What if Alfred Hitchcock directed a superhero movie? Maybe you’ll find out with Matt Reeves’ The Batman, because Glass isn’t the answer. Nor was Unbreakable, though it invited such comparisons 19 years ago. M. Night Shyamalan may know his Hitch better than he knows his Hulk, but his latest movie is totally on his own terms. No one else could have made something so at odds with its subject matter. Or filled with so many twists, of course.
Glass is so loathing of the genre it subverts that even comic book movie haters will want to revisit the last two decades worth — from the blockbuster adaptations of DC and Marvel to all the other efforts to depict grounded heroes (and would-be heroes) as they might exist in the real world — to get the taste out of their mouth. In this week’s list of Movies to Watch After, I do highlight a few of them, but also a scattered lot of other relevant films, including one that Shyamalan acknowledges as an influence.
And with this the first syllabus of the year, I’m going to try something a little different, suggested by reader Michael Howell (@The_MJH). Here are 12 recommendations of what to watch after Glass, in order of newest to oldest, so you can work backward through film history:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
I’ve been seeing a lot of mentions of this animated feature, which is still in theaters, as a counterpoint to Shyamalan’s movie and its thesis. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brings together different incarnations of the titular Marvel Comics superhero, each hailing from a different parallel universe, with the ultimate statement being that anyone can wear the mask. Glass says something sort of similar, that anyone might be a super and not even know it.
What’s interesting about them seemingly being on the same page (along with Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is Shyamalan appears (in my reading of Glass) to be slamming comic book movie narratives with an attempted mic drop declaration that they need to die, and we should recognize potential in anything else. While Into the Spider-Verse, despite its meta mockery of superhero movies, is a sign that they’re here to stay and are getting better.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
If you like what Shyamalan does with the superhero movie concept, grounding it and making it more plausibly realistic, you should also appreciate Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, which takes a similar approach with action thrillers of the Taken variety. And like Glass, the movie presents a lot of its action through the perspective of security cameras. And like Glass, when I say “action” I just mean things that happen because it’s light on action.
Both films also deal with delusions. But in Glass, discussions of “delusions of grandeur” are meant to convince three superhuman characters their powers are all in their head. But they’re not. In Ramsay’s film, Joaquin Phoenix (who almost starred in Split and Glass as Kevin Crumb/The Horde/The Beast) is a vigilante hero similar to David Dunn in Glass, except he’s paid, who genuinely does have suicidal delusions stemming from his own psychological traumas.
An Honest Liar (2014)
Did anyone else expect Dr. Staple to — twist! — have powers of her own in the end? It was at least obvious that she was going to be revealed to be more than she seemed. Having her secretly be a self-hating super, like Graydon Creed in X-Men comics, would have been more interesting, especially while she’s pretending to debunk the powers of Dunn, Crumb, and Glass. Her power could have just been a telepathic awareness of other supers and their genuine gifts.
As a consolation of that not having been the case, I recommend the documentary An Honest Liar. No, it’s not about a super debunking other supers, but it is about a former stage magician, The Amazing Randi, who now devotes his life to challenging other illusionists, particularly debunking the work of con artists who pass themselves off as truly having psychic or otherwise supernatural abilities. Unlike Staple, Randi is a fascinating character.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
One of the big reveals in Glass is that — twist! — there is a secret organization that’s existed for thousands of years bringing balance to the world by eliminating anyone with superhuman abilities. Why? Because with the good comes the bad, and there you have the facts of the natural order. There’s an attempt to finally let them live, just without the knowledge that they’re super, but — twist! — Mr. Glass goes and shows all the world that supers do exist.
That third-act divulgement reminded me of the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, a romantic thriller with a fantastical plot based on your typical Philip K. Dick story. The movie’s titular secret agency is tasked with making sure everything goes according to a predetermined plan. Why? Because free will brought about the Dark Ages. And if they let Matt Damon and Emily Blunt fall in love, contrary to the plan, maybe the world will enter dark times again*
(*it would seem the Adjustment Bureau is real, and they have failed us).
One of the best parts of Glass, as it was in Split, is James McAvoy’s performance as the many personalities of Kevin Crumb/The Horde. This time, we get to see almost all of the 23 characters sharing the one man’s mind, and as it turns out, they’re mostly each created by the actor himself, rather than Shyamalan. The core personalities are likely from the script, but McAvoy got to try out some of his own conception, including a few based on real people.
Sadly, the one he attempted modeled after the Glass writer/director was shot down by Shyamalan as not working. Fortunately, another made it in, very briefly, based on a 12-year-old Saoirse Ronan, as he remembers her from when they co-starred in Atonement. So, if you enjoy “Mary Reynolds” (whom we heard about but never saw in Split), then you might enjoy Ronan’s Oscar-nominated performance as Briony in Joe Wright’s acclaimed adaptation.
The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)
Speaking of movies depicting the Dunkirk evacuation, remember when critics were calling Christopher Nolan the new Shyamalan because so many of his movies had twists? Well, it happened. Anyway, among those films of Nolan’s that don’t have twists are the trilogy of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, still arguably the peak series of superhero movies adapted from comics, begun just five years after the release of Unbreakable.
Although not even an original insight when Nolan tackled it, the Dark Knight trilogy best explores the idea that with superheroes come supervillains. The Joker arrives as Batman’s counterpoint, as part of the escalation of the “superhero paradox” trope. Of course, Shyamalan’s trilogy of Unbreakable, Split, and Glass presents an order in which the villain, Glass, exists first, so is Dr. Staple and the secret shamrock society’s point relevant anyway?
12 Monkeys (1995)
Bruce Willis is on a mission. He won’t save the world on his own, but at least he’ll do his part to make it better. Unfortunately, he’s apprehended by authorities and locked up in a cell, where he’s visited by a doctor who believes he’s delusional. Then he’s put away in a mental institution until such time as he’s able to make his escape. That sounds like part of the plot of Glass. It’s also part of the plot of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys.
Inspired by Chris Marker’s experimental sci-fi short La Jetee, 12 Monkeys follows a man from a dystopian future as he searches the present for clues about the cause of the impending near-extinction of humanity. The doctor he meets is a woman who eventually believes he’s a time traveler and then becomes his partner, romantically even, in his quest. 12 Monkeys is also partly set in Philadelphia, the setting of Glass and most other Shyamalan films.
Comic Book Confidential (1988)
What was the first comic book? That’s a question asked by Anya Taylor-Joy’s character in Glass, to an overenthusiastic and surprisingly not judgmental comic shop employee. The answer given is correct, comic books began with reprints of newspaper comic strips, and if you want more on that story you should watch Comic Book Confidential, which also goes into the vaguely referenced intro of Superman, in Action Comics #1, not “Active Comics.”
If you want a full and proper history of comic books, there are publications and also other documentaries available (including PBS’s Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle limited series, History Channel’s Superheroes Decoded, and the series Robert Kirman’s Secret History of Comics), but this one is a classic. It is ironic, though, that it came out just before the big comics boom of the 1990s. It also has a great interview with a youngish Stan Lee (R.I.P.).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Here’s the one movie that Shyamalan has mentioned over and over when discussing any direct influences on Glass. He told Empire magazine last month the idea came about from asking, “What if I did a comic-book version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? How cool would that be? How weird and cool?” Months earlier, he told io9.com about his movie:
“It’s a contained, character-driven thriller that happens to be about this subject. There’s very little CGI and it’s not about the spectacle. It’s really about the characters. One of my favorite films is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and there’s a lot of that in this in this movie.”
And months before that, the filmmaker tweeted:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of my favorite films of all time. Blatantly steal from it in #Glass. Milos Forman was a true artist.
— M. Night Shyamalan ⌛ (@MNightShyamalan) April 14, 2018
Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel is about various characters inhabiting a mental institution, with a focus on a rebellious criminal patient played by Jack Nicholson. There’s also a tyrannical nurse played by Louise Fletcher, who obviously inspired the Dr. Staple character in Glass. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won Oscars for Forman, Nicholson, Fletcher, and the adapted screenplay and was named Best Picture of 1975. So, yeah, you should see it for many reasons.
Okay, so let’s end with an actual Hitchcock movie, even if it’s not clear or likely that it directly had any influence on Glass. Especially if Cuckoo’s Nest is the mental hospital movie Shyamalan’s going to keep referencing instead. Either way, Spellbound is probably still the closest Hitch movie to Shyamalan’s latest, if only because of its mental hospital setting and focus on a woman doctor (Ingrid Bergman) treating a man (Gregory Peck) who believes something that might not be the truth.
The psychiatric mystery unfolds with its own twists, and they’re all so much more satisfying than any in Shyamalan’s new movie (or any of his previous efforts) despite consisting of rather common contrivances. It’s all in the execution, which is more than just some individual intense moments, which is what Shyamalan usually gets a pass for achieving. Also, there’s a dream sequence in Spellbound designed by Salvador Dali!