SPOILERS ARE IN THIS BLOG POST. DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS/ETC !!
And also ***TW*** for talk about ab*se, violence, inc*st, de*th,, k*dnapping, general awfulness and grossness and yuck. But you know me, I try not to linger on these things.
I did it.
I watched Split.
For reasons I won’t elaborate on, I decided to review this train wreck of a movie, and it was about as awful as I expected. I used to love Shymalan, back when he’d made only one or two movies. What a disappointment.
My initial reaction once the end credits were over was: What the f— did I just watch?
Sorry, but the answer to that question doesn’t help much.
So here’s the plot breakdown:
The multiple in the movie, Kevin, allegedly has 24 alters, although there is a question throughout the movie as to whether the 24th alter really exists or not. We only see a total of 6 of his alters from start to finish, listed as follows (but not necessarily in the order in which they appear). I’m only going to say 1-2 things about each but that’s only because I don’t feel like profiling all of them in detail.
- Kevin – the one with the legal name, who was said to be very weak and in need of protection
- Barry – has a keen interest in fashion and does impressive design sketches
- Patricia – a gentle lady with a British accent
- Dennis – a strong and violent alter who has OCD; the one who actually abducted the girls
- Hedwig – a 9-year-old boy with a lisp
- The Beast (turns out he IS real) – supposedly a combination of animals/predators from the zoo
Right away in the movie, Dennis kidnaps 3 girls and takes them to some weird-ass underground lair. I spent the whole movie trying to figure out where this place was. (It was an old maintenance area underneath a Philadelphia zoo. What. The. F. )
He had only intended to kidnap two girls, but the protagonist, Casey Cooke, just happened to have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So she gets abducted along with the other two. Talk about hashtag FML. We find out gradually that the two girls selected for kidnapping were chosen because they were unshattered, and thus hadn’t – and weren’t going to – awaken to their full evolutionary human potential. One of the big beliefs of The Beast was that those who had not undergone the sort of suffering their DID system had experienced were “asleep” and that suffering essentially unlocks the human brain’s potential. I think in some circles they call this delusions of grandeur. But I digress. In plain English, The Beast thinks he’s special because he went through shit and it made him stronger/better for it.
Sorry dude, but this isn’t even an original idea.
At any rate, he thinks the portion of humanity that has not been purified by suffering, should be exterminated. Hunted down. Disposed of. And that’s what the 2 girls are for. They are there to facilitate the “unleashing” of The Beast.
Hedwig, the 9-year-old boy alter, is on board because he thinks that once The Beast is revealed to the public, they will have to believe that DID is real, Hedwig is real, The Beast is real, and that they have super powers. (Although when violence and lack of moral restraint became super powers, I’m not exactly sure.)
Honestly, this movie was a jumbled mess of contradictory messages and things that would never happen in real life. –And I’m not even talking about the way DID is depicted. I mean, besides that. This movie cannot get its messages straight at all. But before I go into that a little more, I need to talk about Casey Cooke.
Casey Cooke is the protagonist in this movie. I started to say heroine, but other than being smart enough to try to wait out and outwit Kevin and his system, which isn’t all that realistic, she doesn’t really have anything going for her other than the fact that she’s an abuse survivor with scars from self-injury. We learn about her history through several flashbacks throughout the movie depicting young Casey spending time with her dad and [pedophile] uncle. When her dad dies, her uncle takes custody of her, turning her life into what we can safely assume is a living hell. Thus explaining why/how Casey became a cutter and got the scars.
Now I certainly don’t mean to say that being an abuse survivor is not without merit. But in this movie it was just a coincidence, not any particularly good choice or skill on her part, that led to her life being spared at the end. When she’s abducted, Casey has on several layers of clothes since I guess it’s supposed to be winter in the movie. I hate to make light of this whole thing, but if it had been summer and she’d been wearing a tank top (exposing her scars), this movie would not have happened. They would have left her alone. Sucks for her.
So I’ve tried to sort out the messages this movie is trying to send and they’re contradictory and make no sense. We have, on the one hand, the idea that suffering purifies a person and that being “shattered” by trauma actually unlocks the power of the human brain and the potential to become superhuman. Yawn. But then the antagonist takes it a step further and believes that anyone who does not have this superhuman potential “unlocked” should be eliminated. This is interesting, but only if you’re a Nazi, which most people aren’t, so we tend to just be repulsed by this thought.
For me, it begs the questions, How do you make yourself judge of what qualifies as a “shattering” experience (abuse? car wreck? being bullied in 2nd grade? death of a parent?)? and How the F would you be able to tell who’s had one of these experiences and who hasn’t, just by looking? Somehow Kevin’s system just “knows” that the 2 girls are “impure” because they’ve had essentially good lives, but how would he know that? How would he know what’s gone on in their lives – or anyone’s? And how shattered is shattered “enough” to have made them “pure”?
There’s also some conflicting messages about how The Beast is dealing with his traumatic past vs how Casey is dealing with hers. In his own eyes, he’s making a superior choice by taking action in response to the abuse he’s suffered. F-ed up, psychotic, criminal action – but action. He’s taking it out on the general population. Casey didn’t take action as a child (because duh, for all the reasons). There’s even a very compelling flashback scene of her pointing a loaded gun at her uncle after one of the abuse incidents. In my head I was thinking Pull the trigger, kid. PULL IT. But she doesn’t, and then he grabs the gun and you can infer that this probably made things worse for her later. In present day in the movie, she isn’t taking action. She lives with her abuser. She cuts herself. She gets in trouble at school. She hasn’t told. She gets the opportunity to tell, at the end of the movie. But it’s left open to interpretation as to whether she decides to do that or not. This is why I find the idea that she’d fight back against an abductor highly implausible. If she won’t fight an abuser at home, I doubt she’d fight an even bigger/scarier one as an abductee.
Then there’s the therapist. Such a weird mixture of intelligent, naive, and unrealistic. I found her unbelievable. Firstly she’s supposedly a DID expert, like one of the best in her field. Do those exist? (Kidding…kind of.) Her knowledge of DID as expressed in the movie was mostly accurate, if bland, and colleagues in her field gave her the expected amount of disbelief and badgering. Ho hum. But yet Kevin’s system has her email address (unusual for a leading expert in a therapeutic field to give to a patient) and he can also apparently demand impromptu emergency sessions via that email address. Back here in the real world the top experts in the field would be booked so far in advance there’s no way they could drop everything and see someone the next day, several days in a row, for what was portrayed as false alarms. –And if they could, who the hell can afford those sessions? If a therapist can manage to arrange an emergency session for a client – which does happen occasionally, I don’t know too many who would tolerate the client waltzing in and chatting about nothing until they eventually say (in essence) “Nevermind.” In the movie, others in Kevin’s system are trying to signal to the therapist that something awful is happening and they need help. But then Dennis shows up to the sessions (masquerading as Barry) to pretend like everything is fine. The therapist does catch on that it’s not really Barry. But she is incredibly naive about what it all means. In the movie, the fact that the therapist has compassion for Kevin’s system as a patient, is construed as the wrong choice. Her compassion gets in the way of seeing what’s really going on. I find this a chilling implication for real life. That we should always suppress compassion and suspect criminal activity is not a new message about multiples, but it is a damaging, damning, tired, and grossly inaccurate message. I’m sick of it.
Some of the plot points in the movie were too unbelievable for me to buy into it. Such as:
- Patients do not typically go to therapists’ homes for therapy. It’s unwise, unethical, uncommon, and unlikely.
- Therapists do not typically go to patients’ homes, and if they do go, they don’t go alone, and not at f-ing nighttime. There would have to be a compelling reason – like threat of suicide – and even then, they just send the police. They don’t show up in person.
- Also, it has to be said: Who the f– lives underneath a zoo?! Is that even legal?
Okay, that’s sort of the plot. The 2 “impure” girls get killed, along with the therapist who tried to intervene. Casey does not, but only because once The Beast emerges and chases her around for awhile, he realizes once he rips half her clothes off that she has scars so therefore she’s pure so therefore he leaves her alone. She escapes and has the chance to decide if she wants to go home to her abuser or not. We don’t get to see what she decides.
I hate to tell you this, but I think all those people who hate this movie because they think the director just wanted to take a swing at people with DID are a bit off in their estimation.
This is M. Night Shymalan, and you have to remember that. This movie definitely did drag multiples through the mud, but believe it or not, that was almost coincidental. What he was really doing with this movie was setting up the sequel to Unbreakable. He couldn’t come out and say that in the trailer because that was the surprising plot twist/ending. There was a certain group of alters in Kevin’s system (I couldn’t get clear on who) who called themselves “The Horde.” I believe The Horde is actually an old comic book villain, although I haven’t been able to find a solid source yet. This movie is a super villain origin story.
Yes, it paints DID in a stereotypically awful light. Yes, I hate it. Yes, I think the movie is crap and makes no sense and is a stupid disturbing waste of my time.
But to me it makes a difference that it’s not simply a movie that takes a swing at the multiple community just for the sake of taking a swing at the multiple community. I’m not saying this makes the movie okay or excuses Shymalan’s irresponsible and damaging choices. But the intention behind the movie is slightly different than the one I think people latched onto without seeing it.
Who cares, Jade? It still damages the DID community and creates even more stigmatization and we should still hate it and fight against it.
I agree. But if you can also try to realize that this was supposed to be a sort of comic book fantasy story that no one is supposed to give any real thought to, it might help you categorize it more in the realm of Heroes than a film that anyone in their right mind would take seriously.
And, I hate to tell you this, but Kevin and his ridiculously portrayed DID system are not going away. Glass comes out in 2019, and The Horde/The Beast will be back, presumably facing off against David Dunn and/or Mr. Glass from Unbreakable. So maybe this time we can prepare a pre-meditated attack on the stigma, since we know it’s going to be brought up again. Whatdya say?
I need to go rinse my brain now. The shit was deep with this one.