Warning: This article contains spoilers for the movies Glass, Split, and Unbreakable. Read at your own risk.
M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy came to its conclusion in Glass, giving a clear — albeit unexpected — ending to the stories of David “The Overseer” Dunn, Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price, and Kevin Wendell Crumb.
Unexpected endings are par for the course for any Shyamalan movie. And while it’s always a gut punch to have the characters you’ve grown attached to meet an untimely end, it makes sense for the purpose of storytelling since Shyamalan’s superhero yarn is firmly rooted in the real world and an aura of plausibility surrounds the more fantastic elements of “what if?”.
Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that although I loved these characters, there probably wasn’t much more left to their stories beyond the events of Glass. Yet, the film’s ending potentially sets a whole new universe in motion. We’ll explore that in this article, as well as some of the symbolism and messages wrapped up in Glass and the Unbreakable trilogy.
Saw all three movies? Don’t need a recap? Cut to the fun stuff and analysis with this jump link.
The Story So Far
In the final scene of Unbreakable — the film that kicked off the trilogy in 2000 — Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) was committed to an institution upon the revelation that he was the mastermind who orchestrated a train wreck in which David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was the sole survivor, as well as other crimes designed to confirm that superhumans walked among us.
After the events of Unbreakable, Glass sees David Dunn continue to age, but retain his powers. Dunn’s super strength is coupled with a supernatural ability to touch a person and see or feel their true nature and if there is darkness within.
He now has his own security company and works alongside his son. (In a nice bit of continuity casting, Joe Dunn is portrayed by a now-adult Spencer Treat-Clark who played the same character as a child in Unbreakable.) The security company is a functional front for Dunn to continue his role as a green rain poncho-wearing avenger, doling out vigilante justice to wrongdoers. His son also aids him in his superhero endeavors by feeding David information to him via a communication device built into his poncho.
Dunn’s (Spidey?) senses begin to tingle at the end of Split when he sees a news story about Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a man with multiple personality disorder, whose personas kidnapped three teenage girls. Only one girl, Casey Cooke (Anna Taylor-Joy) survives a confrontation with The Beast, the most physically powerful of Crumb’s Horde.
The Beast views himself as a purifier of the world, ridding it of the weak who have never known or survived true pain, stating that “the broken are more evolved.” Casey’s own history of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her uncle marks her as one who has known and overcome pain and The Beast spares her.
The Events of Glass
In the first act of Glass, Crumb’s Beast and Dunn’s Overseer battle one another. As it begins to rain — water being the “kryptonite” that nullifies Dunn’s strength — authorities show up and both men find themselves in the same institution as Elijah Price. The trio is now under the “care” of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychotherapist who specializes in delusional disorders, particularly those of people who believe themselves to be superheroes.
Staple immediately sets to work instilling doubt in the men, telling them that they really aren’t superhuman — they just think they are. At this point, poor Elijah Price is wheelchair bound — the culmination of having endured 94 breaks to his fragile bones throughout the course of his lifetime and being sedated with a cocktail of medications. While “Mr. Glass”‘s body his fragile, his mind is his strength. However, at this point, he’s unable to speak or register a facial expression.
We later learn that Price has been hoarding his meds and putting on one helluva a performance. He’s secretly been getting a feel for the layout of the facility and knows where records are kept, where cameras are positioned, and the habits of the orderlies who check in on the patients.
He uses this information to find time speak with Crumb. He aims to convince The Beast to come out to play and bust the trio of superhumans out of the facility. In his conversation, Mr. Glass encounters many of Crumb’s personalities, which are triggered by flashing lights. (Side note: How James McAvoy was not even nominated for any award for his performance in Split and possibly even Glass is beyond me. Blow me, Academy.)
The Beast agrees to the escape plan and, in the process, Mr. Glass dangles the carrot in front of Dunn that he’s going to blow up a brand new building being unveiled in Philadelphia. He uses this to get Dunn to shrug off the brainwashing that he’s not superhuman and break down the steel door to his cell and escape.
The Final Battle
During the final battle, the three characters learn how their stories intertwine. Like all the best comic book villains, Mr. Glass believes is cause is a just one. His dastardly deeds were done with the intent of a greater good — namely, activating superhumans through trauma and bringing living, breathing, comic book characters to the forefront of our world.
What Dunn realizes all too late is that, not only was this escape a suicide mission concocted by Mr. Glass, but that Ellie Staple is actually a member of a secret society. An anti-superhuman Illuminati, if you will. Their mission (and hers) is to eliminate superhumans because “we’ve [humanity] existed for over 10,000 years” and that everything is just fine the way it is. Nothing to see here. Let’s keep that status quo intact, shall we? Get rid of the superheroes.
What Staple was not counting on was that Glass had figured out her M.O. and had leaked tapes from the facility, exposing her agenda to bring Mr. Glass, The Overseer, and The Horde to heel. More importantly, this leak allows the rest of the world to realize that superheroes are very real and living among us.
Color Symbolism in Glass & the Unbreakable Trilogy
And while Mr. Glass, The Overseer, and The Horde are no more, their closest allies are helping to continue their work for the greater good: David Dunn’s son Joe, Mr. Glass’s elderly mother, and Kevin Wendell Crumb’s compassionate victim Casey Cooke have all joined forces to expose this secret society and coax superheroes out of hiding.
It’s a poignant, yet hopeful image of the three sitting together at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Amtrak Station — the very place where the Unbreakable trilogy’s story was set in motion. They watch as people view footage of the final battle on their mobile devices, learning that superheroes are real.
Interestingly, each of the characters wear the colors of their personal “superhero.” Mrs. Price wears an elegant purple suit. Casey wears shades of yellow and brick red — echoing the colors worn by Crumb and several of his personalities. And Dunn favors a jacket of earthy forest green, similar to the rain poncho his father adopted as his superhero cape.
Any fan of comics knows that colors and costumes are an important part of building a character. In Shyamalan’s trilogy, there may be even more symbolism wrapped up in the color choices of its protagonists and antagonists. The writer/director himself explained his reasons for choosing specific colors to represent each of the characters, however, I have a few more theories that expand upon Shyamalan’s explanation.
My theory is that the colors for each of the characters correspond with their superhuman attributes, as interpreted by the chakra system. In Eastern meditation practices, the chakras are centers of the body that correspond to a particular color on the spectrum. These centers are integral to proper functioning of the part of the body they govern:
- Mr. Glass‘s penchant for purple corresponds to the purple “Third Eye” chakra. Located in the center of the forehead, this chakra controls intuition and intellect. Despite his physical frailty, Elijah Price’s mind is his strong suit.
- David Dunn (a great, alliterative comic book name if there ever was one) is represented by the color green. Green represents the heart chakra, which controls emotion and the ability to feel. He’s the moral center of the trilogy — its heart. And while Dunn is “unbreakable” and has superhuman strength, his other heightened ability allows him to feel the emotions and read the past of a person just by touching them.
- Kevin Wendell Crumb was frequently shown in shades of brick red and yellow tones. Both are primary colors, yet, the red shade was not a pure red. It was more of a murky hue. In the chakra system, red corresponds to the root chakra (near the groin) which governs feelings of stability, being grounded, as well as sexuality. The fact that Crumb’s red is muddled may be a nod to the fact that he himself is unstable. He harbors two dozen personalities inside his fractured mind. And several of the personas have perverse sexual tendencies (such as Dennis who has OCD and is an attempted rapist, as well as Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who has a crush on the kidnapped girls, indicative of Crumb’s own arrested development).
The yellow color Crumb wears so frequently corresponds to the solar plexus chakra, which is ironically where The Beast had been shot in both Split and Glass. This particular chakra is associated with energy, as well as a person’s inner light. For Kevin, “the light” symbolizes one of his personas coming to the forefront. Again, this yellow is more of a saffron yellow instead of a pure, vibrant yellow. This may symbolize an imbalance in his light and energy.
These color schemes give additional context to the characters and inform their choices. The final image of the film with Mrs. Price, Joe Dunn, and Casey each wearing one of these shades symbolizes that their present reality has been “colored” by the impact of their son, their father, and their captor, respectively.
Did ‘Glass’ Have to End That Way?
In Glass, M. Night Shyamalan presents a bleak view of what would happen if superheroes existed in our world. However, the auteur also plants seeds of hope within this message.
Looking at the trilogy through the lens of reality, there is no way that Mr. Glass or The Horde would be allowed to continue to exist. Elijah Price would be doped up beyond all comprehension for the rest of his life and who knows what would happen to Kevin Wendell Crumb, who was more of a victim than anything. Some of his split personalities were good and kind. Others had sinister intentions. Yet, without a legal precedent for dealing with a human with heightened capabilities that could harm others, it’s difficult to determine how he would be dealt with.
David Dunn may have had a chance to continue to live life as he knew it, but with his real life identity revealed, it would make doling out vigilante justice that much harder. Sadly, real life vigilantes without superhuman strength are punished for meting out punishment to those who deserve it. Because, even if a person commits a violent crime, they’re entitled to “due process” and victims must place their faith in a justice system that isn’t entirely infallible. In some instances, those who protect the weak are subject to just as harsh a punishment as those who commit the initial crime.
With this in mind, the ending of Glass had to happen exactly the way it did.
The Question of “What If Superheroes Walked Among Us?” In Shyamalan’s Trilogy
But what if there were others? What sort of “threat” would they pose to the world? As evidenced by Ellie Staple and her role within the anti-superhero Illuminati, superheroes could compromise the way the powerful could operate in the world. What if there were entities more powerful than those who had accumulated wealth, prestige, and power? What if there was something else on earth that held them accountable for their actions if the powerful weren’t acting in the interest of the greater good of all humanity and not just their own place at the top of the food chain?
An Illuminati-style cabal that enjoyed nearly limitless power for so long would not take kindly to having something upset the balance of (their) power.
Within Glass (and even in Unbreakable), short scenes set in a comic book shop contributed to the message that superheroes (and even supervillains) can inspire everyday people to be something better. Ellie Staple represents the sector of society that’s more inclined to pish-tosh comic books as something silly that only kids or naive adults are into. Maybe it’s because their worlds are perfect and they’ve already been indoctrinated into a system that grants them more privilege than the average joe. I mean, hey, why make the world better when you’ve already got it good?
The scene with Casey buying comics and using them to try to understand Crumb feels like the journey a lot of young people take when they read their first comic book or see their first superhero movie. Yes, it’s escapism. But it’s an escapism that can shift how you view the world. At the center of comic books is a battle — within and without — to overcome adversity and to try and right wrongs.
Some people completely shit their pants in the middle of a crisis. They fall apart and don’t have it in them to get up and keep trying. Whether that’s nature or nurture is up for discussion. But in the case of nurture, even if you may not have a real life example of someone who’s overcome adversity and perseveres, having a fictional example is about as good as it gets. And that can mean all the difference between collapsing inward or surviving to fight another day and make things better for yourself and others.
The ending of Glass may have seen characters viewers grew attached to lose a battle, but it offers a glimmer of hope that the war is not lost.
Nothing is ever really over. And, if we’re going by the old adage that permeates many fantasy, superhero, or supernatural stories — the ending is just another beginning. Or, as Mr. Glass himself alluded in his final words: “It was an origin story.”