Glass picks up shortly after the conclusion of Split, with Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) in pursuit of The Beast before he can kill again. M. Night Shyamalan began his trilogy nearly twenty years ago with a simple question; what if superheroes and supervillains really existed? He explored the psyche of an ordinary man discovering innate extraordinary abilities in 2000’s Unbreakable, and conversely gave rise to a monstrous villain in 2017’s Split. With Glass, Shyamalan closes out the trilogy by bringing all of the characters together, and with it an examination of what that means to be extraordinary in this world. Because it’s been a lot longer between films for us than it has the characters, some of the details, plot points, and themes may have faded a bit from memory. As a refresher in preparation for the release of Glass, here’s everything you should know.
Opening in 1961 Philadelphia with a shocking scene of a woman holding her crying newborn, a doctor is called to examine the pair. He’s horrified to discover the baby broke a lot of bones while still in her womb. This is our introduction to Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man born with Type I Osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder that leaves his bones brittle and prone to breaking easily. His mother, Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), introduces him to comic books as a means to get him out of the house more, which leads to life fully submersed in comics for Elijah.
Decades later we meet David Dunn on a train, the Eastrail 177. A brief exchange with a female passenger lets us know that while David is married, it’s in dire straits. The train derails soon after, crashing and killing all passengers on board except David, who walks away without a single scratch. From there we meet David’s wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and young son Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark). Audrey and David sleep in separate bedrooms, and barely speak to each other. Joseph, however, clearly adores his dad.
David’s survival of the train crash catches the attention of Elijah, who believes David to be a superhero. His first meeting and subsequent interactions with David are attempts to not just convince David that he’s more than just human, but to explain the parameters of the comic book world as its applied to their lives. Joseph wholeheartedly encourages his dad to embrace it, while David remains skeptical. Shyamalan gives us more insight to David piecemeal as we discover his inability to get sick or injured, until the reveal of a near drowning accident during childhood shakes David’s core.
Water is David’s kryptonite. He has the ability to detect crimes simply by touch (look for Shyamalan’s cameo as a drug mule at the stadium where David works), and his skin impenetrable, but water is his weakness. After David finally embraces who he is, the Shyamalan twist is revealed – Elijah Price, also known as Mr. Glass, orchestrated the train’s derailment. It wasn’t the first time Mr. Glass planned and executed a major catastrophe responsible for killing hundreds of people either, and it was all to find his counterpart. For every extreme in human nature, there is an opposite that rises. For his extreme frail state, he committed terrorist acts to find his opposite- the unbreakable David Dunn. Unbreakable concludes with David reporting Elijah to authorities, and he’s subsequently put away in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.
In large part due to the movie’s marketing, Unbreakable was a covert comic book movie ahead of the curve. The focus wasn’t on action set pieces, but how becoming a superhero affected the emotional and mental state of the hero and those closest to him. Because of this, and that it was Shyamalan’s immediate follow up to The Sixth Sense, reception on Unbreakable took years to turn around. This is why it took so long for the second entry of the trilogy to arrive.
Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a withdrawn teen who frequently acts out in class. She, along with more extroverted classmates Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), gets kidnapped by Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) after Claire’s dad offers to drive them home from an outing. Locked away in a windowless room beneath the Philadelphia zoo, the girls soon realize that their captor, Kevin, suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID). The disorder seems to have activated at a young age, when his father disappeared, leaving him alone with a very abusive mother. His therapist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), has identified 23 different personalities in Kevin, referred to as The Horde.
An inciting incident in which two teen girls forced Kevin to touch their breasts triggered Kevin’s childhood trauma, causing his more villainous personalities to become dominant and take charge. They are preparing for the arrival of a 24th personality; a cannibalistic sociopath with superhuman strength and abilities named The Beast. The captive teen girls are meant as sacrificial food for the Beast, and his only driving goal is to purge the world of those who’ve been “untouched” – people who have never experienced suffering like his.
When Fletcher fails to stop Kevin and the Beast does arrive into the light, what the Horde call the driving persona in Kevin, Fletcher reveals Kevin’s weakness before being killed – saying the name Kevin Wendell Crumb aloud. After killing her, the Beast feasts on Claire and Marcia. Though he targets Casey next, flashback sequences reveal she’s not one of the “untouched” at all.
Layers of clothes are peeled away, and the Beast sees her horrifically scarred body – her long history with self-harm is the result of being forced to live with her Uncle John after the death of her father. Uncle John had been molesting her long before, and after, her father’s heart attack. Understanding that they’re kindred spirits, the Beast lets her live, running off into the night. The ordeal changed Casey’s perspective on her own life, making her hesitate when the cops bring her back to her Uncle’s home.
Split closes with a shocking reveal- David Dunn watching the news story of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s crimes in a diner. The Horde exists in the same city as Mr. Glass and David Dunn, setting the stage for a long-awaited showdown.
As the Beast runs loose in Philadelphia, looking for more teen victims as food, David Dunn seeks to stop him and prevent more death. But a battle between a superhero and supervillain doesn’t go unnoticed by the authorities, which puts them both in the presence of mastermind Mr. Glass. Joseph, Casey, and Mrs. Price all have roles to play in this major battle. Because Shyamalan’s take on the comic book story is entrenched in reality, expect Glass to have bigger stakes for the characters than we’ve been used to so far.
What Shyamalan sought to convey the most in Unbreakable, Split, and ultimately Glass, is that despite the clearly defined roles of the comic book world, the real world doesn’t make it so easy to put these characters in boxes. Kevin Wendell Crumb and Mr. Glass are classical interpretations of villains, but their motives, childhood traumas, and emotions make them empathetic and human. These are villains we actively root for. David Dunn is the traditional hero with a stronger grasp of morality, but vigilantism is a murkier, law-breaking subject. The subject of superheroes and supervillains has never been quite so complex on screen.