“There are unknown forces that don’t want us to realise what we are truly capable of. They don’t want us to know the things we suspect are extraordinary about ourselves are real. I believe that if everyone sees what just a few people become when they wholly embrace their gifts, others will awaken. Belief in oneself is contagious. We give each other permission to be superheroes. We will never awaken otherwise. Whoever these people are, who don’t want us to know the truth, today they lose.” – Elijah Price in Glass
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Like its predecessors Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016), Glass (2019) offers a remarkably scaled-down approach to the superhero genre, taking people with extraordinary powers and displacing them from the fantastic context of the comic book universe into the mundane context of our own reality. Of course, in the years separating Glass from Unbreakable, the cultural position of comic books has substantially shifted from the margins to the mainstream, and director M. Night Shyamalan acknowledges the ways in which this transformation in the extra-textual status of the genre will alter the way that the viewer will perceive the final instalment of the Eastrail trilogy. Whereas Unbreakable treats comic books as a niche art form, Glass tackles a world in a world in which caped crusaders have obtained a high level of visibility in the cultural mainstream.
Unbreakable takes the superhero genre and grounds it in reality, using the tropes of the origin story and as a basis for a serious meditation on the themes of trauma, determinism, free will, and the ethics of vigilantism. It is only the film’s ostensible antagonist, the social outcast Elijah, who is familiar with the history and iconography of superheroes. He has become so engrossed in their mythology that he has come to believe the comic book genre can serve a purpose akin to primordial scripture, providing a blueprint through which the mysteries of life may be understood and a worthwhile guide to ethical behaviour. Comic books are positioned as a guide for broken characters to make sense of their place in the world and understand their role in a larger cosmic pattern. Unbreakable mostly plays out as a melancholic character study, dialing down the violent spectacle and simplistic good/evil dichotomies in order to self-reflexively explore the function of the superhero mythology in American popular culture.
In 2019, comic books are the bedrock of an industrial entertainment complex that is increasingly consuming the landscape of mainstream cinema. When Elijah explains the conventions of the superhero genre in Unbreakable, it was a way of communicating to viewers information about an art form they may not be familiar with. There is no longer any chance of the viewer being ignorant of these codes in a culture in which the annual global box office is dominated by properties from the Marvel and DC cinematic universes – the very status of Glass as the final part of a trilogy that brings together multiple characters who previously existed in self-contained features immediately recalls the drawn-out multi-movie universes of the aforementioned brands. Glass premiered just a few months before a much more hotly anticipated conclusion to a comic book series that has spanned decades: Avengers: Endgame (Russo & Russo, 2019). Comparing the two movies however, reveals the extreme degree to which Shyamalan deviates from the standardized formula of modern comic book movies. Glass plays out almost entirely within the claustrophobic space of a mental hospital ward, features only a handful of characters, and keeps the sparse action set-pieces minimalistic (the film’s centrepiece is an extended therapy sequence in a standard consultation room, and the grand finale occurs in a parking lot). The genre has become so popular, in fact, that the comic book movie commenting on the conventions of comic book movies has become a notable subgenre in itself. Yet, although there are several sequences in which Elijah performs an exegesis on his favoured art form that parallels the unfolding of the events on screen, what separates a work like Glass from the smug, adolescent meta-commentary of movies like Kick-Ass (Vaughn & Wadlow, 2010), Super (Gunn, 2010), and Deadpool (Miller, 2016) is that Shyamalan is using these observations to launch an enquiry into the ways in which pop cultural icons shape ideology and reinforce cultural values. Glass is organized around a tension between the ability of popular fiction to function as an agent of social control and the capacity of culture to pave the way to emancipation. The double logic of cultural icons is tied to the dialectic Glass establishes between panoptic and synoptic surveillance.
The current ubiquity of comic book narratives is established in the very first scene of Glass, which sees two teenagers record themselves delivering a self-proclaimed “superman punch” to an unsuspecting civilian and then uploading the footage to a YouTube-style video-sharing site. Nearly two decades after the ending of Unbreakable, David Dunn manages a security supply shop in partnership with his son, Joseph, while patrolling Philadelphia’s backstreets at night. Dunn is no longer a marginal figure confined to the shadows, but a popular person in the community; images of his exploits are regularly snapped by bystanders, who share their findings with an adoring media who have granted him the nickname “The Overseer.” In the same area, Kevin Wendell Crumb – the protagonist of Split – has developed a similarly high level of press attention, though of a more disreputable kind. Operating out of a series of abandoned buildings, Crumb has spent the past few weeks abducting and murdering high school girls. Crumb has evolved into a stronger and more monstrous villain in the interim, with the majority of personalities now working harmoniously with The Beast to prevent Kevin’s true identity from resurfacing; Crumb’s alters developed as a coping mechanism to shield him from the emotional pain of his unbearable childhood abuse, but with time they have warped into a monstrous form.
Dunn carefully tracks down Crumb (dubbed “The Horde” by the media) to a nearby factory, where he finds a group of cheerleaders chained to a table. In the process of releasing the girls, Dunn is attacked by Crumb, yet the expected grand climactic fight is cut short when the pair fall out of the window and are apprehended by the police. The two men are then placed in the custody of the Raven Hill Hospital, an institution for the criminally insane that has housed Unbreakable’s Elijah for years. They soon discover that they are the subjects of an experiment being conducted by Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist who is researching a rare mental condition that causes its subjects to imagine they have superhuman abilities. Staple diagnoses Elijah, Crumb, and Dunn with the illness, and takes on the task of “curing” them by convincing them that the events they have experienced have perfectly rational, secular explanations. Crumb and Dunn resist her aggressive mind games at first, but eventually their convictions begin to disintegrate.
The construction of the Eastrail 177 trilogy has been one of the strangest and most ambitious moves of Shyamalan’s career. Split revealed itself to be a long-belated continuation of Unbreakable in its closing moments, and it essentially functions as a self-contained entity (considering both films as a complementary pair certainly enriches their meaning, but a viewer could easily watch Split with no prior knowledge of Unbreakable). Now, a mere three years later in 2019 we have Glass, a conclusion that fully fleshes out the mythology of the shared diegetic universe that unites all of the films in the series. In one of his infamous cameos, Shyamalan appears as one of Dunn’s customers in the opening act. He tells a lengthy anecdote that establishes a connection between his seemingly unimportant roles as a down-and-out drug dealer in Unbreakable and a sober building manager in Split. This moment is played for laughs, as Shyamalan sketches out a knowingly convoluted life story to conflate two characters who initially seemed to be disparate, but it also immediately sets up the importance of extra-textual temporality to the power of Glass. The time elapsed in between films is conflated with narrative time, and the weight of these years adds extreme pathos to Glass, particularly in its closing moments. A multitude of formal devices are used to connect the dots between the films, including striking visual echoes and the incorporation of unused footage from Unbreakable into the narrative fabric of Glass as flashbacks. In one of the film’s most striking sequences, a tracking shot connects newly filmed footage of Crumb’s father riding the commuter train to the opening set-piece of Unbreakable, which serves as the catalyst for the entire trilogy. Through complex digital compositing, two shots recorded twenty years apart seem to be seamlessly linked through a single camera movement, and an iconic moment of twenty-first-century cinema is reworked to feature a new set of narrative and emotional implications.
Shyamalan occupies a deeply strange place within popular culture. He is one of the few modern auteurs so popular he’s reached household-name status, yet, aside from a small but dedicated cult of die-hard fans, the promise of a new Shyamalan film tends to inspire eye rolls rather than anticipation. The breakout success of The Sixth Sense (Shyamalan, 1999) saw the young director hailed as a wunderkind – an idiosyncratic filmmaker crafting challenging and personal art within the framework of a dramatically satisfying genre feature. The exceptional commercial and critical support that surrounded Shyamalan at the start of his career quickly soured, however, as each subsequent feature marked a substantial downturn in his reputation. Unbreakable and Signs (2002) received positive reviews, but they were tempered by a sense of weariness, punishing Shyamalan for his commitment to a set of deeply personal formal and thematic preoccupations. For most critics, Shyamalan allowed his early success to go to his head, and his inflated ego led him to squander his potential with a series of increasingly bloated and pretentious riffs on familiar themes. In this writer’s eyes, however, Shyamalan has always been a distinctive and vital voice in the landscape of American cinema, demonstrating a formal rigour, intellectual curiosity, genuine spirituality, and sociopolitical critique even in his aggressively maligned work. The unexpected popularity of the The Visit (2015) and Split marked a return of critical goodwill after years of being treated as a punchline. This resurgence, however, should not be treated as a return to form but rather an opportunity for us to re-evaluate the work of a great filmmaker whose vision has for too long been unfortunately overlooked. Shyamalan remains a master of slow-burn tension and creating horror through suggestion: Signs is an alien invasion movie that only gives us brief glimpses of shadows and reflections into its final act; The Village is a monster movie that only gets scarier after it reveals its monsters to be societal constructions; The Happening takes Shyamalan’s poetry of elision to its logical extreme, premised on the fear of an all-encompassing enemy that is immaterial and, therefore, cannot be visualized in a concrete way.
More than perhaps any other living filmmaker, Shyamalan understands the allegorical potential of traditional genre frameworks. He does not subvert the language of his storytelling models, but pays an uncommon level of care to the selective unfolding of information through clockwork-tight narratives. He has largely been disparaged for his reliance on twists, as if his films function only as sensationalistic puzzle boxes that aim only to dupe the viewer before undercutting their assumptions at the final moment. A recurring sketch on the asinine Adult Swim parody show Robot Chicken (Green & Senreich, 2006-ongoing) encapsulates this view of Shyamalan as a cheap trickster rather than an artist: in each skit, Shyamalan is portrayed like a hyper child, giddily peeling away increasingly ludicrous layers of illusion while repeatedly yelling “What a twist!” with every rug-pull. It is inarguable that the success of the majority of Shyamalan’s films relies on the effectiveness of his third-act revelations, but there is nothing unsophisticated about this approach to narrative construction. By drastically reconfiguring everything we had assumed about what we were witnessing, these late turning points invariably add new layers of emotional resonance and thematic complexity. It is also important to note that twists do not emerge out of nowhere – where a more shameless genre director would traffic in misdirection to ensure their ability to wrong-foot their audience at the final moment, Shyamalan skilfully embeds clues and motifs that signpost the direction in which his narratives are truly headed.
Shayamlan’s immaculate storytelling construction is evidenced better than ever in Glass, a late-career masterwork that may go down as his magnum opus. The aforementioned directorial cameo, in which Shyamalan appears as an inquisitive customer scoping out security cameras, hints at the significance of surveillance to the film’s thematic schema. Glass explores the nature of power in a networked information society, shaped by the proliferation of digital devices on the micro-consumer level as well as on the corporate/state level. As a result, the modern social sphere is built on a combination of both synoptic and panoptic modes of surveillance. On the one hand, these technological developments have allowed for the consolidation of centralized power, intensifying the panoptic model of authoritarian governmental oppression that continues to dominate surveillance studies. Less attention has been paid, however, to the emancipatory potential of synoptic devices, which enable the average citizen to hold the power of surveillance from below.
To explore Glass’s portrayal of this new social fabric, it is first important to establish a theoretical framework that charts the development of the panoptic paradigm as it has evolved from Bentham to Foucault to Deleuze to Mathiesen. Bentham proposed that the ideal prison would be an annular-shaped structure organized around a central watchtower (Bentham, 1791). In this model, a guard is able to use the watchtower to observe the prisoners housed in the isolated cells below him without being detected. As the inmates are unable to determine whether they are being watched or not at any given moment, they internalize the disciplinary gaze of the observer, regulating their behaviour to fall in line with the expectations of the authorities at all times. The guard, therefore, does not need to be present for his gaze to be effective, as the inmates monitor themselves. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault uses this model as a means to explain social control within industrial “discipline” societies. The prevalence of surveillance cameras in the public arena creates the illusion of an omnipresent authoritarian gaze that encourages the individual to shape his behaviour according to societal norms. In Foucault’s conception, the central eye of the tower guard is replaced by the omnipresent gaze of governmental and corporate powers, who consolidate their power through a multitude of mass surveillance mechanisms (Foucault, 1975). Ostensibly put in place to ensure public security, these devices instead serve the purpose of suppressing individual agency. This, in Foucault’s model, was the twentieth-century equivalent of the grand public displays of violence in medieval societies that were conducted openly to shock citizens into acquiescence. Technological surveillance is used to impose a similar form of oppressive control, though in a more subtle, seemingly harmless form; forcing citizens to incorporate the surveillant gaze into their own subjectivity is an act of subtle coercion that is an altogether more imperceptible and therefore more effective method of social control. Being constantly subject to the administrative practices of institutions like Ravel Hill, the subject becomes paranoid at the idea of being monitored at all times and thus a manipulatable object that can be morphed into the “ideal” citizen. As Gary Marx, writing on Foucault, explains: “to venture into the shopping mall, bank, subway, sometimes even a bathroom,” he argues, “is to perform before an unknown audience,” resulting in “the increase of the power of large organisations […] over the individual” (Marx quoted in Berko, 1992, p. 68).
In Postscript of the Societies of Control, Deleuze revisits and reworks Foucault’s model of a disciplinary society. Deleuze argues that there is a notable difference between “disciplinary societies” and “societies of control” (Deleuze, 1992, p. 5). For Delezue, the individual, closed institutions of the former have dissolved into a social materiality wherein “one is never finished with anything – the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation” (Ibid, p. 5). Deleuze’s theory extends Foucault’s panoptical paradigm, stressing the ways in which state control now takes a more open, all-encompassing form. Most scholars of surveillance culture have aligned with Deleuze, framing the proliferation of surveillant devices enabled by digital technologies as an intensification of the panoptic principle. As Poster argues, the technological advancements of the information age have given rise to a “Superpanopticon,” a vast network in which devices of control have become so deeply integrated into the fabric of everyday life that they become almost indecipherable (Poster, 1995, pp. 78-94). Cameras, website cookies, credit card scanners, computerized medical records, and so on envelop the citizen into an overwhelming structure of control from which there is no feasible escape. Every time a citizen interacts with a technology that holds surveillance power, information is gathered, interpreted, managed by a centralized group of overarching commercial and state institutions, and used to suit their own interests. More than ever, it seems impossible for the individual to operate within society without willingly plugging into the digital network – in order to gain employment, buy food, register for medical care the individual must import information that leaves a digital footprint that is then is stored and used to monitor the populace. The citizen is becoming subjected to increasingly invasive security so that the informability of their lives may be harvested to suit commercial and state interests.
At the same time, however, these devices have led to an increase in synoptic modes of surveillance, which, as Mathiesen argues, represents an enormously extensive system enabling “the many to see and contemplate the few” (Mathiesen, p. 219). This, as Boyne argues, marks a “reversal of the Panoptical polarity,” which “may have become so marked that it finally deconstructs the Panoptical metaphor altogether” (Boyne, 2000, p. 299). This transition from a panoptical to a post-panoptical model is dramatized in Glass, a film that devotes the majority of its running time to detailing the control mechanisms of the modern network society – combining elements of Foucault’s disciplinary society and Deleuze’s control society – before devoting its final act to an optimistic vision of consumer-grade recording devices dismantling the top-down power structure and deconstructing the traditional hierarchal panoptic principle.
The model of the Panopticon is clearly central to Shyamalan’s vision of power relations in Glass. Ravel Hill Mental Hospital is modelled on Bentham’s novel, comprised of a series of isolated chambers in which the inmates are subject to the gaze of Dr. Staple. The hospital is fitted with a vast array of surveillance cameras, producing images that feed into a wall of monitors in Dr. Staple’s office, thereby drawing a clear line from Bentham’s to Foucault’s conception of control. “You see this camera,” Dr. Staple tells Elijah upon his admittance to the hospital, “There are 100 more of these. Everything is being recorded.” Each cell is fitted with a high-tech device that prevents them from practicing their superpower: Crumb is enclosed by a “hypnosis light” that detects when he is preparing to transform into his more powerful alters and neutralizes the threat; Dunn is placed next to a giant water container (his kryptonite), reducing his strength; and Elijah is confined to a chair in a room heavily monitored by armed guards. In each case, however, it is uncertain whether these devices are literally suppressing the characters’ supposed abilities or whether they are neutral entities causing a placebo effect to tether them to reality.
These devices, the threat of the omnipresent gaze, and Dr. Staples’ sustained psychological tests combine to shake Crumb and Dunn’s belief in their own powers. In the gradual erasure of these characters’ self-confidence, we see Foucault’s concept of the self-disciplinary gaze at work. Dr. Staple immediately delineates a clear-cut distinction between “bad” behaviour (the exercising of her subject’s exceptional abilities) and “positive” behaviour (acknowledging that these abilities are an illusion and hence refusing to practice them). As their self-confidence crumbles in the face of Dr. Staple’s coercion, these characters begin to regulate their own action in accordance with her notion of the “ideal” citizen. This ideal citizen, in the sanitized neo-liberal hellscape of Glass, is a passive, circumscribed centrist blind to their own capabilities and hence rendered non-threatening to prevailing systems of power. Dr. Staple, it is eventually revealed, is not an independent researcher but a member of a nefarious militant group devoted to the systemic neutralization of potential dissidents – and thus an embodied representation of an omnipresent social force. As a result of their enclosure within a system of extreme discipline, Dunn and Crumb find themselves succumbing to the ideology behind Dr. Staple’s research.
This ideology is in line with Philipp Mirowski’s theory of “everyday neoliberalism,” a term for the dominant system of values in developed society that circumscribe everyday behaviour by setting clear boundaries in the way citizens may think, conduct their behaviour, and orientate themselves politically. If we are living within an era embedded in the belief that Western liberal democracy and consumer capitalism are the uncontested ideal form of government – a mentality Fukuyama famously termed The End of History (Fukuyama, 1992) – then everyday neoliberalism is the existential norm. As Wendy Brown writes: “Neoliberalism generates a condition of politics absent democratic institutions that would support a democratic public and all that such a public represents at its best: informed passion, respectful deliberation, aspirational sovereignty, sharp containment of powers that would overrule or undermine it” (Brown, 2015, p. 39).
Key to the maintenance of the neoliberal order, then, is the sedation of the populace; the consolidation of neoliberal values has been reliant on the maintenance of the illusion that there is no alternative to capitalism. In order to pacify citizens into submission, then, “certain kinds of social relations, certain ways of living, certain subjectivities” (The New Way of the World) must be generated to diffuse the chance of subversion or revolution. There are key echoes of Brown’s diagnoses in Dr. Staple’s description of her organization’s purpose: “They got it wrong in the comics. They talk about secret evil groups trying to stop the heroes. I don’t think we are particularly evil, and we don’t choose sides. We try to stop both of you. If there is one of you, the opposite of you appears. It escalates. We step in. There just can’t be gods amongst us. It’s not fair.”
The logic of neoliberalism thus extends beyond the political sphere and infiltrates our mentalities within our personal lives. To instil into society the belief that there is no viable alternative to consumer capitalism is to create social pressures that coerce individuals to conform – and this belief is instilled with a multitude of ideological state apparatuses including education, the legal system, and the media. The “ideal” citizen crafted through careful surveillance is achieved through encouraging those on the outskirts of society to conform to rigid social codes and norms. The perpetuation of images of repression and mediocrity has a pacifying effect, supporting a centrist neoliberal establishment under the guise of providing security. Mark Fisher succinctly outlines this resigned position in his study Capitalist Realism:
What counts as “realistic,” what seems possible at any point in the social field, is defined by a series of political determinations. An ideological position can never be really successful until it is naturalized, and it cannot be naturalized while it is still thought of as a value rather than a fact. Accordingly, neoliberalism has sought to eliminate the very category of value in the ethical sense. Over the past thirty years, capitalist realism has successfully installed a “business ontology” in which it is simply obvious that everything in society, including healthcare and education, should be run as a business.” (Fisher, 2009, p. 16)
Seen from this angle, the Shyamalan film that Glass most closely resembles is The Village; both films begin with exploring at length the complex methods of social control in which an authoritarian government exert dominance over their citizens. Structural blindness is central to both models of power: in The Village, the elders must fabricate stories of the dangers of the forest to instil fear in their citizens, which leads to them willingly giving up their rights and becoming passive agents to fulfil their elite’s own whims; in Glass, similar results are achieved on a grand scale.
Yet Glass, like The Village, points to the ways in which traditional hierarchies of control may be disrupted from the ground level through the power of technology. In both cases, the twisty plot, based on the careful withholding and unfurling of key information, is vital to the film’s portrayal of the connection between education and emancipation. The protagonists of The Village are initially presented in a state of structural blindness, having been psychologically conditioned to believe that the tight grip of their puritanical government is necessary to ensure their protection. The village elders fabricate tales about fictional monsters that lie on the outskirts of their seemingly idyllic hamlet, manufacturing a sense of collective paranoia that may be exploited to encourage the citizens under their watch to surrender their civil rights and bend to the will of their masters. The film’s final twist reveals that what we thought was a nineteenth-century township is, in fact, a modern-day settlement established by a group of reactionary neo-conservatives. These characters were each fleeing their own personal trauma and were motivated by the misguided belief a return to the simplicity of colonial America would shield them from the corruption of twenty-first-century society. The first generation were willing participants in the experiment, but the second are prisoners raised to believe the lie that the modern world doesn’t exist. When these younger citizens begin to show signs of agency, the elders react by adopting increasingly aggressive means to coerce them into sacrificing their freedoms in exchange for a false sense of security. They reach emancipation, however, when they break free from the illusory truths used to imprison them and face the true reality of their situation.
After using the multitude of cameras to coerce her subjects into compliance, it is Dr. Staple’s plan to delete the recordings and remove all traces of both their abilities and her own wrongdoings. The final-act rug-pull, however, reveals that Elijah has reworked the hospital’s security cameras to stream live footage of himself, Crumb, and Dunn using their powers to a private online network, having left his mother instructions to download the video and make it available to the public. His intention is to make the public aware of the existence of those with superpowers and hence to encourage others to embrace their own extraordinary capabilities. On an allegorical level, this represents a desire to awaken a narcotized proletariat to the conditions of their own victimization and hence to radicalize them into embracing revolutionary action. What seems to be a hopeless, one-sided tale of the dehumanizing effects of mass surveillance, then, becomes a heroic vision of the ways in which progressive technology may be reclaimed to assert the agency of the social agent. A traditional, one-sided interpretation of oppressive surveillance is upended by a more critical model of the network society that combines elements of panoptic and synoptic surveillance. Glass therefore thematises the cultural shift; new paradigms of surveillance have enabled the development of a more fluid, malleable web of relations within social space. The cheapness, mobility, and ease of access of digital imaging equipment have placed them into the hands of consumers, making them available to use against the grain of traditional institutional structures, thus enabling a wider spread of information outside the dominant structures of mainstream media. Thus, as Green argues, the decentralizing of information in the networked economy is expressive of a “democratic potential”: information traditionally concealed by figures of authority may be revealed and spread to large portions of the population through, for example, the broadcast of previously unseen crimes or the release of formerly hidden documents (Green, 2010). This is a reflection on the new spaces opened by media technologies to allow for the empowerment of traditionally marginalized voices; more specifically, the democratic structure of the web has allowed for small-scale, consumer-grade surveillance images to be directly transmitted to far wider audiences than traditionally thought possible, without having to go through traditional gatekeeping channels. The voices on the periphery of culture are thus empowered by these techniques and are able to gain an equal platform with the cultural mainstream.
The film, then, can be boiled down to a clash between two titans vying to gain control over the narrative: Dr. Staple represents the panoptic model of surveillance, using her institutional influence to impose a regime of authoritarian neoliberalism under the guise of benevolence; Elijah represents the synoptic model, a seemingly vulnerable citizen who disrupts state power to achieve a newfound level of empowerment. The modes of new media are thus turned against the powers who impose them to reverse the informational flow.
Elijah is revealed to be the trilogy’s true storyteller – a recurring figure in Shyamalan’s oeuvre, a puppet-master who manipulates the direction of the narrative and moves each character toward the achievement of a grand, ethical goal. Each of the major plot points driving the Eastrail trilogy turn out to have been nodes in a grand master plan Elijah has been orchestrating to reach this end point: the train he selected to derail in order to prove Dunn’s superhuman healing powers was also carrying Kevin’s father, who perished. His absence in the family home heightened the abuse suffered by the young Kevin at the hands of his mother until he built up his multiple personalities as a coping mechanism. Elijah’s actions first foster the exceptional abilities of Crumb and Dunn, allowing them to achieve their true superheroic form, and then secondly make the existence of these exceptional capabilities known to the public, in the hope that this will encourage more citizens who hold the same potential.
Glass not only allows for the achievement of resistance within the digital sphere, it allows for resistance through digital surveillance mechanisms, as those who are open to the gaze of the centralized eye are empowered by their access to alternative informational channels. At this point, it is worth returning to Fisher: “Emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a “natural order,’ must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable” (Ibid, p. 17).
Glass, like The Village, ends on the cusp of radical social change, rather than showing the revolution itself. But in illustrating the populace breaking from their socially conditioned complacency, Shyamalan is positioning the future as a site of potentiality. An elating image closes the film: Elijah’s mother, Dunn’s son, and Casey (the kidnapped girl from Split who used her empathy to appeal to Crumb and was therefore spared) are seated in a train station, having just released the video evidence to a public site. One by one, the pedestrians around them become receive notifications of its existence as it goes viral, their faces lighting up. The three hold hands as Elijah’s mother says, with anticipation, “I know what this is. This is the moment we are let in on the universe.” As the tools of surveillance have been placed into the hands of everyday agents, it is possible to establish a vast and scattered power structure organized around multiples lines of control. Taking Kranzberg’s First Law that “technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral” as an axiom, Glass acknowledges the heterogeneous possibilities embedded in the contemporary model of surveillance, which Shyamalan portrays as a new digital Panopticon (Kranzberg, 1986). The latter may be employed to form effective counter-hegemonic strategies to empower the individual that these tools are designed to subjugate.
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