Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Unbreakable

I’ve never really had any good comic book collecting friends, which is kind of depressing. Not that I walk around with this great depression hanging over my head, but if I sit around and think about it, it does make me sad. My greatest passion in life and I’ve never really had anybody close to me that I could adequately share it with.

I love comics more than I do movies. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously love movies but if I go a week or two without seeing one it doesn’t really bother me. But go a week without buying a comic book, or at least going to a comic store trying to buy some? Fugghedaboudit! There have been times when I’ve been forced to keep away from buying comics, such as when I was unemployed and budget conscious or just didn’t live near any good stores. But those haven’t been happy times in my life. In fact, they were downright excruciating! I need comics to keep me alive.

UNBREAKABLE is a film about comic books. I can’t say too much how and why because I don’t want to give away the plot at all. Even though I didn’t like the film all that much, it’s one of those kinds of movies and I respect that. However, if I were being completely respectful I wouldn’t have even mentioned that the flick involves comics. But, oh well. I’m also going to give away, the first 10 seconds or so of the movie.

The movie starts with a title card giving some facts about the modern day comic book industry. Like how many books a month are published, how many are sold, how much they cost. I don’t remember the exact figures quoted in the film and it doesn’t really matter. They sounded kind of hokey anyway. I’m not quite sure what the point of the opening title card was anyway. My guess is to try to legitimatize to “regular” people, i.e. non-comic collectors, the comic industry and to reassure them that it’s ok to be watching a movie about comic books and that what they’re going to watch isn’t a big waste of their time.

Comic book collectors are dorks. I admit it. I was at a comic convention in NYC the other weekend and I was taking a good look at my fellow conventioneers. I was trying to determine “Are we creepy and strange? Or is that just a bad stereotype?” And as much as I was trying to convince myself that overall we were a decent, normal bunch with only a few extreme wackos, I had to face the truth that if any non-collectors came to the convention they’d probably be scared out of their wits by us. Except, I can’t figure out exactly what it is that makes comic book collectors seem so “different”.

So, I was suspicious of UNBREAKABLE right from the very start because I wasn’t sure what to make of the comic book references. I didn’t know, and I’m still not sure, if the writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is a collector or not. Was he reaching into his own passion of the medium to groove on metaphysical concepts? Or was he just exploiting general, common concepts of what people think comic books are to tell a story? Because there are a lot of things in the film about comics that are complete, utter shit. I’d go off on exactly what, but like I said, I don’t want to reveal too much about the film.

Comics are a pain in the ass anyway, so I can understand why they’re not that popular. Going to the comic book store every week is probably the highlight of my every week, but I don’t think most people can have that kind of enthusiasm and dedication. Sure, people watch the same TV shows every week, but they don’t have to leave the house to do it and go into a scary store that’s probably filled with freaks and weirdos. Or, who really wants to spend 20 bucks on a “graphic novel” that references over 50 years of a character’s history and generally doesn’t have a concrete ending? Or, how about buying a 24-page installment of a really great comic and then only to have to wait 6 months to a year for the next installment to finally be published?

I’ve been reading CEREBUS, to use as an example, which has a story with a definite beginning, middle and end, except I’ve been reading it in 20 page installments every month for the past 12 years or so and there’s still about 3 years to go before the final issue. How many people have the patience to put in that much time, and money, on something like that? I do, but I must be sick in the head. In fact, I know I’m sick in the head.

But I love comics and UNBREAKABLE tries to deal with them in an intelligent, thoughtful manner, so you’d think I’d like and appreciate that. However, I didn’t really. And as far as comic books being “art” or what their metaphysical and metaphorical relationship to the real world is, it doesn’t matter. They’re just comic books.