M. Night Shyamalan’s work is known primarily, regardless of the quality of the movie, for its plot twist. It would be more of a surprise in many cases if he just didn’t have one. So, what about Glass? Does it have one or not? Spoilers below, obviously.
Actually, Glass arguably has three.
Now, as I said above, Shyamalan has a reputation for the plot twist, so much so that the audience will actively look for it. That goes back to his first movie The Sixth Sense where Bruce Willis was dead for most of the movie. Personally, I’d heard about the twist before seeing it, and the clues are all there, but Shyamalan actually sets up the movie in such a way that it isn’t completely unreasonable for the first time viewer to not see it coming.
Likewise, Unbreakable‘s twist is fairly clever, where Willis’ David Dunn realizes Sam Jackson’s Elijah Price has been committing mass murders, making his biggest fan also his biggest enemy, a nascent supervillain to match Dunn’s new hero. There certainly were some hints, frequent references to the three big disasters that Dunn alone somehow survived, and Price is in many ways Dunn’s opposite as an especially fragile man with an obsession and a bit of a temper next to the indestructible security guard that rarely raises his voice and can only get by mentally in a slow, plodding way.
From there we get things like The Village (it was really the present!) and Signs (water kills the aliens!). Now, I’d actually defend Signs by suggesting there are some hints in the movie it’s not so much water as water blessed by God in some way and the whole movie is basically about the main character regaining his personal faith, but this was about the point where Shyamalan’s twists started to become a point of mockery, and that’s not even getting into the trees killing people in The Happening. If anything, Shyamalan’s twists tend to work when the surrounding movie is good enough to support it. The twist is more of a feature or an Easter egg, not the point, but he mostly insists on sticking to them. Why wouldn’t he? It’s what he’s known for.
That may be what makes Split so interesting: it arguably doesn’t have a twist. Sure, Willis’ David Dunn appears for all of twenty seconds at the end of the movie to deliver a single line, that make the twist the fact it was a stealth Unbreakable sequel. But it doesn’t do much more than offer a nice moment for people who remembered and enjoyed Unbreakable. The rest of the movie didn’t really need it.
And that brings us to Glass.
Now, there are arguably three twists. The first may not really count as a twist so much as a revelation, namely that the the train accident that Jackson’s Mr. Glass caused that revealed Willis’ Dunn is, you know, unbreakable, also killed the father of Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). That incident left young Kevin with his abusive mother, something that eventually led him to create the personality of “the Beast” to protect himself. As such, Glass had created both Dunn and the Beast, in a sense, and he seems to have known this fact. Obviously, Glass knew this before the Beast did, but that doesn’t stop the Beast from attacking his onetime partner.
As twists go, it seems a little coincidental, but much of the movie works off comic book superhero logic, so coincidences happen and that one isn’t even the worst offender.
The third twist is probably the best one, namely that Glass’s mission was not to attack a new city skyscraper. No, his mission was to reveal superheroes to the world, and he understood (correctly) that someone was trying to stop that. As such, the big fight at the end of the movie between Dunn and the Beast was actually a suicide mission. Glass meant to die, knowing it would distract his real enemies long enough to expose superhuman existence for all the world to see because people always believe what they see on YouTube as true.
Yeah, there are a lot of moments that only work if you accept this is a comic book world/story. The police can’t find David Dunn until do, and they somehow know his name. Mr. Glass somehow can get out of his room without a key to switch his meds. Those two jumped out at me the most. The former can be somewhat explained by the second twist; the latter works if you just accept Mr. Glass is a diabolical supergenius.
But that leads to the second twist, and unlike the other two, this one comes from seeming nowhere. Glass himself foreshadows how his plan was actually an origin story and not an epic showdown. The train accident was part of the Horde’s backstory from the previous movie. But then comes the part where Sarah Paulson’s Ellie Staple was actually part of a secret cabal whose sole purpose was to keep superhumans from doing, well, anything super. She wasn’t there to cure David or Kevin but to convince them they were ordinary mortals and, if that didn’t work, kill them. Glass essentially ensured the “cure” plan wouldn’t work, and his final plot made all of their work futile, but the idea that a cabal, all of whom have small tattoos of playing card suits on their wrists, meeting at restaurants for a meeting where everybody (even the wait staff!) is in on it could have maybe worked if Shyamalan had spent more time developing it. Instead, it pops in at the end, has Staple explain to the dying Glass that they don’t take sides and just eliminate all superhumans for…reasons…and that’s that. Staple’s heal turn isn’t very well hinted at one way or another, the secret society is far too mysterious to be seen as anything, and while their agenda makes sense (keeping the superhumans down for the betterment of the rest of humanity), the movie doesn’t give much of a scale for how powerful these people are or how many people belong to the group or even where it came from, questions that might make for an interesting movie on their own. As such, this one twist seems too big for the rest of the movie, making it, well, only a so-so twist.
Unless Glass’ ultimate plan was the intended “only” or “real” twist, in which case it isn’t so bad. The problem would then be the cabal plotline itself and not the twist. Glass at least knew such people were out there even if he didn’t know exactly who they were.