A Head (Split)tingly Horrendous Movie


Dissociative Identity Disorder, previously known as multiple or split personality disorder, is thought to stem from severe and recurring trauma during childhood. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is characterized by personality or identity fragmentation. People who suffer from this mental illness often experience two or more distinct or ‘split’ personalities, sometimes losing control over which personality is present at what time. While this diagnosis is controversial, according to NAMI, 15 percent of Americans suffer from DID and, as with all other mental illnesses, it is wrong to generally box patients into certain characteristics, symptoms and behaviors.

Disclaimer: Spoiler Alert- stop reading here if you don’t want to learn the plot of the movie “Split” 

It is wrong, but not impossible, as evidenced by director M. Night Shyamalan. In his new psychological thriller, “Split,” Shyamalan attempts to represent a DID patient, but unfortunately he misses the mark. The film follows Kevin Wendell Crumb, played by James Mcavoy, who juggles 23 personalities, none of them particularly likeable. The film opens with a birthday party scene, at the end of which three teenagers a kidnapped by Dennis, one of Crumb’s personalities. After the kidnapping, Crumb and a variety of his identities alternate between interacting with the three girls and attending therapy sessions with Dr. Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley. The movie ultimately builds up to Crumb acquiring a 24 personality, The Beast, which feeds on pure and innocent souls.

In terms of formal techniques such as cinematography, editing, lighting, etc. “Split” is a pretty average movie. The thematic content however, is what makes this film especially atrocious.

The first contention I have with “Split” is the gross misrepresentation of Dissociative Identity Disorder. By portraying Crumb as a superhuman monstrosity at the end of the movie, he does not just imagine superhuman powers, he is superhuman. It is safe to say that Shyamalan stigmatizes mental illness. According to the National Institution of Mental Health (NIMH), only 1 percent of DID patients are violent. And even those who are, by law of science, cannot morph into beings that crush train cars and eat grown women. There is already a misguided perception that people who suffer from any form of psychosis are dangerous to be around, and this movie exacerbates the misrepresentation.

“Split” also exploits childhood trauma and sexual abuse. Shyamalan sexualizes the torture of the three teenage girls as they are held captive. I recognize that sexual abuse itself is a very real and serious matter and can be accurately displayed in art to convey a powerful message. But the serious, accurate and powerful message parts are missing in the sexual tones of “Split.” Shyamalan manages to paint a rape-tainted childhood as a positive circumstance. One of the girls, Casey, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is spared by The Beast solely because of her harrowing adolescence- because she was molested by her uncle. Whether this was intentional or not, the greater message or theme drawn from this is that sexually abused people are somehow more powerful than their “pure” counterparts.

The only saving grace, if it can even be called that, of this movie was Mcavoy’s performance. He completely gave himself to his character. From an eerie Patricia to Barry, a fashion designer, to a 9 year old boy named Hedwig, Mcavoy aptly captured the essence of each distinct personality. His performance added an emotional touch and a captivating element to the film.

“Split” is a love or hate movie. There is a lot of controversy surrounding it and I have encountered vastly different opinions and reviews. Although I personally hated the film, I would recommend watching it and forming an opinion for yourself.  

– Neha Dronamraju – Asst. A&E Editor –