Is There Another Good Shysmalan Movie?

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November 11, 2014
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NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. By now, most of us have figured out that M. Night Shyamalan is a one-twist pony. (Beat) Or two.

(Images and footage from M. Night Shyamalan's movies are shown)

NC (vo): We all know that Sixth Sense is the one that everybody loves, but everyone seems to have that second Shyamalan film that, whether it's actually bad or not, can't help but feel a special fondness for, and not in a "so bad, it's good" way, but more of a legitimate "this was a well-made film" way.

NC: And that film for me is Unbreakable.

(Footage from Unbreakable is shown)

NC (vo): Now that's not to say it doesn't have Shyamalan's seal of pretentiousness all over it; the pointless panning long shots, the obvious color symbolism, the camera angles that I'm sure mean something to him but not really to anyone else. But, yes. This is the other film I actually took seriously throughout the majority of it and found even conjured up some interesting ideas...even if, I'm not sure the film was aware of these ideas itself. To explain what I mean, I have to talk about the film as a whole. So, fair warning, there are spoilers all throughout this analysis. So if you haven't seen the movie yet and want to be surprised, stop now and go see it. With that said, for those who have seen it, you know it's about a man, played by Bruce Willis, who is the only survivor of a train crash and has no marks on him. He's approached by another man, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who tells him that there is a plan set out for him, one that's been told time and time again all throughout the centuries. It's the basic plan of good vs. evil, a hero versus a villain. From Greek Mythology to fairy tales to modern day comic books, there is a pattern of this epic battle that equals an underline truth that is going on in reality. As Willis opens up to the idea that he is, in fact, one of these heroes, he realizes that he has many similar qualities. He has a weakness, he seems practically indestructible, he seems inhumanly strong, and he can also sense when wrongdoers have done wrong things. Once he decides to use this power to battle these wrongdoers, we get, of course, our twist ending. Samuel L. Jackson was, in fact, the villain the whole time, killing tons of innocent people, including the train crash Willis was in, until he discovered the indestructible hero. As the saying goes...

NC: (imitates Shyamalan) What a twist!

NC (vo): When people saw this movie, most people didn't know what to think of it. Most people dismissed it as false advertising, seeing how the trailer showed a serious drama based on a supernatural element, but then out of the blue, they got a comic book movie instead. Most going in were not looking for heroes in green capes and villains in purple cars.

NC: But even with that, is Unbreakable an actual bad movie?

NC (vo): It still has the drawn-out dialogue and slow-moving pace that most Shyamalan films have, but I feel there's something a little deeper that can be taken out of it. The ending particularly seems to make or break the film for a lot of people. Some say it wasn't needed, others say it's what gave the film its purpose. Watching it again, I felt like there was a really great idea in it that maybe the film itself didn't realize was there. What's the theme of the film, as well as the theme for any Shyamalan film? That there's a great plan and everything that happens happens for a reason. Been there, done that. But this film, whether it realizes it or not, gives a very cryptic and uncomfortable angle to it. Jackson, throughout most of the film, is not the bad guy. He's born with a disease where his bones easily break, which has led to a life of misery and pain. All he wants to do is belong, he wants to fit into something that has greater meaning so that he no longer feels worthless. When his revelation of life having a great plan is discovered, he realizes he is meant to be the bad guy, and forever give purpose to those who discover they're meant to be heroes. Yeah, a lot of people may see as just a basic good vs. evil story, but in my opinion, this is...a kind of creepy idea.

(A quote said by Oprah Winfrey are shown)

NC (vo): So many people lean towards the comforting and nurturing prospects of everything having a point, that the universe has a grand plan for us.

(Back to the movie)

NC (vo): But this film gives off the vibe that it's actually not such a good thing. There is no free will, there is no deciding your own destiny, there is no choice you can make on your own. Why? Because you're just a puppet in the grand plan. Look. Even before he reveals the truth about his villainous identity, he's at an art gallery of his collected works. Everybody is praising him, his mother has never seen him happier, everything seems to be going his way. Too bad the great deciding factor of life declares he can't be that. Nope! He's the bad guy, plain and simple. By this definition, the movie's suggesting that you can't change who you are. You can't redeem whatever faults you had. If you're destined to become a villain, one way or another, that's what you'll become. What an absolutely horrifying notion. It's great for the hero and all the people who were saved by him or her, but what about the people who don't want to be mean, or how about the poor victims who were just pawns in their battle?

(Morpheus from The Matrix is shown, with the quote "What if I told you everything happens for a reason?". Another image of a sunset is also shown with the same quote)

NC (vo): I've known so many people who look up to so many films about there being a pre-destined plan that will always work out in the end. And there's nothing wrong with that. If that's your belief, you can, of course, choose to take comfort in it as much as you want.

(Back to the movie)

NC (vo): But film is also about different points of view, and this one is so rarely seen, at least in terms of movies. The idea of pre-destined life which is all part of the grand plan can be the death of conscious choice. It just makes us chess pieces, characters in somebody else's story that we can't change, and rather than finding comfort in this, this film actually finds it disturbing. Again, I can't think of that many films that have actually taken that angle.

NC: Now, with that said, is this most likely what Shyamalan had in mind? I have no idea.

(Clips from Signs is shown)

NC (vo): His other films, like Signs, for example, seem to indicate that life is best if you just trust the grand plan and totally give yourself to it.

(Back to the movie)

NC (vo): So it's totally possible this is all just a coincidence.

NC: But, even if it was, these ideas can still be suggested.

NC (vo): As I said before, an artist's take on their own work doesn't have to be your take on it. For me, Unbreakable is an almost uplifting film that is shattered by a disturbing message that enforces the importance of free will. It's a point of view that's not often seen in mainstream movies and one that hasn't been told in such a unique way. Now, if you don't see that in its message and are still turned off by the other Shyamalan-isms, I'm not gonna act like I don't understand. It's all there, it is kind of silly, you could definitely see the beginnings of many cliches that Shyamalan would use over and over and over. But perhaps something can be read into it that even the filmmakers themselves didn't plan. Maybe there can be something different of value from a director who has turned so little of it in the past. I'm not gonna act like this is any grand masterpiece, but it's given enough food for thought that I'm glad I watched it. It questioned an outlook not many movies questioned and opened up a point of view that some of us had never really considered. I doubt we'll be praising it in the future as one of the greats, but with every other Shyamalan film being so obvious and blunt in its messages, it's nice to finally have one that can be a little open to interpretation. Life having a grand plan can be very comforting, but it can also be very scary. It's an interesting take that definitely got a lot of minds thinking and a lot of conversations going. And any film that does that can't be all bad. In the same way the film suggests basic good and evil outlooks may be too simple, maybe we can also see that the bad outlook of a director could also be just as simple, and that maybe we can find a little bit more value there than we originally thought.

NC: (chuckles) And besides, he did give us this.

(Cut to a clip from The Happening)

Elliot Moore: What? No!

NC: I will never get tired of that. I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.

(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)

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