:: Wednesday, December 01, 2004 ::
"Unbreakable" or, What is a hero? And what is evil?
I watched "Unbreakable" recently. Very interesting movie.
David (the Bruce Willis character) is approaching a turning point in his life, although he might not be aware of anything other than his vague discontent. His marriage hasn't been good for a while and he's trying to find a job that will entail his moving out of the house. He may be fine in his current job, but we get the sense that there is something lacking there.
Or, maybe it's just that we sense that, for him, something more general is lacking in his life... and as a result, he has distanced himself from his wife, and has contemplated change that will take him away. Which would also take him away from his son, who seems to be suffering in the coldness of the household. He has night fears which takes him to his father's or his mother's (separate) rooms. At a crucial point, when David desperately needs to get his son's attention, it is the threat of David leaving the family to move to New York that finally causes the son to break.
The movie is an exploration of superheros in comic books, and it's generally considered to be a movie to watch on different levels. But the exploration is generally seen as an exploration of the archetype of hero, the definition of superhero that comics offer.
I think there is a more human level to it than this.
I would say, David is not a superhero in the comic book sense. We might even say he is not a superhero at all, and not even a hero in the archetypal sense.
Rather, he is just a person... just a good person. If he does heroic things, those are only the things that any good person would do, given an opportunity and the resources needed to succeed.
It is those around him who make him a "hero"... that is, who define him as "hero" for themselves, who define him as "hero" because of their own needs. That he steps up to this need and performs in a heroic fashion is David doing what he is able to do on behalf of those people.
Elijah (the Samuel L. Jackson character) needs a superhero to give sense and meaning to his life. His machinations eventually allow him to turn David into the superhero Elijah needs.
Joseph (David's son) needs his dad to be a hero. The movie doesn't allow us to see a slose relationship between him and his mother. It's between the lines that we can see that, for him, the house is an empty place. His dad might be slipping away. He's growing up but still has a boy inside him too. He needs a hero, for himself. He needs to be able to see his dad as a hero, and not as a sad man who has grown distant and may soon be physically distant as well.
Does the fact that Elijah created the hero that David became make David less a hero? Is it any less true that he's a hero if it's his son that is the one that believes it?
We see Elijah as the villian, and in the comic book sense he is. In the human sense he is too -- he acts selfishly, his selfish acts cause harm to others.
But Elijah, in his own twisted way, was acting out of his needs. David responded ... acted the hero Elijah wanted him to be, and then removed Elijah from a position where his need would continue to harm others.
I started out writing this thinking I would write about heros. How we all can be heros, how our acts of goodness and love can make each of us heros in the eyes of someone.
But I'm not sure that's what I'm writing about anymore.
It's the illusions I don't understand. Elijah's and Joseph's illusions that David was a hero. He WASN'T what they thought. He was skilled, he was lucky, but he was just a guy.
When is it that the illusion can become real? When you walk away from fatal accidents?
But David DID do heroic things, and by acting heroically, was a hero for two people.
If Joseph had shot the gun, proving that someting COULD hurt David, that David had some vulnerability, would all illusions have been shattered? Would that negate the heroic acts that David did and was capable of?
I need to know this, because my own illusions are so easily shattered.