Glass – M. Night Shyamalan’s shattering comic-book thriller

Screenwriter, director and producer M. Night Shyamalan has provoked the imagination of audiences around the world for almost two decades, creating films that have amassed more than $3 billion worldwide, with mind-bending thrillers like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Visit, and most recently, Split.

Shyamalan began making films at a young age in his hometown near Philadelphia and by 16 he had completed 45 short films. Upon finishing high school he attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study filmmaking. During his final year at NYU, Shyamalan wrote Praying with Anger, a semiautobiographical screenplay about a student from the U.S. who goes to India and finds himself a stranger in his homeland.  In the years that followed, Shyamalan wrote Stuart Little and completed his first mainstream feature, Wide Awake, before The Sixth Sense catapulted Shyamalan into stardom and he became one of the most sought-after young filmmakers in Hollywood.

With Glass, Shyamalan weaves together the unforgettable narratives of two of his visionary original films—2000’s Unbreakable and 2016’s Split—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller.

From Unbreakable, Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn as does Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, known also by his pseudonym Mr. Glass. Joining from Split are James Mcavoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the multiple identities who reside within him, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the only captive to survive an encounter with The Beast.

Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

Evolution of a Trilogy – From Unbreakable to Glass

Long before he started making his 2016 smash, Split, M. Night Shyamalan intended for it to be far more than just an electrifying stand-alone film. In the terrifying, breakneck thriller, James McAvoy delivered a powerhouse performance as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man with dissociative identity disorder whose more sinister personalities kidnap three teenage girls and feed the “impure” girls to another of Crumb’s personalities, a superhuman creature known as The Beast.

It was a riveting and powerful story on its own merits, but what no one outside of Shyamalan’s inner circle knew, of course, was that the master filmmaker also planned for Split to exist in the same narrative universe of an iconic film he had made 16 years earlier – 2000’s Unbreakable – and that Split would form the connective tissue of the most unprecedented and unexpected trilogy in film history.

In Unbreakable, Bruce Willis played security guard David Dunn who becomes the sole survivor of a train wreck, and questions what would happen if superheroes were real. At the insistence of a mysterious, rare-comic-book collector named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who suffers from a medical condition that makes his bones shatter on the slightest impact, Dunn comes to believe that he has super strength and is impervious to injury or illness. Not only that, he has the ability to see or sense the evil deeds of others simply by touching them.    As Dunn accepts this new reality and begins to exercise his powers, he becomes a vigilante warrior, saving the innocent and punishing the criminal. He finds his true calling. In the film’s final scene, Dunn goes to thank Price, but in a moment of physical contact between the two men, Dunn sees, to his horror, that Price has caused the train wreck that Dunn survived, and has committed other acts of terrorism that have killed hundreds, all in an attempt to find Dunn. Why? Because if Dunn is unbreakable and a superhero, and Price is Dunn’s opposite, then Price, at last, knows for certain who he himself is: a supervillain, Mr. Glass.

Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan’s vision was to create a trilogy unlike any before.

“I want each film be a stand-alone in its power, in its language, in its originality,” he says. And that the artistic whole of the trilogy exceeds the sum of its parts. “The three films honor each other as brothers and sisters,” he says. “That would be the hope.” Adds producer Ashwin Rajan, “It’s two worlds, two previous films, colliding. Creatively, it’s about tying those two worlds together seamlessly, both from a production standpoint and on a story level, to execute Night’s vision.”

Where Unbreakable examined a man whose modest self-image had blinded him to his own true power, and Split explored the lethal power of a monster created by a mind wounded by trauma, Glass delves into the root of identity itself: whether we are objectively who we are or whether our minds can shape and ultimately determine our physical realities. If you believe you’re a superhero, are you one, even if your belief is a delusion?

“I’ve been interested in psychology, and the psychology of therapy, since college, so those themes have been very organic,” Shyamalan says. “Over time, the research and the story start feeding each other. With Split, I’d be reading about dissociative identity disorder, and then I’d think, ‘Oh, that could be a great moment.’ Unbreakable started the same way. I had snapped both of my ACLs in my knees from playing basketball and I had spent a lot of time in rehab and physical therapy. That informed the whole of Unbreakable.”

At the beginning of Glass, we discover that in the 16 years since Unbreakable, David Dunn has become a legitimate vigilante hero, known as The Overseer, protecting the citizens of Philadelphia.  Crumb’s sinister personalities, The Horde, meanwhile, have kidnapped four more teenage girls to feed to The Beast. Police have been unable to find them. Dunn needs to find Crumb, and fast.

When he does, the epic battle will result in both Dunn and Crumb being captured and detained at Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Research Hospital under the forced care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who specializes in a specific type of delusion of grandeur: people who believe they are comic-book characters. Notably, she has a third patient suffering from the same alleged affliction, a man who has been housed at Raven Hill for 16 years: Elijah Price. Price, now permanently in a wheelchair and heavily sedated, seems a shell of his former self.

For Shyamalan, the joining together of these characters, from these two films 16 years apart, surprised him in unexpected ways. “I’ve never done anything like this,” he says. “So it was very nostalgic for me. It represented a large section of my career, so I felt a great sense of emotion, and a great sense of urgency to do right by it,” he says. “People are excited to see this movie because of their connection to one or both of the two movies, and that’s a strange relationship to the audience I’ve never had before.” Indeed, all of his films are original creations. He’s never even made a sequel. “Usually people are coming to a movie of mine because I’m telling a story that seems intriguing to them and that they don’t know much about. But this time, the audience has ownership. They have expectations. That’s a really different process, and one I took seriously.”

As a bonus, Shyamalan was able to incorporate never-before-seen footage from Unbreakable into Glass for scenes representing David Dunn or Joseph’s memories. “It was amazing, because these scenes that we cut out of Unbreakable have always been in my head, and I was thinking these scenes could work into the movie if I wrote them in the right way,” he says. “We were really excited to put them in the movie, and the audience can’t believe what they’re looking at. In one scene there’s a boy, and then you see him at 25 years old in the very next scene. There’s no CGI. That’s really both of them. And it’s the same thing with Bruce Willis. To see someone age eighteen years right in front of you is a powerful thing.”

The story of Glass, producer Rajan says, “just feels epic. There’s a poignancy and an inspiration to it.” And the scale of the film, says fellow producer Marc Bienstock, is much larger. “Split was more contained, with the girls held captive in just a few rooms, and Glass is more expansive,” Bienstock says. “The scope is bigger, and there’s considerably more action.”

Executive producer Steven Schneider says the result is a film unlike any ever made. “Every film Night makes is unique, and in this particular case, it’s combining different genres into a wholly distinctive narrative,” Schneider says. “It’s something nobody has seen before. And the scope of it is massive. The gloves are off, and the stakes are very high, both for the characters as individuals and for the ultimate implications for society.”

It’s also a testament to the power of Shyamalan’s cinematic vision, and the thrill of working with him, that every actor from both films agreed to resurrect their roles for Glass. “Unbreakable and Split were both, in a way, deconstructionist superhero movies,” McAvoy says. “Split didn’t even feel like a superhero, or super villain, movie at all. It was just this creepy, scary movie that only really revealed itself at the end as having anything to do with ‘super people.’ That’s exciting because I’m in super hero movies myself with X-men, and I love them, but we can’t just keep telling straight-up super hero movies can we? We’ve got to start putting superheroes in different environments and situations, and this film certainly does that.”

For Charlayne Woodard, it’s Shyamalan’s appreciation and admiration for actors, and what actors do, that sets him apart, and that makes actors willing to go to any length to help realize his vision. “Night loves artists,” Woodard says. “One day on set I heard him refer to a certain actor. He said, about her, ‘… she’s a Stradivarius.’ Night compares artists to the best violin ever made, believing that we can play anything and everything. It doesn’t get any better than that. He’s marvelous.”