M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie Glass brings together three characters from his preceding movies Unbreakable and Split. While all three movies are intense with scenes of violence, the viewer is surprisingly moved to compassion.
In Unbreakable, Bruce Willis plays David (aka the Overseer), a reluctant hero. His heroic powers are revealed as he is the lone survivor of a deadly train wreck. At the beginning of Glass (many years later), we see him anonymously bringing justice to criminals. Though he only attacks the bad guys, the police are after him for his vigilante ways.
In Split, we meet not a hero but a complicated villain. The main character Kevin has multiple personalities (DID) and three of his personalities of the more dubious nature have taken over. His disorder is a result of the abuse he experienced as a child at the hands of his mother. A new personality named the Beast emerges in this movie whose job it is to protect Kevin. The beast is an amalgamation of the various animals in the zoo in which he works. When this personality is in power, he has superhuman powers that enable him to climb walls and have super strength.
In a frightening sequence of events, three girls are kidnapped and held captive, meant to be dealt with by the Beast. One of girls named Casey is different from the other two in that she has also suffered abuse as a child. While the other two girls are killed, the beast observes her scars and instead calls her one of the pure whose sufferings have made her special and leaves her alone. While the beast is terrifying, the character of Kevin is one who evokes sympathy. When Casey is able to bring Kevin out in one scene, he implores her to kill him after he realizes what is going on. The viewer is torn at that moment, both desiring his demise and his redemption. Instead, Kevin (and his alternate egos) gets away and continues the killing spree.
The final movie brings the villain of Unbreakable (Mr. Glass who is the firm believer in real-life superheroes and who orchestrated the train wreck that kills many but reveals David) together with David and Kevin. They have all been institutionalized by a doctor named Dr. Staple whose goal is to convince each of them that their superpowers are in their minds. She implores Casey, who is still strangely sympathetic to Kevin, to help her reach him by showing him true love.
In her first interaction with him, she speaks to the various personas before speaking to Kevin. When he starts to struggle and pull away (scared to handle reality), she reaches out and touches his hand. The loving touch, which he has never known, impacts him. Later, as he lay dying, she holds him, and he comments on how good it feels to be held and loved. It is ironic because she has been his victim and endured unspeakable hardship at the hands of his other personalities. Even still, she is able to look upon him with mercy and compassion. Perhaps it is her own sufferings that makes her relate to him. Her kindness, however, cannot save his life. Despite how good the real Kevin is, his alternate personas have murdered many people. How can he be forgiven for the abduction and horrific murders of young girls? He is beyond saving.
This story in many ways follows the narrative of another troubled man found in Luke 8. This man also has super strength (even breaking the chains that held him). He is also rejected by a society who does not know how to atone for his evil. He is, in fact, possessed by a legion of demons. He has been cast out of his community living in the tombs where there is no hope for him and no compassionate touches. Until Jesus shows up.
Jesus commands the demons to leave him. Bizarrely, they request to be sent into the nearby pigs (animals considered unclean by the Jewish community). Jesus gives his consent, and they enter the pigs and send them running down the bank into the lake to drown. When the people in the community hear what is happened, they beg Jesus to leave.
In the case of both the demoniac and the beast, the people surrounding them are frightened by them. They are out of control and dangerous, and, ironically, starving for compassion. In both situations, their enslavement is not through their own faults. The demoniac is a prisoner of Satan and the beast is the result of abuse.
Jesus, however, is not frightened or disgusted. Instead, like Casey, Jesus, who knows suffering, is moved to compassion. He does not believe the demoniac is a lost cause. However, his redemption is costly in the way of animal lives which is a small picture of the substitutionary sacrifice that Jesus himself will offer. While we average people may see an impossible situation, Jesus sees an opportunity to show compassion and to demonstrate the intrinsic value of a person, even one as deranged as this one has become.
In Glass, we grieve for Kevin for whom there doesn’t appear to be any redemption. While his split personalities have emerged as a way to protect himself and essentially redeem his suffering, it only destroys him. The demoniac, in contrast, is able to find redemption through Jesus’s loving actions.
We almost wish Jesus could show up in the movie to save Kevin from himself. However, we know (from witnessing this in Christian movies) that this often comes off trite and simplistic. We don’t often see the dramatic rescues that the demoniac experienced. The work we see now seems to demonstrate more subtlety and an emphasis on the perfect timing of God. What this event does remind us though is of two important factors: 1) His absolute power to rescue and 2) His compassion for those that society has rejected as hopeless.
It is precisely these truths that make Kevin’s death so tragic. He never gets to truly experience love and acceptance. And while he is only a character, there are many who, while not as troubled as Kevin is, can relate to his fear and loneliness. As believers, we can be reminded again of God’s power and His compassion, even if it isn’t displayed as dramatically as it is in the Gospels. In many ways, the torch of His work has passed to us who must now take on his mantle of loving acts of power. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
It is movies like this that can help awaken that compassion within us and remind us of the beauty and necessity of the message we are proclaiming–a love and compassion that cannot be quenched by our own darkness or even death itself (Romans 8:38-39).