Glass Isn’t Just About Superheroes: It’s About Belief

Glass Isn’t Just About Superheroes: It’s About Belief January 18, 2019
Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy and Bruce Willis in Glass, photo courtesy Universal Pictures

Ultimately Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s newest twisty adventure, didn’t work that well for me, at least as a movie. To get to its finale, Shyamalan lost sight of some of the story’s characters, under-developing some and underserving others. Watchable? Sure, if you know some of the backstory. But it’s not one of Shyamalan’s best.

But if the movie itself disappointed, it does drill down into a concept critical and deeply spiritual: The idea of belief.

The real crux of Glass—and where it works best—is when its main characters are held in a sanitarium under the supervision of Dr. Ellie Staple (played by Sarah Paulson). Staple specializes in treating a very special sort of delusion, the delusion that you’re a superhero.

When she looks at David Dunn (Bruce Willis, who first appeared as the character in 2000’s Unbreakable), she doesn’t see an indestructible vigilante, but a guy with a brain defect and a painful, hidden, childhood memory. Same goes for the Horde—a collection of split personalities (played by James McAvoy, here and in 2016’s Split) with a penchant for kidnapping and killing teenage girls. The Horde worships the biggest and strongest personality in the stew, a super-strong, wall-climbing entity known as The Beast. The bars The Beast bent? Staple just says that they were made of old, faulty iron—not easy to bend, but possible. As for Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) himself—a man with incredibly brittle bones and who fashions himself as a Lex Luthor-like supervillain—Staples keeps him safely sedated. Yes, she admits he’s smart. But superhuman smart? Hardly.

Slowly, Staple tries to chip away at the confidence of these characters, especially David and the Beast, suggesting that everything “superhuman” they’ve been able to do is well within the bounds of the natural world. They’re not special, she says. They’re sick.

But Glass, eventually, pushes back.

“Everything extraordinary can be explained away,” he says. “And yet it’s true.”

I love that line.

The movie’s premise suggests that its characters are far more capable than Dr. Staple insists. When personalities in the Horde begin to express doubts, it’s up to The Beast to prove them wrong. “I believe, I believe!” shouts one of those personalities, her doubt vanquished finally.

The movie’s concept of belief and faith manifests itself in more humanistic terms, admittedly. It suggests we’re all capable of great things if we just believe in ourselves. And I get that. Any truly great artist or visionary, it seems, must have an almost unbelievable level of confidence in his or her own talents and abilities: To do something truly special, you have to believe you can do it first, even if that belief seems to others (as it invariably does) as delusional.

But I think we find the same dynamic in faith, too.

Listen, I think that the Christian faith is rational and intellectually defensible. You can point to physics and biology and any number of sciences and show how they can point to a divine Creator; we can use archeology and history and all manner of arts to draw a line to Jesus and His remarkable influence in the world. Reasoned and diligent researchers can reach a point where Christianity feels, to a point, naturally and historically plausible.

But to believe, we have to go further. We have to believe in something that, on its face, feels outlandish: That God would manifest Himself in a human body. And that that body would die (as all bodies do) and, somehow, rise and live again.

By happenstance, I was reading Stephen King’s book Desperation before my screening of Glass.

Early in the book, a boy named David—a boy who is deeply religious, and whose own sense of unwavering faith serves as the book’s anchor and the characters’ only hope—prays fervently, desperately, inside a jail cell in the hellish small town of Desperation. He knows that he’ll need to squeeze through the bars to escape and save not just himself, but everyone who’s trapped there with him. It seems impossible, but he has to try. He strips off his clothes, lathers himself up with a green bar of soap and, improbably, pops free.

It seems like just an outstanding feat of contortion when it happens—remarkable, sure, but within reason. But then someone mentions that David’s head never should’ve been able to squeeze through the bars. Even if everything got through, the skull would’ve stopped him cold.

That’s the thing about having real faith. Sometimes the head gets in the way.

Sometimes the head prevents us from believing in miracles. In a Creator who loves us and cares about what we do. In a man who was killed, buried and rose again.

“Everything extraordinary can be explained away. And yet it’s true.”

Glass didn’t always work for me. But M. Night Shyamalan’s latest contains one message of improbable, outlandish truth. And that made it worthwhile.

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