M. Night Shyamalan’s star has been on the steady decline since “The Sixth Sense” set his bar almost unattainably high in 1999. There are some adamant “Signs” fans, and you might even find an apologist or two for “The Village” if you ask around. But “The Happening,” “Lady in the Water” (did anyone see that?), “The Last Airbender,” “After Earth” —none of these are good movies. The director’s freshman film was 1992’s “Praying with Anger” and concerns the journey of an East Indian teen to India from the States to revisit his roots. Six years later, Shyamalan wrote and directed “Wide Awake,” another film about a boy tapping into his past; this time, the protagonist is a ten-year-old searching for God in the wake of his grandfather’s passing. It starred Rosie O’Donnell as a nun (did you even know Rosie O’Donnell was in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, let alone one that hit theaters just a year before “The Sixth Sense”?).
By now, you’re thinking I’m laregly unacquainted with Shyamalan’s work, since I’ve so wantonly glossed over what’s arguably the helmer’s second-most popular and second-best film “Unbreakable.” To the contrary: Shyamalan had set hopes extremely high for his “Sixth Sense” follow-up, and when “Unbreakable” came out a year later, many people griped it was too slow, dull, and simply not as good. I prefer it to “Sixth Sense,” but that’s probably because I like comic books way more than I do ghosts. “Unbreakable” turns 15 this November, and Must See Films has just cut together a nearly 15-minute analysis of the movie titled “The Hero’s Journey.”
The video essay opens with an interview clip in which Shyamalan sets his goal for the film. He states, “I’m going to make an entire movie about the first act, an entire movie about a guy realizing he’s a superhero.” In pretty much every superhero origin film, the first act —roughly the first 30-minutes or so— is all about the hero acquiring his/her powers, learning more or less how to use them, donning some sort of getup, and preparing to fight crime (“Batman Begins” also bucks this trend). As many times as I’ve watched “Unbreakable,” I’ve never thought about it as a feature-length first act. Obviously, this is because Shyamalan is (or was) a talented writer who knows how to structure a film from fade in to final fade out. But this is an interesting way of viewing the film, especially if you’re the writer.
Darren from Must See Films devotes the next quarter hour to breaking down the movie, dividing the video into two parts. Part One is about superhero mythology as a whole, and Part Two delves into the movie itself, referencing comic books (how Shyamalan translates the paneled page structure into camera shots) and the film’s form and visual motifs. Darren ties this first part integrally into Joseph Campbell’s writings on the hero’s journey, arguing that Shyamalan’s script is a prime example of the hero-mentor/trickster relationship. The way Darren compares “Unbreakable” to other films (not just Shyamalan’s) adds another layer of depth to the studious analysis.
For more on Campbell’s teachings, the hero’s journey, and how they’re showcased in “Unbreakable,” along with a breakdown of the movie, watch the full essay below.