Glass (2019) review

I have a complicated opinion of Glass. I’m a comic book guy so I found something in it interesting re myth and how-it-would-happen-in-reality of it all. Also there are some interesting things about how the modern world fights a more reactionary right and wrong moral vision (heroes and villains etc), it softens real consequences by doping us up but that also impedes an actualized way of living. More on this later.

That’s about all I can say without offering spoilers but I wish there was a sequel to Glass for the ideas to be more fleshed out. If the “ideas” portion of the film doesn’t interest you, you might as well walk out after the first 20 minutes and the first big confrontation in the warehouse.

There are three things that I might touch on when reviewing a film. The first is “should you see this film?” This is easy, yes or no, thumbs up or thumbs down. It’s a recommendation. If you’re a comicbook guy like me, you’ll like this, you’ll like the thought exercise, maybe you’ll like the limited grounded action or maybe you liked Split and want to spend more time with all of that. But I just made a pivot, a pivot that included number two of what I touch on, “What is this?”

Asking what a movie *is* is asking about the truth of the thing. Maybe it’s formally, are there striking frames, showy moves, performances, how the VFX renders, and it gets more complicated from there. What words are spoken, how do they contrast with the images, what’s the plot, how does it come across, what ideas are behind the lilt of the portrayal, what does it suggest. You can connect the two.

“If you’re a comicbook guy”

“if you like the thought exercise, grounded action or Split”

These are statements about the content in a kind of bland surface way. My third touchstone is if the movie *succeeds* which is a kind of subset of #2 and #1 depending on your judgement about how and why it does, what you can expect and what you want as a viewer.

I don’t think Glass succeeds. I think it wants to be a genuinely thrilling, inspiring blockbuster driven by thoughtful ideas. There *are* ideas but the attempts at thrills and action don’t exactly satiate. This is the “first 20 minutes and the first big confrontation in the warehouse” marker at the top of this review. You’ve got to be in it for more than a success as a genre piece. The how-it-would-happen-in-reality action tries to do both and there are some unique, crafted images but it’s not enough to overcome the clunky delivery.

Don’t think of this as a review, not after this point.

The goal from now on will be to discuss the ideas within Glass beyond that surface way. There’s only so much you can say to recommend something without spoiling it. There’s the added problem that a recommendation is a kind of subtraction, a subtraction from all the other things in the world you could be doing.

If I’m really *telling* you to do something, you should go to Sunday School or learn the catechism. People write down the really important stuff as codes and traditions. How exactly can mere artifacts, trashy popular art and superheroes stand up to that? They can’t and they can.

Codes and Traditions are narrow and rightly narrow because they are specific. Baptists aren’t Presbyterians, aren’t Islamists, aren’t Mormons, aren’t Naturalized American Citizens (the citizenship test is a kind of tradition!), aren’t NBA Basketball Players etc. People do specific things and claim specific identities but movies are secular goods, shared culture and like any symbol – open. Open to interpretation and open to everyone even outside of their own time if they are preserved right. We don’t necessarily agree on the strictest truths but we can point to truth that can be shared, that exists out in the world as observable rather than as specific experience or belief in divine revelation.

Interpretation, engaging with the symbol requires referring to it. This is the difference between the first part and the second part of this non-review. I’m assuming you’ve actually seen the thing or at least are ok with discussing the thing as the thing not as something behind a curtain.

So let’s spoil Glass.


The reading that makes Glass interesting to me: it’s about miracles.

The fictional anthropological theory for how there are real superheroes and villains (kinda dumb if you think about it for too long but let’s do that) is that THEY EXIST but they need a kind of community faith. They need to be jolted out of obscurity by a circumstance, they need to believe in themselves and others need to believe in them. There’s an easing in this theory, if we are to have a world of heroes throwing cars, you need a hero just tipping a car first. Heroes must *emerge* in this way.

In this way, the idea is you would need to accept a small miracle before a big miracle because the acceptance, not the miracle is the key to the miraculousness. The heroes and villains in Glass think they are the first, hopefully of many.

All of this is textual, usually in Mr Glass’s limited monologues and it doesn’t exactly have much of a dramatic underpinning other than just being a self aware aid to the audience understanding how the characters emerge in the story. Mr Glass was once Little Mr Glass and he suffers a trauma as a youth. Painfully rendered, his bones crushing in different ways because he just wants to experience the joy of a carnival ride like a regular kid.

As a result he visits trauma upon the other super characters and they emerge and develop as a result. Trauma to be birthed and then a drop of faith that makes the whole world of super heroics possible.

Think of the logical jumps of people who believe in the supernatural, how most people who believe in that kind of thing mostly just have stories, some sort of canon to trust or easily deniable viral videos. Like the son of David Dunn, maybe it’s personal experience, what did you see really? Think of faith stories, people being born again, people who fall away and say it was all a lie or there was some other explanation.

It’s that, for superheroes and it’s all too blatant. This is the psych doctor’s area of study and all the tangible details that she presents as justification are too easily dismissed by the audience because we’ve seen the other movies. We’ve been converted already and that’s why this movie doesn’t really work. It tries to engender *real* doubt.

At least there’s now an experience I can point to now that can explain in some way what it’s like to be born again. I’m a Calvinist. This is the joke about us. We’re certain. I’m certain. I know already in my bones. I can’t unsee the sun. We can’t unsee David Dunn lifting those weights on an untrained dadbod.

This isn’t an experience limited to just my religious subgroup. Mr Glass is *the* true believer, his belief leads him to do terrible things and here we see something insidious, something thoughtful that I love about this film. The neoliberal modernists, the real villains who squelch faith, squelch a greater reality.

That’s right.

The real villains of Glass are the ruling class neoliberals who value stasis over conflict, warm professional blazer wearing half-reality over the exciting beyond, hoping to institutionalize, lock away the things that actually matter.

In a way, they aren’t wrong. Mr Glass *is* evil. His belief drives him to blow up a train! Evangelism by trauma is bad! But this secret society, they’re an over-correction. They rob the world of its magic. They rob society of wonder, stakes and power. All in the name of non-conflict. But non-conflict is not the same as good winning. That’s the key here. Killing good on the road to kill evil is a mistake!

Consider who Mr Glass is. He’s the least able. He’s a genius of course but physically he’s twitching, alone in his chair for most of the movie. Then it happens, he punctures the neoliberal, modernist equilibrium with a shard of glass. He kills a man. Even the weakest are able to puncture our shared calm. A bomb strapped to a child, a couple of men with box cutters on a plane. Bad shit!

If only there was a way to puncture the calm without killing? The word we are looking for is conflict. True conflict, honest conflict. Reactionaries might think *physical* or *violent* conflict is true conflict but in secularism, dialogue is conflict. You’ve got to let good and evil fight in the abstract. You’ve got to let people believe trusting they won’t set off a bomb. You can’t institutionalize us, neutralize our conception of good. You’ve got to let people walk around in a rain poncho when you think water gives life rather than takes it away.

Maybe one day they’ll do something that’s undeniable, that’s unequivocal good. Maybe one day you’ll see.

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