Y’all, M. Night Shyamalan is getting up to his old tricks again with 2019’s Glass. The twisty-and-twisted director has gone all the way back to his iconic 2000 film, Unbreakable, to bring us something new in the superhero genre, tied together by 2016’s Split. But how exactly does Glass connect to Unbreakable? Let’s dig into the details and see if we can’t crack this one.
First and foremost: Glass only exists because of the cult status of Unbreakable. That movie — which came way before the Marvel Cinematic Universe or DC Extended Universe transformed the box office — paved the way for nontraditional superhero stories to be told. In it, a former football player-turned-security guard named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) slowly realizes his ability to pick out criminals (and see their crimes when they touch), combined with his unbreakable skin and extreme strength, make him a bit of a superhero. This is furthered by the meddling of Mr. Glass, nee Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Mr. Glass, you see, was born with an extremely rare disease that makes his bones unusually fragile and prone to breakage. And after a lifetime of being bullied for his particular condition, it is revealed at the end that Glass has decided his reason for being is to be the villain to Dunn’s superhero.
This was all connected in a twisty post-credits sequence during 2016’s Split, starring James McAvoy. The psychological horror film told the tale of McAvoy’s Kevin Crumb, a man with dissociative identity disorder and, with that, at least 23 defined personalities bouncing around in his head. Well, make that 24: because by the time Split is over, it is revealed that a new personality has emerged, called The Beast. And he, it seems, is the height of all Kevin’s personalities combined: a cannibalistic sociopath with several inhuman abilities, such as extreme strength, speed, and mobility. He scales walls, ceilings, and is seemingly invincible during the process — perhaps thanks to The Beast’s insatiable, cannibalistic drive for human meat. And both Elijah and Dunn have noticed his abilities — which is where Glass is poised to jump off from.
Bringing these three characters together wasn’t always a part of Shyamalan’s plan, but the psychological conflict at the heart of all of these stories was too good of an opportunity to pass up. As he explained to The New York Times, Glass “is very philosophical and playing a chess match.” And, per an interview with io9, Shyamalan further expanded on the idea that he wanted to dig into the grounded sort of questions a scenario like this would pose to the real world. “Are they are they deluded to think these things? Or is that belief in oneself ultimately something that truly makes them something more?,” he explained. “Even if we can do extraordinary things, is it something that we’re interpreting when we do that or are some people really special or not?”
But don’t go into the movie thinking there will be a ton of CGI or the typical superheroic fare: it’s M. Night — there will be twists and turns that shock and delight (or maybe disappoint!), and a heck of a lot of character study to boot. This isn’t the movie for big, gut-bust-y action pieces, but there will be a lot of conversation with Sarah Paulson’s psychiatrist character, Dr. Ellie Staple, when Glass premieres in theaters on January 18. So if you’re looking for a more grounded superhero story while you wait to see who gets undusted in Avengers: Endgame, this might be one to put on your to-watch list.