Strength and Vulnerability

Strolling in the Shadows of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable

In every dark corner of Unbreakable, the words of Elijah Price linger: ‘it’s okay to be afraid. Because this part won’t be like a comic book. Real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.’ The film delivers supernatural might to a backdrop of human vulnerability, like tha image of David Dunn, with bones unbreakable, bringing his marriage beneath the grand painting of a tree. The preternatural nests in the natural, and despite his physical strength, David Dunn is defined by his heart, which you see in his relationship with his wife and son, and his face leaning against the train window before a lethal wreck leaves him unscathed. David’s defences are not for his body, but his family and his sense of self, but  as he lets in the threat of more, his internal thresholds take on the significance of Elijah Price, a weakness broken to find an enduring good.

Before catastrophe reveals David’s power, we see fragile dignity in a moment of near unfaithfulness. David’s marriage is tenuous and his relationship with his son is delicate. At the heart of each is vulnerability, and this is what David must let in to fill the role of the hero. David distances himself from his wife and son by shielding them from the reality of his powers. Healing comes by letting in vulnerability, rather than wearing out relationships in denial of who he really is. As David embraces it, he opens to the love of his family, his true vulnerability, and true strength. The scenes with David are dominated by his solitary presence – leaning against the train window, sitting on the hospital bed, standing in the rain, beneath the stadium archway. As he accepts ‘the destiny for which [he] was born,’ the scenes become more intimate, his son’s hand on David’s back, his wife carried in his arms, and cuddled in her bed. After all the images of Bruce Willis’ chiselled maw, the bench presses, the hard drawings of comic book figures, the film becomes much more about the flowing lines of love and relationship

That brooding, blushing reality contrasts against the ‘little boxes’ of David and Megan’s house, the concrete stadium, or the school where both David and his son defy the norms – all the impermanent structures that hold David’s life in place until he lets it go. The agent of the extra-ordinary is Elijah Price, a shattered man who discovers the truth of David and himself. Price is enigma, threat, and weakness in one character. He is a success in the world, educated, entrepreneurial, impeccably dressed, yet way out of the box. He represents David’s calling, but lacks the humanity that defines David. When he learns for certain that David is unbreakable, Elijah Price is fallen, busted, and up-side-down. The ‘greatest strength is within the weakest weakness,’ the truth is just beyond the borders of understanding, and all this David finds in Elijah Price. As Bruce Willis conveys raw humanity, Samuel L. Jackson, brings the shadowy unknown. ‘It’s okay to be afraid…real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it.’

David follows Elijah Price out of the ordinary, into the unknown and his deepest vulnerability, but he leaves Elijah Price behind where vulnerability, strength, and love come together. As David ventures ‘where people are,’ his powers begin with sensitivity. He extends his arms with people brushing his hands. He opens himself to human contact and their grim secrets. At the crime scene, he is pushed to  the brink of drowning. ‘You do have a weakness…water,’ echoes Elijah Price,’ it’s your kryptonite.’ Reaching for him in the swimming pool, salvation comes from those he rescued, the children. The next scene is the culmination of David’s love and weakness, connecting with his son in the knowledge of his identity, and lying in the arms of his wife.

Unbreakable haunts with the potential of the unknown, the hidden strength we may not know we have. While director M. Night Shyamalan uses comic book motifs and the supernatural to tempt our minds beyond their confines, David’s human story proves most extra-ordinary. The vulnerability of his open heart is what makes him unbreakable.



John de Ruiter quote: Your greatest strength is within your weakest weakness.

See also: Q. Tarantino likes Unbreakable