McAvoy is sensational, and Shyamalan delivers a totally unexpected twist. Bravo for a fearless ending.
Whence does evil come? For Epicurus, it was his questioning the reality of God; for us it is: What is the source of evil. Is it nature or nurture? We’d like to believe it’s a lack of nurture. An abusive childhood, poverty, a lousy education or a lack of moral guidance turn an innocent mind to evil. However, much to the horror of champions of the “nurture theory,” science of the human brain is revealing that evil is a product of nature. It’s an inherited trait.
Don’t believe me? Read Adrian Raine’s book, The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime. (https://www.amazon.com/Anatomy-Violence-Biological-Roots-Crime/dp/0307475611/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1548278036&sr=8-1&keywords=the+anatomy+of+violence+the+biological+roots+of+crime)
The question of whence does evil come – in my opinion - is the basis of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s films.
Like followers of Diogenes of Sinope, who wandered the streets of Athens with a lantern because he was “looking for an honest man”, Shyamalan’s main characters are all hunting for extreme abilities in human nature. (Diogenes is also known for saying, “In a rich man’s house, there is no place to spit but his face.” What a fascinating man! Anyone can get away with saying things like this if (a) you live in a large ceramic jar, (b) beg and lie about in the sun, (c) live on a diet of discarded onions, and (d) don’t care that you smell.
"If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes." Alexander the Great.
I am by no means a scholar on comic books. I know very little about superheroes. I do know that Superman, while looking like all other humans on Earth, was from another planet and had powers unknown to mankind. Superman could fly, and as Hedwig likes to say, “and etcetera.” Batman is just a very good, and very rich, engineer. He couldn’t even tie his shoes in that bulky armored suit.
The enormous success of superhero movies has become the Era of Super Powers in films. Everyone has a superpower. The best thing to come out of this is a generation of people who will demand their brains be explored to enhance their power over the laws of nature, i.e., gravity, time and space. Drugs have made bodybuilders and athletes (I heard things about baseball players and the Tour de France).
Shyamalan’s extraordinary success with THE SIXTH SENSE must have put incredible pressure (and perhaps contractual demands) for follow-ups. But after UNBREAKABLE, the creative well went dry and we had to endure too many sloppy, Twilight Zone derivative movies. But THE SIXTH SENSE was such a phenomenal success that Shyamalan is the outlier of the Hollywood rule of allowing only 3 box office bombs and then you are sent to do time in TV purgatory.
In SPLIT, the fabulous James McAvoy was sensational as Kevin, a man who carries “The Horde” in his body. These very distinctive characters jockey for position often showing off. McAvoy’s characters were too good. We loved the 8-year-old Hedwig and stern Patricia. Each has skills unique to their identities. They are united to bring forth “The Beast.” And “The Beast” requires a blood sacrifice.
The Shyamalan Universe consists – as of now - of Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and The Horde (James McAvoy). In SPLIT, The Beast finally arrived. His intended human sacrifices were abducted and prepped by Kevin but only one, Casey Cook (Anya Taylor-Joy), escaped. Did The Beast really take a liking to Casey and let her live because she too had suffered? After his rodeo date with Mr. Glass in UNBREAKABLE, Dunn became a violent vigilante in a hooded, black raincoat, assisted by his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). When four cheerleaders are abducted, everyone, including Dunn, is looking for The Beast.
Dunn’s extraordinary talent, just by brushing up against someone he gets a strong sense of their life and crimes, puts him onto The Beast. When the police arrive, Kevin and Dunn are sent directly to a private, well-endowed psychiatric clinic, the Raven Hill Memorial Psychiatric Research Center, where Mr. Glass has been for 19 years!
Mr. Glass’s only visitor is his saintly mother (Charlayne Woodard). Because of his unique talents of genius, Mr. Glass has spent a lot of his time under heavy sedation. He is considered dangerous and super-intelligent.
A section of the clinic has been constructed by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), specifically to house The Horde. Every time one of the personalities misbehaves, a bank of flashing lights disrupts the personality present and another personality takes over.
Shyamalan references the Old Testament (and exorcism lore) by giving The Horde their own kryptonite: Kevin’s full name.
13 And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?
14 And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.” Exodus 3:13-14 KJV
Having all 3 of these “madmen” under her rule, Dr. Staple outlines her operating theory: They are all delusional. They do not have super-powers. Their obsession with comic book superheroes is a mental disorder.
Well, Dunn could show off his talents and so could Mr. Glass but they refuse to perform for Dr. Staple. What about that video of Kevin, transformed as The Beast, leaping around like a frog? If only Dunn would brush up against Dr. Staple.
Dr. Staple does not know Kevin’s “safe word” but does know Dunn’s kryptonite - water.
Remember the trope that the black guy always dies first in horror movies? 300, SCREAM 2, ALIENS, STEALTH, and etcetera. Here, it’s the security guards and clinic staff that are the dimwits. With 3 “madmen” to be guarded, is it really just another day in the mines?
With GLASS, Shyamalan delivers his expected twist. And it’s a fabulous one. There is definitely a franchise here, a very unexpected one. McAvoy’s characters are exceptional, though in SPLIT we got a deeper understanding of the hierarchy of The Horde and their personalities. Since The Beast was let loose for a period of time before being found by Dunn, how about a time-shift and the next movie features Kevin making it the world being homeless, friendless, and all of The Horde nagging and angling for position as leader.
Victoria Alexander is a member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.