I can’t believe it’s been 17 (!) years since M. Night Shyamalan came out with “Unbreakable.” I think I’m a fan of superhero movies because of the questions they spur. Does the human world require evil to reveal good? Is it possible for we humans to win against our darker sides? What exactly does reintegrating the dark side look like? Are we here to help those less fortunate? Why are some less fortunate than others? Is there a path we were each created to take to fulfill our internal longings?
In, Unbreakable, we find in flashbacks that the lead character, David Dunn was on the way to a great career in football that he gives up for the sake of his one true love. At the present time, he and his love are separated and in distress. A series of horrible events reveals to him that he is physically “unbreakable,” and has the ability to sense when others are in need of his help. As he comes to accept this comic book reality of being a real “Superman,” his countenance changes. He doesn’t seem so sad. He seems to be able to connect with his son and wife again.
Now, the villain in this movie, Elijah Price, perpetuates horrifying acts of terror in his search for the meaning of his life, which intersects with David’s. He’s wildly psychotic yet makes the most moving statement of the show, “You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here… That’s… That’s just an awful feeling.” For him it was awful enough that he let his dark side rule in the search for an answer. His obsession led him to destroy thousands of lives.
I wonder if most people have a burning question like Elijah did. Any “why” in life is tricky, because who the hell knows for sure. Over time I have struggled with facing the unanswered whys of life.
I love the idea that individuals have purposes to life on earth and as they fulfill them feel the joy of living. But see that as just a part. Getting too stuck in a vision for a satisfying answer could lead any of us to Elijah-like behavior. I say that because all my life has been one of privilege. My family of origin is intact. My basic needs have always been met. So far I haven’t had to deal with any major health problems. My mind is generally intact. I was privileged to bear children and to spend my life with them at home while being provided for. Some may look at me and say, “What’s that bitch got to worry about?!” But I’ve also carried an underlying sadness that I cannot explain. I have in the past and do get much joy from training and loving my kids. As well as relating to the now adult children. These days I have moments of happiness when I’ve written well or shared something that someone else could relate to.
But some days I wake up feeling weighted down by something I cannot see. Then I feel guilty or ungrateful for my blessings. Or try to sort myself out with attacking my addictions or distractions and tend to spin wheels.
So on one hand I do believe that each of us has a place and purpose that we were born to fulfill. Innate gifts to share. Beautiful stories to tell. Desires to meet. People to love. But also, burdens to bear. Unequal and unfair to be sure, but ours. It’s sort of like the general requirements for survival. Procuring shelter, food, clothing, hygiene. We just do it, because we have to.
So sure, let’s keep looking for and do what we love according to our values. But don’t think for a minute that life is a movie that ends on a happy note. It’s full of all sorts of pains in the ass as well, no matter who you are, what you have or what you do. The prolific Jordan Peterson states, “It’s not an accident that the axiomatic Western individual is someone who was unfairly nailed to a cross and tortured.”
[Here’s a video on Unbreakable which explores Super Hero Archetypes, if you are interested.
These days I’m viewing heroes as everyone who learns to enjoy their place in life, deal with their suffering and not bring down everyone around them in the process. Not beautiful or perfect, but Unbreakable.