“Split” came out to theaters on Jan. 20, and there has been a pretty even amount of both positive and negative appraisal. The movie begins with three girls, best friends Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) accompanied by outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), being drugged and kidnapped by a man. When they wake up, they find themselves in a locked cellar. It is later revealed that the man who is holding them captive is named Kevin (James McAvoy) and has dissociative identity disorder (DID), causing him to have 23 different personalities that he switches between, including a 9-year-old boy named Hedwig who is pushed around by the other identities, a strict but motherly women named Patricia, a man named Dennis who watches adolescent girls dance naked and has violent moments, and a kind fashion designer named Barry. Each personality “sits in chairs” in Kevin’s mind, and takes turns in “the light,” meaning they have control of Kevin’s physical form. They all have different clothes, voices, rooms, and even various health and mental illnesses, such as diabetes and OCD.
The girls manage to talk to some of Kevin’s identities, such as Hedwig (who sees the girls as his friends and babysitters), Patricia (who says that a 24th personality will be revealed and come after the girls), and Dennis (who makes the girls remove an article of clothing every time he visits). Claire and Marcia talk about plans of attacking Kevin to escape, while Casey decides it’d be best to try to manipulate Hedwig. Using flashbacks throughout the movie, we see young Casey hunting with her uncle (who molested Casey throughout her life) and father (who eventually dies, leaving Casey in the care of her uncle).
Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), keeps getting emails from his other personalities asking for her help and for more meetings, but when Kevin arrives, he says he is Barry and that nothing is wrong. Dr. Fletcher knows Kevin’s personalities well and discovers that she is actually meeting with Dennis, who (along with Patricia) had been banned from the light due to being too controlling over Kevin’s other personalities. Dr. Fletcher, being suspicious over the fact Kevin’s other identities keep reaching out for help, decides to meet him at his home. She finds one of the kidnapped girls but gets drugged by Dennis before she was able to help her. The three girls try to escape from their separate quarters while Dr. Fletcher scribbles down Kevin’s full name (which, when said aloud, forces Kevin to the light and creates chaos for other identities).
While this occurs, Kevin is seen entering a train (where he was abandoned as a child) and becomes the alleged 24th identity: the Beast (a superhuman with the characteristics of several wild animals, who plans to kill those who are “untouched,” since Kevin was abused before being abandoned). Casey escapes from her room to find Dr. Fletcher and Marcia dead with their stomachs eaten and sees Claire get dragged away by the Beast. Casey finds Dr. Fletcher’s note containing Kevin’s full name and brings him to the light. He reveals that there are a gun and shells in his locker and instructs Casey to kill him. She runs away and traps herself in a locked cage with the gun and attempts to shoot the Beast, but barely misses his heart. The Beast is moments away from breaking into the cage when he sees Casey’s scars from her abusive uncle, and leaves, saying she is “pure” and deserves to live. Casey is found by one of Kevin’s coworkers, and while being carried out it’s shown that Kevin lived underneath a zoo (which helps explain how the Beast was formed in Kevin’s mind). Casey gets picked up by her uncle after having her wounds treated, and the movie ends with a crowd of people in a café watching the news broadcasting about the Beast, and David Dunn (“Unbreakable” character played by Bruce Willis) is shown, disclosing that “Split” is a thematic sequel to “Unbreakable.”
From an entertainment standpoint, I enjoyed seeing Avoy play multiple characters, and my heart broke for misguided Hedwig. But as I walked away from the theater, my mind wandered out of the illusion of the movie and remembered that the film was about a real life disorder. Up until the Beast was revealed, Kevin was a pretty accurate representation of DID (minus the kidnapping, as well as the active pedophile Dennis). Some can have pedophilic alters, but it’s often because childhood sexual assault (CSA) can lead to hypersexuality and pedophilic tendencies based on how the brain responds to the assault(s). It’s a coping mechanism. When you add in the kidnapping and the 24th personality, it demonizes and criminalizes everything. Dr. Fletcher does talk about cases that mirror to some real life cases, such as a blind person with DID having sight when they are a certain identity or another who is able to bench their own weight. Many have accused those with cases like these of faking it all, but EEG tests have revealed that the brain does indeed show different patterns and results for each identity. The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) has written an article about such cases, titled “Four Cases of Supposed Multiple Personality Disorder: Evidence of Unjustified Diagnoses,” and The Washington Post has an article about B.T., the blind DID patient mentioned earlier, titled “The blind woman who switched personalities and could suddenly see.” I’m conflicted about the movie, because I did enjoy watching it, but had some issues with the sci-fi ending. I end up with a question when I try to decide: are movies only a form of entertainment or are they also a way to inform people? When I think about the latter of the two, I lean more towards disliking the movie, for misrepresenting DID during some portions. So what do you think: was “Split” just an entertaining movie or was it a slap in the face to those with the disorder?