to talk about healthy living and shit. Almost as if Shyamalan is trying to say something denigrating about this guy, who must die so that Elijah can martyr himself over a pile of more bodies. A thing we’re supposed to, judging by the cinematic language of the final scene, celebrate. I just don’t buy it. Sorry, not sorry.

It seems like the right way to take the final scene of the movie is that this video will get out in the world, letting other supers know they aren’t alone. It represents the world changing, even if Shyamalan uses one of the most implausible ways of showing that.  It’s just a big stretch that this video is uploaded and then EVERYONE suddenly opens it on their phones. Most people would find out about it on social media, or the news, or youtube and then debate its veracity. We don’t need to see that for Shyamalan to make his point, but I think a text over freeze frame ending like Unbreakable‘s could have delivered this ending without the messy and somewhat cringe-inducingly naive execution. It suggests that the changed world is an inherently better world but there’s no real support for that idea. A more downbeat tone for the ending would have left the audience with enough ambiguity for this to be interesting. Instead, we’re back to the Elijah is the Super Messiah problem, which I don’t think is a thing that makes Glass edgy or interesting. If less effort had been made to gloss over Elijah’s monstrous behavior, if his ideas had ever been challenged by anyone close to him, if he’d acknowledged his own binary morality in any way worthy of his supposed intelligence, and if Staple herself hadn’t fawned over him like a fangirl… well, it’d be a different movie wouldn’t it?

A fucking better one. One that doesn’t try to have it both ways.

Case in point, another problem is the cheat of using the “language” of cinematic universes to drive the grandiosity of this ending home. Like Elijah tells us (and I keep hearing people repeat to this movie’s critics), this is really “an origin story”. Whose origin story? Those supers out there, of course, who don’t know how special they really are… and need a mass murder to explain it to them with a youtube video. If this gives you the creepy feeling that Shyamalan watches a lot of political youtube essayists, or that is the essential level of his depth of thought about “the issues”, you’re not alone. But that’s maybe a bridge too far in terms of speculating about his inner world. The real issue here is that such a cinematic universe is decidedly unlikely and yet the consequences of this movie are offloaded to the cloud of potentiality that never has to be realized. Shyamalan can sit back and dust off his hands feeling like the job’s well done, the equivalent of a guy who reads a great book and says “I could have written that”. I just cannot separate the way this movie sets up a typical comic book spectacle only to subvert it with the idea that Shyamalan doesn’t think much of those movies. Setting up his own sandbox only to refuse to lower himself to play in it just seems smug to me. And no, not because I really want or needed to see this play out. It’s because the “origin story” of Glass is a cheat delivered by Word of God into the text of the movie itself. It’s fucking not an origin story. It’s a third entry in a very long-shot trilogy and it ends the stories of the three main characters with a great deal of finality. The “origin story” idea is just more of the movie telling you what it is and expecting you to ignore what you’ve seen and nod your head along because “whoa, man, you mean it was an origin story this whole time!? Mind blown!!!”

glass

You’re only human, after all.

But no. There aren’t really any “big ideas” in Glass. It’s just pretentious claptrap. An undergrad media studies essay that should have been 300 words but is stretched to 3000 to fill an assignment requirement. It’s Shyamalan playing with action figures (speaking of sock puppets) but not lowering himself to smash them together or commit to fun, instead seemingly looking down on that while reflexively protecting himself from people who might give him the side-eye while he sits his action figures down and lights them moodily to have long, boring conversations about whether that’s what they really are.

It’s Lucy Deep. The characters are not the only ones with delusions of grandeur here. You might say the whole movie is an argument Shyamalan is having with himself about whether he’s a genius or not. I’d say the lack of sophistication with which that argument takes place makes it interesting for the wrong reasons. Maybe Shyamalan doesn’t really want to be like Spielberg but more a Charlie Kaufmann?

I really think the key part is a misalignment of focus. If Shyamalan could have forgotten about the critics and audience expectations and his own need to be important for like a minute, we’d probably have the movie that Glass keeps saying it is. That movie might feature a little bit too much of the vogue conflation of libertarian identity politics with the very idea of super-powered people (looking at you Snyder and Bird) for my tastes, but so what… it’s not like Glass leaves that shit out of the proceedings and it’s hardly the most objectionable part so it would still be more interesting and worthwhile than this mess. Glass is just too wrapped up in the ego of its creator to stand on its own as a functional story. This is probably not the case for any of his other movies, particularly Lady in the Water where he comes closest to this problem. And it is a problem. It’s why it’s important not to take Glass at face value. Especially since you can’t have a take on Glass that isn’t informed largely by what Shyamalan is saying the movie is in the script. Even critics are just reacting to it with the skepticism it deserves.

That said, I know I’m committing the critic’s sin of comparing this Glass to one that never happened a few too many times. I know, I know. Hopefully it doesn’t undermine too much of my more salient criticisms. It’s probably still worth seeing just because even when he’s blowing it, Shyamalan is always at least interesting, but I would go into this with some skepticism so that you don’t come out of it parroting its “truth” without stopping to think about whether it’s actually even a story as opposed to an expensive, pretentious, and indulgent meta-fictional exercise.


For a more concise and very different take that doesn’t have the problems I think some defenses of Glass have had, see my friend Sterling Woods’s review on his site (which I also write for), sirrwaka.com.

For a long argument about this movie between the two of us, where a lot of the above thoughts are in a more raw state, check out our weekly podcast, Sirr’s Movies.

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