M. Night Shyamalan on the superheroic struggle at the heart of Glass

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Jul 30, 2018, 6:11 PM EDT (Updated)

One of the major common threads running through M. Night Shyamalan’s career is his focus, in movie after movie after movie, on how a character's point of view shapes the ability (or lack thereof) to believe in something. Glass, the next evolution of the superhero universe Shyamalan launched in 2000 with Unbreakable, looks set to make its superheroes question whether their abilities are anything special — or if it’s all just in the eye of the beholder.

In a Comic-Con interview with io9, the writer/director opened up about the “doubt versus belief” conflict that forces Glass’ superheroes to decide whether, and how, to cherish their special powers. It’s the movie’s central conflict, in fact: the open-ended question that gives each scene “that weight to it and that struggle,” according to Shyamalan.

“I think there’s definitely a philosophical conflict at the center of the movie, which is, you know, are they ... deluded to think these things? Or is that belief in oneself ultimately something that truly makes them something more?” he said. “…Even if we can do extraordinary things, is it something that we’re interpreting when we do that, or are some people really special or not? The movie’s really about doubt versus belief, and so every scene has that weight to it, and that struggle is there.”

Point of view, and how it shapes his characters’ self-awareness and the world they influence, shows up in nearly all of Shyamalan’s movies. In The Sixth Sense, it made all the difference in how Bruce Willis’ Malcolm Crowe interpreted his role in helping a special child overcome his tortured visions. In Signs, it gave Mel Gibson’s widower, the Rev. Graham Hess, his faith back. In The Village, blindness proved the single attribute that could help a community overcome adversity from within. And in Split, the strongest of one man’s multiple identities overwhelmed all others to produce an unresolved tragedy — one that ties into the lore Unbreakable started and Glass continues.

Even though the three films are thematically connected and return the major stars from the first two films, Shyamalan told io9 that Glass will function as a self-contained story.

“Contained thrillers are my sweet spot, where I feel the best, where, for lack of a better metaphor, I can run my best offense,” he explained. “The best version of me can come out where the films are small and the stakes are low and I can try and iterate and take chances.”

Glass stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis, who’ll respectively reprise their Unbreakable characters of Mr. Glass and David Dunn. It also returns Split’s James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, who’ll again play Kevin Wendell Crumb (aka The Horde) and Casey Cooke, respectively. Sarah Paulson also joins the cast as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who treats people convinced they possess supernatural abilities.

Universal Pictures is hoping Shyamalan’s newest thriller will shatter expectations and break out big at the box office early next year. Glass hits theaters beginning Jan. 18, 2019.

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