Chapter 23: They Call Me Mr. Glass.

Everyone expected the world to end in the year 2000. I guess it had something to do with all those zeroes. But of course, as we all know now, the world didn't end. We didn't even get the big y2k computer crash like everyone was secretly hoping for. Nothing happened. The clock rolled over, everyone held their breath for a moment, and time went on. The year 2000 was, all things considered, a disappointment.

But, as with all things, that only depends on which way you look at it.

Those zeroes, after all, don't just represent nothingness and finality. They're not just holes. They're also circles, and that means they represent cycles. And in particular, the cycle of the Cyberpunk hero.

M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable is not, at first glance, a film that could be in any way associated with the Cyberpunk genre. Sure, it's dark, and it's got action and drama and plenty of mixed up morality. But that just makes it a good modern super hero story, which is what it was always intended to be. But if you take a closer look at the Biblically-named main characters of David (played by Bruce Willis) and Elijah (Samuel Jackson), and really focus on what they represent, to themselves and to each other, then you truly begin to get a taste of where a lot of the most modern Cyberpunk is truly headed--back to mythology.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the fact that it discards the traditional three-act cycle and focuses entirely on the first act, wherein our hero, David Dunne, goes through the process of discovering himself and his place in the world. The entire film is an origin story, a creation story, a piece of mythology. It's not a story about how a super hero defeats evil, but rather a story of how a man becomes a hero, about how an ordinary person in ordinary circumstances suddenly discovers that he's capable of extraordinary things, about how a guy who's in the gutter suddenly finds out that he can not only reach the stars, but fly amongst them (figuratively, in this case, though with some super heroes it's a literal possibility).

But our story begins not amongst the stars but, appropriately, on the dirty floor of a J.C. Penny department store in 1961, where an African-American woman has just given birth to a baby boy. Unusual circumstances to begin with, all compounded by the fact that her baby is anything but healthy; his arms and legs are broken, and his screams are hardly those of a typical infant. Little Elijah has been brought into the world not only kicking and screaming, but suffering and broken.

Cut to the present day, where an ordinary middle-aged man named David Dunne is travelling by train from New York to Philadelphia, dealing with all the normal problems a man of his age and position in life might have to face: inquisitive children in the next aisle, job troubles, and marital problems. His first few words spoken to a pretty young temptation on the train tells us just about everything we need to know about David... although of course, neither we nor David know that yet, this early on in the film.

                           You like sports?

                           It's my field. I represent
                           athletes. I'm an agent...
                           I'm meeting a player from
                           Temple University. He's a
                           cornerback. You like


                           Not really.

                           This kid is six foot two,
                           two hundred and forty
                           pounds. He runs the fifty in
                           under six seconds. He's
                           going to be a God.

The dialogue here (from the original screenplay) isn't quite how it finally wound up in the film, which is a shame, because it's that final "He's going to be a God" comment which lays out the groundwork for the development of David's character. As we find out later, he used to be a football player. And as David finds out later, he's going to be a God too. And he starts to discover this when he wakes up in the hospital, to the amazement of all.

                                    MAN IN SCRUBS
                           Your train derailed... Some
                           kind of malfunction... It
                           took a curve way too fast. A
                           second train collided with
                           yours after it derailed. The
                           debris is spread over one
                           mile. It's unbelievable...
                           And to answer your question,
                           there are two reasons why
                           I'm looking at you like

David turns and stares at the man.

                                    MAN IN SCRUBS
                           One, because it seems, in a
                           few minutes, you will
                           officially be the only
                           survivor of this train
                           And two, because you don't
                           have a scratch on you. You
                           didn't break one bone.

Though physically unbroken, we quickly learn that David's emotional life is a shambles. He and his wife are sleeping in separate bedrooms, and the reason he was returning from New York was because he was looking for a job there. Now, on top of all of this, he's got a bad case of survivor's guilt, and nobody seems willing to help him figure out exactly why he lived when everyone else died. In a scene cut from the final film (but available on the DVD), David speaks with a Catholic priest about why he survived the accident.

                           Just two days ago, my nephew
                           rode with you on that train
                           back from New York. He was
                           traveling alone for the
                           first time. I'm sorry if I
                           can't react to your survival
                           with the appropriate 'It was
                           the hand of God. It was a
                           miracle.' kind of answer...
                           I'm fresh out of those right

David is shaken. Beat.

                           The metal of the watch I was
                           wearing was crushed like a
                           sledge hammer hit it.

Beat. The priest's eyes fill with emotion.

                           My twelve year old nephew's
                           neck was broken in four
                           places... What's your point?
                           You were chosen?
                           I don't think so.

The priest calls it luck, as he must; his faith can't accept a person like David, who's "divinely" impervious to injury. Cyberpunk heroes of all sorts typically have similar problems with organized religion, which at its worst represents a form of mind control and at its best tends to become little more than a list of rules and commandments which make a sin out of everything our protagonists do. Cyberpunk protagonists, after all, hang out with prostitutes and drug dealers and fixers and back-alley doctors and criminals. And there are two sorts of people which Western religion (and Christianity in particular) acknowledges as hanging out with criminals: other criminals, and Gods (or, specifically, God). In the Johnny Mnemonic film, the priest played by Dolph Lundgren literally tried to kill our protagonist Johnny; here, the attack is more subtle, and non-physical, but still just as potent. The priest pushes David back down into the gutter, fearing(?) what he might turn into if he's not held down where he belongs.

What David discovers, of course, is that if he wants answers and assistance in climbing to greater heights, he can't turn to organized religion or government for answers. Like our traditional Cyberpunk protagonist, when he's down on his luck he has to turn to a privately wealthy patron for help. Or, more appropriately (and more in line with many Cyberpunk storylines), the patron comes to him: Armitage finds Case in Gibson's Neuromancer; Coelacanth Productions finds Cass, Moke and Dosh in Wilhelmina Baird's Crashcourse; and in this case, Elijah from the "Limited Edition" Comic Book shop finds David and asks him, simply: "How many days of your life have you been sick?" The answer, of course, is "zero." Just like all those zeroes in the year 2000, representing not an end, but a new beginning.

Elijah is also "Mr. Glass," thus named because in school the bullies used to say his bones (weakened by Osteogenesis Imperfecta) broke like glass. In the tradition of comic book villains and Cyberpunk nemeses, he needs a cryptic pseudonym to make him more superhuman. From the very start, it's clear that he's meant to be the bad guy; when we first meet him in the present day, he's discussing the features that make up a comic book villain, and may as well be describing himself: larger than normal head (Elijah wears his hair quite large), powerful mind, and, of course, a critical flaw. Elijah is filled with all sorts of comic book trivia, and personally believes that comic book heroes and villains are a pictorial link "to the ancient way of passing on history." Or more appropriately, mythology.

The story of Elijah and David is much more than just the standard comic book story of Superman versus Lex Luthor, Batman versus the Joker. It's the epic Zoroastrian struggle of good versus evil, of chaos against order, of Satan against Yahweh, the Greek gods against the Titans. Order and goodness tend to be aligned, but Cyberpunk tends to reverse this, placing order on the side of the "bad guys" and making heroes out of the chaotic little criminals who strive to claw their way up the side of the glass towers downtown in an attempt to shatter their way into heaven. David Dunne is thus not a typical Cyberpunk hero; he's aligned with law and order, working as a security guard to protect and serve others, just as Elijah clearly represents not just evil, but chaos. David is the omniscient, omnipotent (nearly, but even Achilles had a bum heel) being trying to bring order out of chaos, and Elijah is the demon who shatters it all back into chaotic madness.

Elijah's slow tumble down a set of stairs about halfway through the film is truly a mythological fall, representing not only an opportunity for our villain to get close to David's wife (via physical therapy), but the price he pays for seeking "divine knowledge." Satan, the ultimate bad guy, refuses to bow to a greater power, and is cast out of heaven for it, getting burnt and broken in the process. Likewise, here, Elijah's search for the truth about this story's divine, mythological force (David) leads him to a fall from grace. The painful cracks and snaps we hear as he tumbles down the stairs in search of a man with a silver gun punctuate his metaphysical fall with exclamation points. He will destroy himself, physically and emotionally, to get to the truth.

He falls down the remaining part of the stairs.
The FIRST SICKENING CRACK is heard when his hand
reaches out to stop his fall.


He comes to a stop in a pile on the dirty gum stained
floor of the subway landing. His jaw is locked in a

His contorted anguished face sees the turnstiles of
the subway upside down. The green army jacketed man
looks back at Elijah with a blank expression pushing
through the turnstile.

The last thing Elijah sees before he blacks out, is
the tail of the man's coat riding up as he move
through the turnstile. The SILVER HANDLE OF A GUN
peeks out from the belt of his pants.

David's own journey towards the truth is somewhat less painful, as he starts to put back together the pieces of his shattered life, bonding with his son as he lifts weights in the basement, going on "dates" with his wife to try and make things better, slowly starting to explore the full range of his powers (which involve enhanced strength and the ability to perceive when other people are breaking the law). But even so, it's not a smooth ride. He has to deal with some difficult hurdles along the way, including a son who tries to shoot him in the chest to prove he's a super hero, to his own doubts. And of all people, it's the villain of the story who has to convince David that he's the hero.

Which makes sense, when you think about it. Because if there's no evil, how can good exist? Without the devil, what do we need God for?

Like Dante descending into Hell in order to reach Heaven, so does David revisit the hellish memory of his past, remembering at last that as a young man, he faked an injury in order to be with his wife. Once he's accepted himself for being truly superhuman, and has pushed aside all the fears and limitations that he's been placing on himself, he is able to fully achieve his transformation from an ordinary security drone into a demigod of sorts. The train station in which he finally embraces his power is like a Greek temple, huge pillars rising up as David wanders amongst the people, arms outstretched.

David stares out at the midnight travelers.
Beat. He starts towards them.

He passed the towering black statue standing at the
far end of the station. It watches over the whole
building. It's in the form of an angel lifting a
soldier to heaven.

David moves through the first group of people - a
crisscross of arriving passengers from tracks one
and two. They brush by him and lightly bump him as
they move.

Ultimately, David finds himself following an orange-garbed villain to a house in the suburbs, where he undergoes the final journey into the realm of the divine, plunging into the icy black darkness of a swimming pool, akin to Sheol or Hades or any of the myriad dark worlds of the dead found in mythological literature. Like Christ dying as a man, descending into the world of the dead and arising three days later to ascend into Heaven as a God, David Dunne faces the final hurdle, the threat of death, and comes out the other side as a hero, finally choking the orange-garbed villain into submission and saving the day.

Of course, David Dunne isn't the only one who makes the journey. Elijah, though fallen, is still superhuman in his own way. After all, Satan is a divine being too, and even though he's fallen from the world of the divine, he still believes in that realm. Elijah, then, shows us the flipside of the journey that David takes throughout the story. Whereas David rises from the world of the mundane to achieve a sort of return to the world of the divine, Elijah represents the divine creature who's fallen from Heaven to land, broken and burned, in the world of the mundane. Yet despite the fact that they're travelling in opposite directions, both are decidedly godlike in their own way.

                                    ELIJAH(low voice)
                           I almost gave up hope. There
                           were so many times I
                           questioned myself. I've made
                           so many sacrifices but it's
                           all been worth it.
                           There are millions and
                           millions or mediocre people
                           in the world David. Isn't it
                           great that we aren't one of

Taken on a fairly low, easy-to-digest level, Cyberpunk is about stuffing your frontal lobes full of microchips, jacking into cyberspace and decking yourself out with chrome enhancements and cybernetically-enhanced artificial limbs, all for the purpose of striking back against yet another faceless corporation that's hogging all the money while forcing you and yours to life in squalor in the year two-thousand-and-something. The ultimate goal in a situation like this is to crawl out of the gutter and reach Heaven, to leave behind the world of the ordinary and become truly extraordinary. For many Cyberpunk figures, that escape is into a virtual realm of cyberspace, where they can leave the physical world behind and, like Wintermute in Gibson's Neuromancer, become godlike in their power. For others, the escape is into a real, physical "Heaven," like Cass and Moke in Bairds's Crashcourse, who only want to get enough money together so they can leave earth behind and go to live in the stars.

And there's nothing particularly wrong with limiting Cyberpunk to just that. But to do so is to ignore the journey that the characters go through, and to ignore the meaning of that journey, and, most tragically, to ignore the importance of their destination. Once you get past the surface, you start to realize that more than anything, Cyberpunk is more about personal empowerment in the face of an uncaring society than about chips and cybernetic arms.

In that sense, the fact that Unbreakable is a story about supposedly ordinary men trying to achieve something extraordinary is why I include it in a list of Cyberpunk films. Certainly, there are no cybernetic enhancements... unless you count the fact that Elijah has artificial steel pins in his bones, keeping him alive and functional. And certainly, there's no looming corporate giant attempting to squelch the desires of the punks on the street... unless you take a step back and survey the situation from a distance; from there, it's easy to see David and Elijah as victims of the System as a whole, being persecuted for what they are, being driven into low-paying jobs, being told time and again that they are ordinary men of glass, made to be broken, when in fact they are men of steel. Superman is a Man of Steel, of course, but then, so is a cyborg. It's all about where you choose to draw the line. And how you define your heroes.

If you've been following along from the start, you'll probably have noticed a progression of sorts that basically takes our Cyberpunk protagonist from the typical post-apocalyptic hell (a la films like The Road Warrior and Escape From N.Y. down through the gutter and out the other side into the realm of the divine. This is pretty thick stuff, I'll admit... thick enough to have warranted my writing an entire 200+ page thesis on the topic (available right here), and there are those who like to say I'm off my rocker and need to stop all this nonsense and just get back to leather, chrome and cybernetic arms. Which I'll do shortly, since there's certainly nothing wrong with getting back-to-basics.

First, however, I need to wrap this series up proper. You may have noticed that the title says something about 1981-2001, and that means there's one more year to go. Just one. The film I've chosen to discuss truly represents the culmination of the mythological cycle in Cyberpunk better than any other film I can think of, and is a logical next step from where we find ourselves at the end of Unbreakable. It's about what happens when an ordinary man achieves some semblance of divine power, and discovers that the only enemy that stands in his way is... himself. I can think of no better film to symbolically wrap up this series than The One, released in 2001. Coming soon, right here. Stay tuned, and be sure to let me know what you think at the address below.