By: Daniel Volfson
There is no working director for whom I feel as much sympathy for as M. Night Shyamalan. He seems to be persistently fighting a losing battle. He’s clearly a uniquely talented director, but he’s fated to be measured against the phenomenal commercial and critical reception of his debut film, “The Sixth Sense.” To make matters worse, the films succeeding “The Sixth Sense” were, for the most part, abysmal commercial and critical failures. So Shyamalan is at once working to restore the reputation he earned from “The Sixth Sense” and dispel the notion that he’s a one-hit wonder. There’s so much pressure on him to create a redemptive movie that he is inevitably going to be subjected to stringent critical demands. Glass does not have the same verve and raw creative energy as “The Sixth Sense” or even as some of his lesser films, but it’s still a doubtlessly decent movie if viewed independently of all the hype and critical expectation which have steadily accumulated over the past year.
The premise of the movie suggests that Shyamalan was intending for the film to finally clear his name, or at least do something in the way of reducing the critical backlash he’s faced over the years. It’s supposed to tie up loose threads and give a final and satisfying conclusion to “Unbreakable” and “Split,” his two box-office hit superhero movies. I think he was so eager to make a movie which would combine and amplify his successes that he got too ahead of himself. He became so taken with his lofty idea that he had to make stretches in plot to accommodate the grand vision he had in his mind. Partly because of this, the final result lacks an urgency and a certain propulsiveness; it feels watered-down and at many times, forced.
The basic plotline should strike you as thin from the very start: David Dunn (the man with superhuman strength in “Unbreakable”), Elijah Price (AKA Mr.Glass, the man with a towering intellect and paper-thin bones in “Unbreakable”) and Kevin Crumb (the man with a raging multiple personality disorder and a repressed animal ferocity in “Split”) are captured and held captive by an ominous female psychiatrist who claims she can cure them of their delusions of grandeur. Mr.Glass uses his prodigious intellectual powers to try to make a prison escape and set up an ultimate showdown between Kevin and David which he hopes will once and for all avail the masses of their disbelief in superheros. I don’t expect that commercial films should be based on rigorous scientific models, but there’s a point after which the pseudoscience wears itself too thin. The movie is riddled with so much overdone pop psychology and radically oversimplified science that it begins to feel stale and preposterous after the first half-hour.
Like most Hollywood movies nowadays, “Glass” champions the love-overcomes-everything-in-the-end sentiment. This theme has become so prevalent in modern filmmaking that it’s basically a given that when you go to the theater you’re going to see some variation of it. For the most part, his take on this theme is sound and passable, but it veers into the ludicrous when a high school girl falls in love with Crumb because she can intimate the wounded and vulnerable soul beneath the demented exterior. Shyamalan was clearly aiming for this to have emotional weight, but it’s very hard not to laugh when the girl tries to express her love while Crumb is spasmodically lapsing into his 9-year old persona.
The finale reminded me of the same sorts of lesson-teaching television shows I used to watch as a kid (not by choice but because those were the only programs available). I was always sorely disappointed to find out that those episodes always had a moralizing catch to them. The concluding sermon of “Glass” left me with a not dissimilar feeling of dread. The message Shyamalan’s trying to communicate is hokey and jejune: Don’t trust the haters and believe in your virtually unlimited potential.
“Glass” falls back on surefire Hollywood tropes. It does not have the same fresh, innovative force of Shyamalan’s greatest movies. In spite of this, it’s still as, if not more, watchable as most of the movies running in theaters. The actors have a particular sort of presence which makes the movie engaging despite its ill-conceived plot devices. Shyamalan has a special talent for creating foreboding and sinister atmospheres, and his gifts are on full display here. In some precious moments, like the childhood flashbacks, we can even see snatches of his directorial talent seep through.