This is a classic good vs. evil story on it's surface but much like all movies there is a plethora of subtext in the movie that are worthy of exploration. In the good vs. evil sense it is classically a comic book tale and is overtly designed to be so. For those who have studied comics or have an interest in the genre will have some idea of what kind of history and origin most comic book heroes and villains have.
Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are the primary stars of the movie. Bruce Willis also starred in the huge hit "The Sixth Sense" previously mentioned. Willis has become identified as a heroic character in many film roles, perhaps starting with the "Die Hard" series.
In this picture Bruce is shown with the iconic smirk that he exhibits in his films.
Samuel L. Jackson has a mixed history in film. It could be argued that his most notable role was in "Pulp Fiction" opposite John Travolta, but he has been both villain and hero in various roles.
His role in "Pulp Fiction", while being a classic bad guy type, is also a deeply philosophical person.
In "Unbreakable" the movie begins with the birth of ELIJAH "Yahweh is my God" Price (Samuel L. Jackson), unexpectedly in a store. A doctor is summoned and upon examining the baby determines that his arms and legs are broken. It should be noted here that there is no father figure around with Elijah, no mention is made of his father at this time or any time in the movie. This is an important point for later perusal.
The movie moves to David Dunn "The Beloved Dark (one)" (Bruce Willis) on a train bound for home in Philadelphia. The first secondary character we meet is a young lady that sits next to him. Her name is Kelly "Church" who is on her way to TEMPLE University. Kelly is a very strong subliminal presence. First she exhibits a BLUE shirt that has a watery pattern on it (more on this later) and has a tattoo on her stomach of a VINE (the significance of this will become clear later). Dunn makes a crude attempt to hit on her and she rejects him and moves away.
Dunn is dressed in a suit with a GREEN shirt. After talking with Kelly, Dunn senses the coming disaster and the screen whites out.
Dunn's train #177, due in at 3:40 (=7) derails and is a massive tragedy. We first meet Dunn's son JOSEPH "Jehovah/Yahweh increases" in an interlude here as he watches TV and sees a report on the train wreck. Joseph appears throughout the film as almost androgynous, and exhibits an almost pathological attraction to his dad.
Dunn wakes up in a hospital, uninjured.
It turns out he is the sole survivor of the crash and has no injuries, not even a scratch. Here we meet AUDREY "Noble Strength" Dunn (nee Inverso "Opposite/reverse"). And we have the revelation of the marriage troubles between the couple. They are separated by a stairway at home, which appears ominously steep as they sleep in separate rooms.
Stairs play an important role later in the movie as well.
Dunn is a security guard at a stadium, and wears a dark green poncho when it is raining. Green is associated with Dunn throughout the movie.
We have a brief interlude with the young Elijah Price where once again there is no hint of a father figure.
Elijah first contacts David Dunn by leaving a card under the wiper of his vehicle parked at the memorial service for the victims of the train wreck. Elijah leaves a card asking "How many days have you been sick in your life?" or words to that effect.
Led to the store Limited Edition by the card we have the first meeting of Dunn and Price. Price's shop is BLUE, he wears a coat that is lined in blue. The store is blue.
It should be noted that there is a strong MIB quality to the Price character as well, since he wears a floor length trench coat.
Price as MIB
At the meeting Price reveals his theory to Dunn about his search for a hero PUT HERE to protect us. He delivers this to Dunn while seated at his desk with an Egyptian frieze behind him.
He explains the idea that if he, having a rare disease that causes his bones to be brittle, is on one end of the spectrum there must be people on the other end who don't break.
The basic comic book idea of superheroes is revealed. Price's store is filled with comic book art, as well as, incongruously religious iconography and ancient items like that pictured above.
We find that David had played football in school for a team called the WARRIORS. He was a star athlete until a car wreck ruined it.
Elijah, initially skeptical of the idea of Dunn being a superhero because of his lack of certainty of his not being ill, and the accident that injured him nonetheless decides to dig a little deeper so finds David at work.
Elijah sees David in action as he apparently detects a man in line who is armed.
Desperate to prove or disprove David's ability Elijah follows the man and it is during this quest that Elijah encounters an ominous staircase, leading DOWN, into the
Price falls and ends up with numerous broken bones but finds the answer he seeks. Like a passage into the underworld for knowledge it is always fraught with peril and sacrifice.
Joseph believes the theory that David is a superhero and they both have a moment that appears to partially validate that theory when David lifts weights, eventually lifting all of them and more, totaling much more than he had ever lifted before.
In the basement where he works out there is an incongruous poster of a donkey or ass which Joseph stands in close proximity to as his dad works out. Joseph and a donkey.
Audrey is a rehab. nurse and Elijah maneuvers to have her as his therapist for his convalescence so that he can learn more about David. He tells Audrey about his theory. She thinks he's nuts.
David again at work decides to test the idea that he can sense evil in people. He detects someone doing something with drugs. This character is Shyamalan and he is dressed in blue. His sense seems to have been proven wrong as the man has nothing when searched.
Shortly after this David is called to school for his son. There he finds out that he almost drowned in the school pool when he was a child and had not remembered it. David abandons the theory, Price when told becomes dejected, but Joseph still believes. To prove to his dad that he is a superhero he gets his dad's gun and is going to shoot his father having faith that the bullet will not hurt him. David talks his son down.
At this point we find out that David has a sadness every morning when he wakes up. Elijah has an epiphany while perusing a comic store.
The Dunn's house is green. David knows something is not right in his life. He purposely keeps his wife and son at a distance and does not know why.
Elijah's epiphany is that David has a weakness, which most superheroes have. David's is WATER. Now we have some symbolic connections. The color of water is blue, blue in profusion is perceived as cold and uncaring. David himself is connected with GREEN throughout the movie which is the color of life and peace. Let's look back to Kelly on the train. Kelly "Church" on the way to TEMPLE had a water shirt on and a vine tattoo. She was a walking contradiction. David is drawn but ultimately repulsed. The vine, life and green attracts but the water print shirt repels him. Elijah Price is continuously connected with BLUE, the color of water and cold and uncaring. Price is a nemesis to David.
We soon find out through flashback that David's accident did NOT injure him, and he exhibited an extraordinary strength in rescuing his wife to be Audrey Inverso "Noble Strength reversed". She herself is a form of nemesis to David. He concocts his injury for her knowing that she would not be with him if he continued with his football career. He lies for love.
Now David again is left to ask what to do since he now is starting to believe. Price tells him to test his power around people. David goes to the train station and interacts with people until he finds a murderer. But not before he is almost overwhelmed with the senses he receives from all of the people. Evil is in fact everywhere you look, from the petty to the great.
David follows the killer to a house. There are 2 significant shots of stairways in the house. One that leads down to the dead Father and the other that leads up to redemption. He senses the things that have gone on there. He rescues 2 children from bondage. He is shoved from a balcony into the pool in the yard. He goes under, his weakness in full bloom he struggles. Ultimately he is rescued by the kids he saved. He reenters the house and takes out the killer but is too late to save the mother.
The consummation of his act brings a sense of relief to David that causes him to reconnect with his wife. This brings up another element in the story and that is the question of free will and destiny. It also would call into question the idea of DNA as a driver in one's life. David felt empty and as if something was wrong in his life until he did what NATURE (GREEN, DNA) was compelling him to do. Fulfill his destiny.
There is an unspoken communication between David and his son in the aftermath of the action David took. They have to keep it secret from the mom, as she is a nemesis to his power.
The movie culminates when David attends a sale at Elijah Price's shop and discovers his secret when they shake hands. Price is his nemesis and the person responsible for the train wreck and other tragic acts in the city because he was trying to find the hero. David turns him in. End.
But there is more! There is also a strong religious undertone in the movie and the strongest is the Gnostic element. Elijah is a Biblical name meaning "Yahweh/Jehovah is my God". Price is an agent of Yahweh. In the Gnostic teachings Yahweh is the demiurge that created brute matter to imprison souls. Elijah is identified with the demiurge and as it's agent. The demiurge is without the care and compassion of the creator God and as such he is associated with the uncaring color BLUE. We also have the very important points that Elijah is without a father, no mention or hint of him throughout the movie. This implies that he literally HAD no father, shades of virgin birth. Elijah could be seen as the Jesus figure but not a redemptive character rather one that seeks to further enslave the soul or spirit. And the second point that Elijah makes in the movie, that heroes are PUT HERE to protect. So who or what puts them here? In comic book lore that could be any number of reasons, but for those heroes that have real super powers it is usually a numinous or otherworldly thing that does it. Superman was an alien after all. There is a driving force in David that until fulfilled leaves him empty. Elijah represents body without spirit or care. He kills without remorse, but is ultimately weak and brittle. David Dunn the "beloved dark (one)" is body and spirit. He is a product of genetic engineering just as Elijah himself is. This implies the intervention theory as to origins of these things in humanity. This also implies that DNA has a driver embedded within it that compels us to do that which we are designed to do.
David is beloved because he is blessed with the spirit of the gods that made man and his DNA showed it in his abilities and left him feeling empty until he fulfilled his role. It should be noted that in the Bible King David was beloved by God but denied the task of building the TEMPLE because he had blood on his hands (he was "dark" like Dunn).
David's wife Audrey Inverso is "Noble Strength Reversed" and is an obstacle to David's fulfilling of his DNA driver. He had to concoct his injury in order to stay with her, and throughout their time together had grown apart because she acted as a hedge against his doing his duty which required danger. Only when he embraced his duty and decided to keep his wife in the dark about it did a happy resolution present itself. It was love that David chose. Even love was not enough to negate the DNA imprint and thus David was left uncompleted. Remember also Joseph and the Donkey, shades of the bible again. Joseph is unnaturally drawn to his dad, and with his androgynous appearance could represent both Mary and Joseph in a sense. Like Mary he had FAITH that his father was a hero. Finally the stairs. In this movie the stairs are a symbol of DNA as well as a metaphor for separation. The Earthly world is separated from the Divine by a ladder to heaven. The underworld must be gained by descending. The stairs separate the wife and husband. DNA separates the wife and husband, by driving him to do things that would cause friction in their marriage. DNA is a bane to Elijah leaving him brittle.
Alien intervention, gnostic underpinnings, Biblical imagery. This movie had them all. Perhaps that is why it resonated so strongly with me.