Glass Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Film Sinks Under Its Own Philosophical Weight

The film is a fascinating combination of ambition, hubris, rich ideas and unintentionally comical ponderousness
Glass Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Film Sinks Under Its Own Philosophical Weight

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark

At one point in Glass, psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple tells her patients at the Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Research Hospital that she specializes in delusions of grandeur. Like so much else in this film, this dialogue is meta. Ellie of course is trying to convince the men she's handling – the physically fragile but brilliant Elijah Price, the indestructible David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb who contains 24 personalities otherwise known as 'The Horde' – that they are not superheroes. But in fact this entire film suffers from delusions of grandeur.  It's straining for heft and a moody mythology and sinking under its own philosophical weight. As I watched, I could almost imagine writer-director M. Night Shyamalan pulling a Gaitonde from Sacred Games – you know, kabhi kabhi lagta hai apun hi bhagwan hai. 

Glass is a fascinating combination of ambition, hubris, rich ideas and unintentionally comical ponderousness. It's a train-wreck that you can't look away from. Most of the story takes place at the psychiatric facility where the three principal characters are locked up. We get their individual stories but also a meta-narrative on superheroes, suffering as a route to strength, the importance of belief and the significance and structure of comic books.  So at one point, a character is commenting on the action taking place with lines like, "That sounds like the bad guys teaming up."

The dialogue is as leaden as the screenplay. Actors, keeping a straight face, have to say gems like, "You should kneel before him. He is the broken" or "There is a questionable cloud in your frontal lobe".  Sarah Paulson, who delivers the last one, tries to look convincing as she determinedly struts around the facility in high heels. Incidentally, there are exactly two men looking after these three dangerous patients. We know that's not going to end well.

Bruce Willis as the unbreakable David Dunn seems to be in a sour stupor. Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah spends most of the film heavily sedated. His character only occasionally twitches his eyes or lips.  His halo-like hair is used nicely though.  When Elijah finally springs into action, he changes into a monogrammed cravat and fitted purple suit – which of course ties in to the purple jumper we first see him in when he's a little boy and the purple paper that his first comic book comes wrapped in. All of which happens in the first film Unbreakable.

Despite the slow burn, Elijah is the most emotionally rich of the three. In the end when he comes into his own as the mastermind, you get a glimpse into his fractured soul.  It's a testament to Shyamalan's artistry that he makes you sympathize with a mass murderer. Meanwhile James McAvoy , the lead of the second film Split, makes up for the other two with an array of dazzling personalities – he seamlessly switches between the 9-year-old Hedwig, the prim Ms. Patricia and of course the monstrous Beast, who is described as the highest form of human evolution. It's exhausting and exciting.

It's also exciting to see Dunn, Elijah and Kevin together.  I went in expecting fireworks but the turgid storytelling traps them. Honestly, I did my best to stay invested in Glass but about halfway through we get a scene in which Ellie is doing a group therapy session with all three in a large pink room. That pink made it impossible for me to take anything that happened after seriously.

If you do decide to see Glass, I recommend that you first revisit Unbreakable and Split – the three make up Shyamalan's Eastrail 177 trilogy. Without that you are going to be even more dazed and confused.

I'm going with two stars.

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