So, with Knock at The Cabin now being out worldwide I thought I’d revisit one of my favourite M Night Shyamalan movies. That is Unbreakable. Released in the year 2000 this came hot off the heels of the director’s smash hit The Sixth Sense and Stuart Little which I only learned last week that he was the screenwriter for.
That’s arguably M Nights biggest twist but Unbreakable definitely feels like it packs one of his most devastating with the reveal at the end involving a character that we grew to love throughout the movie. In this video I wanna bring you a big breakdown on the film, the hidden details in it and also some of the many reasons why I think that this movie is a masterpiece.
It’s a film I saw when I was very young, and it’s stuck with me over the years as being one of the best deconstructions of a superhero origin story. I actually think that Unbreakable was ahead of its time and with it being released in 2000 it didn’t really get the appreciation that many people have for it now. Dropped at the start of the millennium, this came before the wave of comic book movies that now make up most of our culture and going back to it, I was blown away by how good of a job it does at grounding some of the extreme things we see in films today. Though Nolan is often credited as being the first person to really do a grounded superhero movie it has to be said that M Night got there first and it’s difficult to think of any that are this sincere.
Now when this released a lot of us poured over the special features and in them M Night went over the original plan which eventually saw it coming to fruition almost twenty years later in Glass. M Night has always said that this was supposed to be act one and in hindsight we know that Split and Glass were acts two and three.
The Original Plan for Unbreakable
The original script for the movie actually featured Kevin Wendell Crumb and when discussing Split on the Happy Sad Confused podcast, M Night went over how he originally appeared in Unbreakable. David was going to discover his powers and whilst this was going on we’d hear of a serial killer out in the world. Kevin would kidnap a group of young girls like in Split and at the train station David would bump into him. At this point it would trigger a vision of the three and the final act would be him following Kevin to the location that pops up at the end of split. Instead of saving the children from the psychopath like what we get here, David would stop Kevin at the house, and he’d rescue Anya Taylor Joys character.
It does sound really cool but I do like the fact that the story focuses solely on David and the unforgettable Mr Glass.
M Night said he actually ended up using 20 pages of the original unbreakable script in Split so it’s not like we lost it all. In the final cut we actually get some setup of Kevin and at the train station David bumps shoulders with a woman pulling her child along. He hears her screaming at him and the script actually goes over the scene that was originally meant to be in the movie at this point.
In the kitchen he’s crying uncontrollably, and they both look down at a belt, hanger and an extension cord.
There are some things left over from the original script though and at one point we hear Elijah’s mother talking about how there’s two types of villains.
This is obviously referencing the hoard and Mr Glass and it’s very much foreshadowing how things will play out down the line.
Now we start the film off with a big block of text discussing how many comics are sold per year and how many comics the average collector has. This very many grounds the film in feeling like it’s something attached to our world, and it mirrors the text at the end which tells the audience what happened to Elijah after the events of the film. I remember wondering whether this was actually a real story when I saw it back in 2000 and we didn’t really have the internet then to check if it was. It gives the movie this feeling that it’s not too removed from our own which is central to its theme. Elijah believes that there has to be an opposite to him out there and this is brought on by his obsession over comic books.
Now the way comic books are framed are used to inspire the cinematography. Throughout the film we see as several characters appear in doorways and rectangular windows and these are meant to mimic the panels that litter the pages of comic books. This is seen in the opening when we see a group of people standing in the middle of what appears to be a doorway in the Philadelphia department store. However, as the shot continues, we realise that this is actually a mirror and I love the way that we’re first introduced to Mr. Glass through the use of a glass object. We quickly realise in the shot that we are actually looking at a mirror pointed at a mirror, and we pan down to see Elijah’s mother and him wrapped in a blanket.
Now mirrors, glass and reflections are something that constantly appear throughout the film. They of course represent Mr. Glass, and they appear at numerous points in the movie. When we see the next part of his childhood, we can catch Elijah sat in his room watching TV and we see his reflection in the glass screen display. When we’re first introduced to him in his art gallery, we also see the character reflected in the glass of a piece of art containing the line work of the first comic he ever read.
When David meets Glass for the first time we also go from the street outside his store, up to the glass windows and then look through to see the pair coming face to face. This panelling is also laid out to look like a comic book again tying back to the earlier point.
Now as for David, we first meet him on the Eastrail 177 train. He’s leaning against the glass window of the carriage, further foreshadowing how the pair are opposites to each other. When he goes back to work, he opens up his locker and we see the character reflected in a mirror there.
They are mirrors of one another when the existing on opposite ends of the scale. This is why mirrors and reflections are used throughout the movie and they subconsciously hammer home the idea that the pair are opposites to each other.
Themes in Unbreakable
Inversion is also something that appears throughout the film. Huge shoutout to CSZ World for pointing out all these examples and when we are first introduced to David this is through the eyes of a child with her head upside down. David’s son Joseph also watches the tv upside down in the next scene and when Mr Glass falls down the stairs at the train station his head is upside down. When the young Elijah picks up the comic on the bench, he also opens the box to find it upside down and lastly when Joseph watches his dad on the bench he comes in from the top when looking down at him.
Now on the train the conversation is framed once more in this rectangular shape that’s similar to how the movie opens.
It adds this idea of the scene being like a comic panel and we see David returning from a job interview in New York. Here he’s in a green shirt and green is the colour that the character dons throughout the movie. He of course wears it on his rain jacket at the end and his security jacket at the stadium is green.
Both his locker and kitchen are green furniture and just like how characters in comics have colours that they tend to stick to in their uniforms, he does too. Green was chosen because it’s associated with life giving properties such as grass and nature which makes David a force for good throughout.
This is reflected in Elijah who also wears purple throughout. We see this in all of his clothing and when David takes the envelope off his windshield this has a purple inlay. Even his mother wears it whenever she appears in the movie, and this can be seen at both the start and the end of the film. It’s possible that the comic he picks up on the bench gives away the two colours that will be David’s enemy as the world around the hero is purple and the title active comics is orange.
The villain at the end of the film wears an orange jump suit and the hero in this shot is wearing green which…yep…as we mentioned is David’s colour.
Elijah also wears orange in this scene showing a mixing of the two colours to hint at him being the enemy.
This cover is very much pointing out the three colours that we need to look out for in the movie with there being a strong focus on green, orange and of course purple.
Now Active comics is of course a play on Action Comics which is the first comic that Superman debuted in. Shyamalan took a lot of inspiration from comic book tropes and the name David Dun contains alliteration like a lot of other superhero names. There’s Peter Parker, Clark Kent and so on and so forth which was what inspired M Night to choose the character’s name.
Worth noting that Jaguaro wears a sort of mustard yellowy colour which is what Kevin later ends up in Split and Glass. He is the villain that David fights hand to hand tying back to this comic in the first film.
He’s very much going through a mid-life crisis at this point and feeling unfulfilled in both his life, career and marriage. This movie is about him finding a purpose and come the end of it once he has accepted his powers everything all falls into place for him.
We discover that David could’ve been a big-league football player because of his powers but his chose loves over his chance at super stardom. David’s wife Audrey said that she’d never marry a football player and after a horrific car accident he pretended to be injured so that he could stay with her. However, his love for the game made him want to still be involved with it and thus he became a security guard that works at a stadium. I think this haunt him through and having to watch players on the field likely makes him more depressed because he thinks that should be him out there.
In the characters first scene he meets a sportswriter on a train, and she very much represents the possibility of another life for him. He’s clearly trying to have an affair or some kind of hook-up as he hides his wedding ring which he ends up pulling out once the chat up lines don’t work. Clearly, she’s a symbol of not only his football dreams but also the marriage that he thinks is causing his unhappiness and he could see her as something new and fulfilling.
She even asks if he’s into football and he speaks.
This is clearly him lying to himself and deep down I think he kinda wishes he’d done things differently. Come the end though he realises that he was meant for more than that and this is why he finally seems happy.
Now she says that she’s out there to cover a young up and coming super star. We actually see this character later on and watch as Joseph is playing football with him and some of his friends. Joseph actually gets in a fight with his cousin at school because he says that his dad can run faster than him.
David makes a joke about how he wants to become a synchronised swimmer.
This is ironic as the characters weakness is of course water. Later on, we learn Audrey’s favourite song is Princes soft and wet and her favourite man goes pretty soft when wet.
David also wears a big rain cover as his costume and this of course does what…it protects him from water.
Now as the train starts to crash, we get David looking around and we learn that the man sitting near him is actually Kevin’s father. There are two big points in Split and Glass that touch upon this, and it brings everything full circle.
The trilogy is called the Eastrail 177 trilogy, and this accident is the one thing that ties everything together. David and potentially Kevin’s father was on it, and we have attack being carried out by Mr. Glass.
Joseph is sat watching TV and nothing grounds this more than being in 2000 than having him watch the Jerry springer show. The news report comes with a nice little easter egg though and shoutouts to Caz world again who pointed out that in the top right we can see a four that is meant to look like the fantastic four logo.
Now from here we cut to David in the hospital once more framed in a doorway. In the front of the frame is the only other survivor and we watch as he slowly bleeds out leaving David as the sole survivor. This scene was actually used for the trailer of the film and going into it pretty much nobody had any idea about what the movie was actually about. He steps out into the hallway, and we see families waiting to learn what happened to their loved ones and there’s definitely a feeling of survivor’s guilt shown in David’s face as he walks past all these people who’ve lost someone.
He returns home and he and his wife are both shown in doorways as they speak to one another. David says he doesn’t think he got the job, but he says he’s still moving there showing how he feels like he wants to get away from it. Next, we see the memorial service for the families of the train crash and a memorial for this crash was originally meant to appear in Split, but M Night felt it would give the game away.
David the note from limited edition and that smooth…egg white card…. soft…silvery text…embossed…very nice…. now let’s look at Paul Allen’s card.
Anyway, back at work we see him boxed in in the reflection of his mirror, cut to him standing in the doorway asking the secretary about his sick days and then standing under an archway. His boss then appears to him in a doorway, and it shows how much attention that M Night was paying to the shot composition.
Also, there’ll be a lot of moments where I just point out people standing in doors, bear with me yeah.
Now to hammer home how broken his marriage is we cut to David sleeping in bed with his son before he goes to his wife standing in a…
Cut to a young Elijah who is sitting bitter that he’s not able to have a normal life. His mother very much forces him to go out into the world as she knows that if he stays a shut in that it won’t really be a life for him. You can see why he becomes so obsessed with comics because the sell aspirational ideas that one can be more than what’s been given to them.
The Twist in Unbreakable
The name Elijah pulls from the bible and in that there was a story involving the character in which he challenged several other men of faith to prove their god’s power. He told them to pray to the one they believed in to come down and set their alter on fire and none of them were able to do it. Elijah then doused his in water and asked God to show them he was the true one and the alter then sparked up and burned away. I’m definitely butchering that story from my memories of Sunday school so I apologise for that but the idea of using water could be the reason that M Night picked it for this character.
And ey, if it’s an M Night movie you know you’re getting a twist. Interestingly I heard Knock at the cabin doesn’t actually have a twist and the biggest M Night twist now is that we got an M night movie that doesn’t have one.
Cut to Elijah who makes a comment on the movie itself.
He refuses to sell the comic to the parent because he’s gonna give it to his kid and bloody gatekeepers, can’t stand them. However, it shows how much Elijah values this art. He doesn’t see comics as being something that’s for kids and instead to him they are myths and legends worth preserving. He classes them in the same bracket as being works of history and this is why he hangs them up in clear view of scrolls from ancient Egypt.
Also, important to bear in mind that this actor is actually M Nights cousin, and we also get a cameo from the director later on.
He then goes into the tragedies that have hit the city and in hindsight we know that he was behind these-
Now this movie actually came out before 9/11 but one of the reasons I think that it’s aged so well is because it picks up on the despair that we all felt after that. There was definitely a time when we hope and prayed for a hero and many of us looked at ourselves and other regular people to step up and inspire others. I’m probably not wording my point as well as I’d like to hear but in retrospect, I think there’s a reason why this movie didn’t do so well on release, but it’s stuck with us for decades. This is the mood, tone and themes that it presents which ended up playing into the way that we look at the world.
The movie actually underperformed to the point that the studio refused to greenlight a sequel which is why it took so long for us to get one. M Night pretty much had to pitch split as its own thing which is why it feels so standalone. In first screenings for the film, they didn’t even put the stinger on the end as they wanted to make sure that it worked for regular audiences who didn’t connect it to the universe and this the director had to jump through a lot of hoops to get it made.
He believed that the card would finally provide him with a purpose but now he’s crushed thinking that it won’t.
Unlike David Joseph is clearly wrapped up in the possibility that his father could be a hero and that night David into the cupboard to make sure that his gun is still there is. Joseph later points this at his dad because he believes that the bullets won’t work. This is actually based on something that happened to Superman actor George Reeves and a child ended up pointing one at the actor at an autograph signing. Like David, Reeves managed to get him to lower it after saying that he was invulnerable, and he added that firing him would cause the bullets to ricochet and hit kill someone else.
Now moments before this we catch David reading a paper chronicling the crash. To the right of the article, we can also see one talking about a fatal car accident which somewhat is reminiscent of the one he walked away from in his youth. Beside the gun he ends up taking out some news articles including the one reporting on his accident in high school. He’s lived with the lie so long that he’s almost got to reassure himself that it’s the truth and this has very much become his reality.
This article is written by Robert Holtzman and he’s a production designer that worked in the art department for the film.
We get another doorway scene with Audrey and it’s important to bear in mind that at this point the pair haven’t actually been in the same room as each other on screen. They are very much living in a world where they’re unable to connect which is shown through all of these early interactions. She asks David if he’s been with anyone else, and she wants to start again and she sees him walking away from the train as being a second chance.
Cut to the stadium and we see David at work. Elijah has been caught using a fake ticket and this is just one of the many things that point to his deceptive side.
Now the next scene is the pair framed inside some green stairway railings creating this panel effect.
Elijah believes that he became a security guard because he instinctively chose to protect people. We also see the demonstration of his sixth sense ability to perceive threats. It’s very much a spider sense that gives him pre-cognition to avoid danger and perceive threats.
Dunno how he saw this guy cos… I didn’t see anyone…anyone in that.
Sorry, that’s a crappy camouflage joke.
Elijah and David stand in a doorway and the former later confirms that he’s able to perceive threats. He even puts himself in danger to do this showing how cemented he is in his beliefs. We get the character going to his car and we can see that the inside of this has been outfitted with cushioning because even a minor bump or crash could lead to him being fatally injured.
Elijah is shot so we see him through the glass window, and he then turns on the radio. We hear.
Had these security measures been in place from the start he wouldn’t have been able to crash the train and it’s seen more as an accident rather than an attack. Now there is some irony in the fact that David’s journey began on a train and Elijah falls down the stairs at a train station.
Trains are of course used to take you on a journey and into somewhere else. David starts to find his purpose after the train ride and Elijah finds his after realising that David managed to sense the gun that the man at the stadium had.
David does a literal test of strength but how much can you lift mate?
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In a juxtaposition of the scene earlier in the movie we see a doctor telling Elijah all of the broken bones that he has. This is a complete opposite to what happened with David earlier and whereas he was told he didn’t have a scratch on him, Elijah has to spend months in a wheelchair whilst going through intense physical therapy.
Here he meets Audrey who we see helps people with sports injuries and well…just injuries in general.
She’s seen first-hand what comes from playing football which explains why she doesn’t want David or Joseph playing it.
Elijah also says he asks too many questions when he’s nervous and throughout the movie we’ve seen as he does this. Even in the comic shop he kept asking questions and though he put on the facade of being a tough guy we know that he asks questions to disarm people so that they aren’t threatening towards him. Those asking the questions are normally the ones in control of the conversation and this is the only power that he actually has.
He lists off the terrorist attacks once more to Audrey, and it’s once more the character going over his past crimes almost like a villain monologue.
At the stadium we see David starting to believe and he attempts to sense if he can pick up on people’s crimes.
This gives us an M Night cameo and he returns in both Split and Unbreakable.
Him talking about one of his tenants dying recently also ties into Split and we know from that that he was the landlord of Kevin’s therapists.
He’s very much turned his life around in those movies and it shows how David even had a positive effect on the city by just embarking his powers. This is something that superheroes of thought of as doing and Elijah even says.
- these are mediocre times we’re living in.
However, this idea of being inspired also has negative effects. We learn Joseph had a fight with Potter and another kid because they were picking on a girl. Joseph fought him but it didn’t go too well, and he’s completely bummed out by not having his dads’ abilities.
When talking to what I believe is the school nurse we learn that David almost drowned when he was younger, and this is another blow to him. M Night wasn’t carrying the drugs he thought he was because he stashed them, and the drowning makes David think that he isn’t super powered.
David breaks this news to Elijah who is just as devastated that he’s lost his purpose. It’s important to bear in mind that this movie is an origin story for both him and David with the pair learning why they exist.
This comic bookstore is filled with classics like Ultimate spider-man, Namor Daredevil and even a member of staff who later appears in glass. The actor playing the guy that tries to escort him out of there also shows up in the third film as the comic bookstore owner.
Unbreakable Ending Explained
In between this we cut to David playing with superhero action figures. I believe the one on the right is the same as the one from the cover of active comics only this time he’s wearing a mask. Might be a reach but David is very much hiding the truth now…. like…man this isn’t a good easter egg.
Whilst David and Audrey go on a date Elijah realises that Water is actually David’s kryptonite.
This is in an issue of the Sentry Man which is a play on the Sentry. The way it lands on Elijah’s lap makes it inverted similar to the active comics issue from the start of the movie.
On the date David tells Audrey that something just doesn’t feel right, and this is why it’s so powerful in the end when he comes home and carries her upstairs. Upon returning home he finds out that he got the job in New York, but he turns this down. I think this shows that he doesn’t really regret any of his choices and even if he got another chance at the high school car crash, he’d still make the exact same decision. He ventures out to where the train cars from the crash are being kept and here, he remembers what really happened on the night of the car crash.
Bending steel with his bare hands the first person he saves is Audrey and he realises he would give it all up for her.
That night David goes once more to a train station, again brining the idea of trains being a significant part of his journey. Amongst the crowd he sees people’s darkest sins and I love the way that M Night brings focus to the colours in this moment. They really stand out against the drab environment, and they pop like the colours on a comic book page.
Lastly, he encounters the man in the orange jumpsuit which also is pulled across to the t-shirt he has on in the vision scenes. David follows him through the rain with it beating down on him however the overall stops him from getting wet. I love the way the scenes in the house are filled with there being no music at all and instead we just watch as he makes his way through it slowly and silently.
It’s so atmospheric and it really grounds these moments in realism.
Several moments happen in doorways during this with us getting David entering the bedroom before he then goes to the cupboard.
After freeing them we get a moment where he goes to the parent’s room, and this is shot beautifully with the doorway and natural moment of the curtains creating their own panels showing him and the kid’s mother. It’s really next level cinematography and it adds so much to the scene.
David is then pushed over the edge, and he lands on the pool cover. We see just how devastating water can be for him and this is one of the most agonising drowning scenes I think I’ve ever seen in the film. Watching him warp up in the cover and knowing how helpless he is will have you holding your breath, but he’s saved by the two kids which allows them to be heroes as well.
In the end he kills the murderer and I think this is such a raw and visceral death scene.
There’s no over the top fight, no insane choreography and magical powers it’s just a guy holding on and refusing to let go. His hold is unbreakable and no matter how many times he’s thrown against the wall or elbowed in the stomach he just holds on.
David carries Audrey up to bed and M Night later said that they somewhat referenced this scene when Casey is carried out of the underground of the zoo. Both allowed them to move onto a new part of their life and David finds comfort in Audrey after saying he had a bad dream. On the date he said he realised things had changed between them when he had a nightmare one night and he didn’t try and get comfort for her but realising his purpose has changed his outlook.
He shows Joseph the newspaper article and might be a reach but the orange juice against his green shirt could be M Night linking back to the colours from the night before.
Anyway, this article is written by Nicola Marcella who is a production team member that worked on the film.
In the comic shop we watch as David meets Elijah’s mother, and she talks about how villains’ eyes are larger, and they give a skewed perspective on the world. I dunno if Samuel L Jackson made his eyes wider and bigger in the movie but I know people who think that he did so that it would tie into this line. However, it is important to bear in mind that the one eye shot we get in the film is of Elijah and this is skewed due to the angle it gets filmed at.
Finally, David goes into the backroom with him, and Elijah presents his hand fully aware of the truth it will reveal.
We see a number of his attacks and on his computers several schematics. This includes an outline for the Brooklyn bridge, and I did wonder if this was a little nod to the pairs team up in Die Hard with a Vengeance which took place in New York.
As we zoom in, we see plans for the football stadium showing that even if the train hadn’t happened that they likely would’ve crossed paths down the line because it was their fate.
On the wall there are newspaper clippings including how a baby survived a mudslide in Mexico and as we learn in glass there are more people in the world like David.
Next to this we see several books on microbiology and chemistry and it’s clear that Elijah has been obsessed with. We cut to another collection of newspapers articles and even see one for a killer virus set loose in an airport which…hmm less said about that the better.
There’s one that lists a man being pulled from some wreckage, a youth being the sole survivor of a plane crash and a toddler being found in a boat that rammed the pier. In hindsight these helped to build the universe out and it’s reports like this that Elijah has hung onto. He said he wanted to hear the words that there was one sole survivor in an attack and these words finally brought David out.
Elijah finally has found his purpose and for the first time in the film he smiles, finally having found the happiness he was searching for.
That ends the movie, and this final scene still gives me goosebumps to this day. Whether it’s the cinematography, storytelling or the score, Unbreakable is a film that I think still stands as one of the best superhero movies ever and I hope you’ve enjoyed coming back through it with me.
Interestingly M Night would follow this up with Signs and ey, what was the alien weakness in that, water.
So, nice connection to this I guess, and you know we had to end the video with a stupid easter egg. Let me know your thoughts on the film anyway and make sure you subscribe to the channel. If you want something else to watch, then we have a video on screen right now and I’ll see you on the next one. Take care, Peace.
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