An Underwhelming Finale
In 2016 Split was released and received good reviews, seemingly placing M. Night Shyamalan’s directorial career back on track, following a rather dire succession of releases. However, while the tale boasted a fascinating killer at its centre suffering from multiple personality disorder, what drew more attention was the end of the film. In its final moments, Split revealed an aged Bruce Willis in a diner reprising his role as David Dunn, a real-life superhero; a role he had first played in the cult classic Unbreakable. The twist proved pivotal and has caused a lot of hype over the release of Glass this year, the final instalment in Shyamalan’s unofficial superhero trilogy.
Glass refers to the character Elijah, first introduced in Unbreakable; a supervillain whose strength is his phenomenal mind. Played expertly by Samuel L. Jackson, Elijah insists on the self-imposed name Mr Glass on account of his extremely fragile bone structure. As he wheels himself around in a wheelchair, he is not the typical visage of a criminal mastermind, striking up more of a parallel physically with Professor Xavier than say someone like Magneto. Yet he is sinister nonetheless, which is why he has been placed in a mental institution, left to live a measly existence.
However, he soon has company. After a disjointed opening, it is revealed that David Dunn is acting as a vigilante superhero, trying to find the wanted serial killer Kevin Wendell Crumb who was the main character in the previously mentioned Split. Following a fight between the pair, police capture them both and place them in the same mental institution as Elijah.
The mental institution serves as the main backdrop for the events to follow, clearly riffing on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Elijah, Kevin and David are all examined by Dr Ellie Staple, played with strange placidity by Sarah Paulson. She questions their superhuman abilities, shunting it as an illness rather than a sign of being exceptional. Dr Staple’s dehumanised demeanour towards her patients gives her a strong air of Nurse Ratched, again showing parallels with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Yet, Glass is not about all three characters in equal measure. Unbreakable was the study of David Dunn and Split was the study of Kevin Crumb and so it transpires that Glass is the study of Elijah. It is his story, which seems unlikely at the start as the character sits motionless, seemingly absent with nothing to say. However, this soon changes as the mastermind begins to take control of proceedings, but even so Elijah is never the most interesting character. That honour falls to Kevin, played brilliantly by James McAvoy who steals the show.
How McAvoy manages to remain genuinely believable as all these strange characters, from the upper-class Patricia to the 9-year-old Hedwig, is bewildering. Throughout, Kevin’s multiple personalities fight for attention amidst pressure from the most dangerous persona, ‘the beast’. As well as this, we also gain a deeper understanding of Kevin’s previous personal trauma which enhances a sense of pathos for the tragic character.
Action is interspersed throughout as M. Night Shyamalan takes his time to build tension and drama. A lot of questions are raised, particularly the meaning and need for superheroes but by its finale, Glass still has a lot of unanswered questions. The entire trilogy has been asking the question of the impact of superheroes on society, but the finale of Glass fails to respond to this in a truly fulfilling way.
Glass is not a perfect film. While some scenes are shot beautifully, other scenes have point of view shots which are purely disorientating. The disjointed feel of the cinematography is essentially representative of the whole film. It never reaches the heights of what has come before it and while Elijah, David and Kevin remain fascinating figures to watch, the underwhelming ending is not the conclusion these characters deserve.
– Stefan Frost