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Review of Split - Movie

by the Crisses

Rating: 3/5 stars. In short: only worth it's weight in Unbreakable or lead actor's excellent performance.

First Big Beef: mysterious marketing

I'll try to keep the spoilers separate from the review. Except one which I think is an enormous error: the trailers and movie promos never mentioned that Split is based in the same world as Unbreakable. I get that they were trying to sell it as a thriller and not a comic-superhero-like story. And it worked. Except they trashed a lot of perceptions about DID in the bargain. Just when we were maybe getting somewhere with public perceptions of mental illness. Thanks.

If you want a fantasy take on DID that plays off of an odd balance of "true" vs. "false" then go ahead, watch Split. We watched it because we've been watching Unbreakable since picking up a discounted used copy at Blockbuster Video shortly after the DVD was released. And we've watched Unbreakable over and over again.

Having finally found out that Split is related, we caved and checked it out of the library.

Disappointing because this is a recent/new work of fiction and unnecessarily walks right into our disorder and abuses it for storytelling's sake. Does it have ANY redeeming qualities? Yes. But only if you:

please keep in mind, always, this was marketed to the general public as a thriller, and not marketed to comic fiction geeks…

Review (no spoilers)

Overall as a movie it's "good enough" with some serious caveats. There's some continuity issues (which will be in the spoiler section below) and some blatant falsehoods stretching the truth about DID into something of a lampoon or caricature in order to make the "superhero" (antihero? super-villain? Hrm. You decide.) part of this story float.

Most of Split seems fairly realistic as far as DID goes — so why wouldn't the general public trust that final leap of faith from "yeah, this looks like a reasonable representation of DID" to "Hey, when did we land in a comic universe?" Some people are missing that shift from realistic to fantastical and it's hurting people with DID when their friends or family miss that subtlety. And that's losing DID folk friends because they got scared out of their wits.

Positive Caveat - Amazingly Acted

James McAvoy (Barry&/Kevin) — you deserved every penny they paid you and probably more for what is really a stellar performance. You played DID excellently, and I won't blame you for the script, the story arc, the wardrobe changes or the final edits/cuts, etc. You did act DID proudly. Bravo. I don't feel it was over-acted. I don't feel that the switches and mannerisms were too exaggerated. That was well-played. My beefs lie elsewhere.

With the exception of the many faces of the main character (2 of whom I believe are women), all the remaining main characters in this movie are women. That's unusual in filmmaking. Brava. Great acting all around, but McAvoy's many faces steal the show.

Recommendation?

Should you see it? Hrm. Aside from wardrobe changes that would make Speedy Gonzalez jealous, I think McAvoy's facial changes and mannerisms, posture shifts, unconscious "habits" of the various main character's alters end up making this a reasonable "Study" for what DID can look like from the outside. Not all systems present the same way. It can be very subtle. But it gives you more of a clue of what you're looking for than you would normally get. He did a great job of little tics, posture, movements, etc. that would take a great deal of skilled acting to pull off. So for that alone — up until The Beast shows up because that stretches reality — it's a worthy watch. To credit the script writing: word choices, too — what placeholders each uses, whether a person curses or not, etc. are all part of the varied landscape of DID switches and you see a lot of that on display in this movie.


A brief break for an Unbreakable Spoiler just to explain this film universe

So, the basic premise in this "comic universe" is that when you look at a bell curve, there are extreme "outliers" on the curve. That if someone could be extremely delicate and sickly, that someone else could be extremely robust and hardy. To the point we'd consider it superhuman. Enter Bruce Willis' character who happens to be extremely hardy and his skin and bones just don't give. So it's not like Superman level superhero, but it's certainly still a mythological and entirely theoretical level of super-heroism. He's pretty darned strong, skin is impenetrable, bones don't break, and he doesn't seem to ever get sick. He also seems to have a little "spidey-sense" and be able to sense wrongdoers. That part makes less sense given the premise, but hey it's a comic universe.

Interestingly it's played off at first as normal, and slowly feeds the audience more and more spectacular information in such a way as to make suspension of disbelief fairly easy. You start to actually think "hey this could be possible" before it goes into the twist that takes it from "could be possible" to "wait, when did I end up in a comic universe?"

And that's pretty skillfully done in Unbreakable. So we have to start out with that because they attempt the same premise of believable-to-fantastical in Split.


The Making of Split - No spoilers

from the Bonus materials....

Shyamalan: "I love taking real world things and asking if there's a plausible way to believe in the unknown." (slightly paraphrased)

Thanks to this mini documentary for reminding me that this is an overpoweringly female cast, and not to forget how well they did their roles.

Part of the problem in watching this film is how well shot and cast and acted the movie is altogether making it so realistic and so believable that people are willing to depart from what is plausible into the fantastical and drag their entire belief system into it.

But please, remember this is a work of fiction. I can't possibly stress that enough — no matter how well researched or acted — this is a departure from reality. And that while any resemblance to reality and real persons is pretty much unintentional, people may still be harmed whether directly or indirectly by any resemblance the story stumbles upon.


No Spoilers for Split yet

Split starts out with a more difficult "abnormality" to try to work with, and the situation from the first 5 minutes of the movie goes to thriller very quickly… And stays firmly in heart-thumping thriller territory for the rest of the movie.

You're never given a chance to really get to know or get invested in the characters before the bizarre twist that makes you want to get up and leave the theater. Although I was not in a theater, I still wondered if I wanted to get up and get out of the theater. "Why am I here?" I asked myself. So, if I don't have any investment in the characters, why would I subject myself to emotional torment on their behalf? That's mistake #1 in any movie. Don't assume I paid to see this thus I'll sit through it. I got it from the library. It cost me a few minutes, and right behind me is Spider-man: Homecoming on the week I expect to see Avengers: Infinity War…I didn't even waste my trip to the library to get Split.

Ok, but as a comic universe fan and multiple, I guess I have a reason to watch this movie — so I sucked it up and put up with it. However, I want it down for the record this is already poor storytelling.


Split Spoilers Below

Summary

On the DID end, the basic premise is nice DID guy (let's call them Barry& though that's not the body's name) has many good people in his system and 2 miscreants who take advantage of a middle in the system (Hedwig, age 9). Hedwig has the power to give anyone front ("the light") in their system. Kinda like a manager personality, only he's young and a bit gullible. The 2 miscreants groom Hedwig and convince him of their weird mythology and bid to take controlling power in the system so they (calling this rebel group The Horde) can unleash "The Beast" who at first seems to be some mystical (internal or external) demigod they believe in, but we can't be sure is real.

The way this is played out isn't by getting to see Barry& in the wild before The Incident begins. You don't get a chance to meet or like the victims either — before the Incident.

Overview of The Incident

…starting 3 minutes in (including brief opening studio credits)…

These 3 girls (2 besties and 1 misfit) are abducted into the home of Barry& and they meet several members of The Horde who are in control. The rest of the movie as far as these girls go is about trying to get out.

Meanwhile there's a slightly separate storyline following the therapist who feeds the audience loads of information (and misinformation *sigh* — mostly centered around the actual premise of The Beast existing, but unfortunately inflammatory and misleading information about how "powerful" and "special" DID folk are) on DID. Less time on telling and more time on showing would have been appreciated.

So, if you read above the spoilers, you may realize that the average (non comic-savvy, non-Unbreakable diehard) joes and janes who saw Split now believe that every DID system has their own take on The Horde looking to overthrow the nice people, and the potential for having The Beast in their system…a terribly mistaken impression to give people.

Unfortunately the need to blow DID out of proportion to "explain" The Beast makes a story that could have rated a 4 into one that rates a 3.

Rather than making the Beast into something completely and clearly mystical OUTSIDE of DID, they made it supposedly that extreme end of the bell curve — that in this story world it is plausible that anyone with DID could have an extreme like this in their system. That's where they could have fixed this. Make it a group of Dr. Jeckyls and yeah the other Horde members sure — but make it MUCH MORE clear that this one "different one" is a "Where did that come from? Never seen before in DID" Mr. Hyde. In other words, make the "Oh shit this is a comic universe" come sooner, and more obviously. Kinda like Jim Carrey in The Mask… like make it more — out of this world. Yeah, I know you were looking for plausible deniability. But by not lampooning DID more you actually harmed perceptions of DID entirely.

The summoning ceremony to call up The Beast (the placing of flowers at the train) is well — not ritualized or obvious enough to make it clear that this Beast is not really "normally" a part of DID.

The premise becomes that people who have been through a lot of trauma/torment could cross the line into the mystical and need to eat people. Shit, that crap nearly comes out of the therapists' lectures. Where one minute she's actually citing real information on DID, and some of the odder elements of DID that really weren't necessary to mention (because one of Barry& was diabetic where others weren't — no need to tell us that physiological stuff is possible twice…) then interweaving this blatant falsehood/mysticism/fantasy into it.

And to think that someone with DID might be sitting next to you in the theater? Hell, if I bought into it, even I might start looking over my shoulder for people who had torn their shirt off and were starting to red Hulk on me.

Problem Scenes & Continuity Errors

Meet "Barry"

So when we first meet "Barry&" outside of The Incident he's in his therapist's office. Later we find out he's already been taken over by the Horde — this "Barry" is roaming around straightening out items but never loses his slumped careless gestures and subconscious movements — later we find this is not really Barry, the artist and clothing designer — but Dennis pretending to be Barry. It's my belief that in most multiple systems there's limited ability to truly become each other to the point that it would fool someone so familiar with the system. She does seem to notice something off, but when you compare this "Barry" & the times Dennis is fully present as himself, there's a very wide range of difference that would be hard to deliberately mimic. In fact, Dennis wears glasses — I assume they're not just for show. So this is kinda odd. He should have mimicked the brainiac guy with the glasses, they were more similar in overall appearance and manners than the creative, artsy, sloppy Barry vs. the uptight, proper, OCD, stiff Dennis. Poor choice.... should have made it more subtle.

More people believe in DID than is let on in the movie. Sheesh. I know we have SOME trouble being believed, but not THAT much trouble. It's in the freakin DSM.

18 mins

"We look at people who have been broken and shattered like they're less than us. What if they're more than us?" *sigh* Neither. We're just more people. Not more than regular people. We're more HURT people — in quantity not quality.

20 mins

Very strange imagery — she's having a conversation about the National Panel etc. — don't bother flashing around to other imagery during it. Disorienting. I'm not sure what you're focusing on or why you're showing me any of it. "You speak about them like they're supernaturally gifted, like like they have powers or something. Karen these are patients. They have been through trauma." — no other imagery needed. Focus on the conversation.

Now, as for the quote of that conversation: this is one place where they IMPLY that people with DID have superpowers or are gifted, etc. — completely hogwash and inappropriate. Could just use the word "special" or "smarter" because these are things that people DO believe about DID. Leave the supernatural for The Beast not for DID patients in general.

Misinformation: "DID patients have changed their body chemistry with their thoughts." — no. Like all physiological processes, they happen on a level we cannot control with THOUGHTS. *sigh* Yes, different alters can have different physiological processes. But we can choose thoughts. We don't CHOOSE to have diabetes or hypertension or such. Blatant misinformation. Not even needed for the story arc.

30 mins

My first real serious continuity beef! Hedwig (9 year old) is outside the room in his usual zip-up running suit (with a plain white Hanes tee under it) trying to get into the room, suddenly changes (between 31:40 & 31:49 — 9 seconds) to Dennis — including clothes?!? Now he's in his black button-up shirt (unbutoned right now, but with a grey tank-top tee on now…and this is the OCD guy usually meticulously dressed with his shirt unbuttoned?), change of pants, shoes AND puts on his glasses — Wait. I don't give a crap if everyone wants a separate wardrobe whenever they appear (thankfully this nonsense goes away later in the movie), but this is a lack of continuity. There is NO WAY he changed clothes and walked from one place to the other in 9 seconds, I don't care how superpowered his multiplicity is!!! Wardrobe changes are not a DID superpower! :)

35 mins

Dr. Fletcher is giving a lecture. Here goes the misinformation in the lecture:

  • "Have these individuals, through their suffering, unlocked the potential of the brain?" - leading question. No. Because we don't have conscious control over it. We have certainly unlocked SOME of the potential, but not in a conscious manner.
  • "Is this the ultimate doorway to all things we call unknown?" Not sure what this has to do with yet-to-be-discovered micronutrients or whether there's life on other planets....
  • "Is this where our sense of the supernatural comes from?" — anthropologically, no. Our sense of the supernatural comes from explaining science we don't understand. At least according to science.

If you're giving a lecture to a bunch of people who don't necessarily know much or believe in a diagnosis, would you really start waving wild hypothetical nonsense in front of the whole auditorium? And how many of these wildly unprovable hypothesis would you wave around before someone hung up the Skype call on you?

37-38 mins

Dennis pretending to be Barry — uses the yellow cloth to open the door. Dennis being OCD and either phobic of dirt or germs doesn't like touching things. Good touch.

57:40

"You were necessary." Ouch. So what am I now? A cast-off? A relic? The wording there is weird.

59 mins

Dr. Fletcher, supposedly a DID expert, is certain this Beast is a fantasy which may lead viewers to believe that she would know — but this is all misinformation. A true expert would know that just because a system "thinks they know all the alters" doesn't mean that there's no more alters to find/discover/come out of hiding. And this idea that the Beast can't exist is a poor set-up to what happens later — and misleading to people who may believe the mythology of the movie that skirts close to the truth on DID.

1:07:05

Patricia goes to change personalities to Dennis — she had been wearing Hedwig's running suit (thank goodness she didn't require a wardrobe change to "come into the light") — including a speedy wardrobe change. Dennis reappears, buttoned shirt, belt, neatly tucked per his usual preference (apparently he's so good at this he didn't rush this time), glasses, etc. 21 seconds later at 1:07:26. Man he's so good at getting dressed one might think he's not meticulous.

Dennis enters a soliloquy about the Beast that is their internal mythology. Hopefully no one in the audience believes his take on it.

1:13:35

"I have lost so many patients into the system." Huh? This doesn't even make sense. The mental health system? How is that losing them…? Confusing.

"…My patients have become my family." Transference, any? That doesn't help us or the other viewers really at all. It's a bad line. It's against medical ethics. If she said she married her practice, that would be OK. But to call the PATIENTS family, to their face — that's manipulative cold counter-transference shit. Don't give him the burden of being your family.

Right after this, there's a really bad passage: Dennis speaking: The blind woman in Germany who was discovered to have DID "[t]hen 3 of her identities developed sight. And you speculated that her optical nerves regenerated because of her beliefs."

This one's going to make me slip a freakin' disk. No, it's the other way around. If the body is not blind, there can be dissociative blindness due to trauma. If you saw things that are so bad that you had to turn off seeing "forever" — but when other alters front they can have different sightedness. The blindness is very real, it's not faking it. The brain really doesn't "see" or process light when the blind alter(s) are front. She didn't regenerate nerves. That's not how it works, but Dennis says Dr. Fletcher believes that is how it worked for this blind German woman. It may be miraculous to regain sight after decades of blindness. But it's not a miracle when the blindness was via dissociation. Just miraculous.

The Climax Begins

Now Dennis tells Dr. Fletcher the Beast is real and he's met him, he describes what he looks like, and Dr. Fletcher claims he can't be real. I'm glad she's a fictional character, because therapists like this make me upset. He just told you. Now accept it and move on. Eventually she stops pressing and lightens up and feeds him what he needs to hear and moves to leave then she's stupid... but that's history now right?

So she discovers what she probably shouldn't have and a bunch of hurtful things. Which as a professional, no matter how shaken, she shouldn't say "This identity is monstrous." right to his face like he's not a real person? Wow, lady. So was all that believing in the individuals in the system a bunch of ass-kissing or what? Egads. I'll give her slack for not being more clever because she's a character and panic.

So there's kinda parts of the climax scenes that resonate, and parts that don't. But the eating girls part — highly uncalled for if they're trying to portray DID accurately. So at this point they have departed reality and landed squarely in comic book fantasy. There's still a sprinkling of reality;

  • The rapid switching — well it's OK. There's a wide variety in how people look when they switch.
  • The idea that a bad group could take control and "overthrow" a good group — I don't believe in bad and good groups. Usually the "bad" group is a group that's reacting to being controlled and oppressed and having their life "Stolen" by a so-called good group. But disagreements, poor behaviors, etc. do happen in DID. Usually suicide, or attacking other system members for reasons of being scared, oppressed, trapped, disempowered, etc. by them. Attacking people outside the body is very unusual for DID folk.

The Resolution

Then the hunt and chase suddenly becomes some sick celebration of having been abused and tormented for a moment where the Beast says Casey's heart is pure because she either has been scarred by someone else or has self-inflicted scars, so apparently she's not one of the "impure" who are untouched.

"The broken are the more evolved."-- The Beast

I'm sure that doesn't make a good impression on people about mental health issues — this idea that we're more evolved, that people with mental health issues will gain superpowers and overthrow humans. Who thinks this shit up? And why?

"Your Uncle is here." Why not just have Casey turn in her uncle right there? What a great opportunity. Just have her say "No" and camera goes elsewhere. That would be a small tiny nod to something good having come of it all.

The End.


Comments on the bonus materials

Alternate ending

Dennis: "Look at all those unbroken souls." Patricia: "Such a waste." — she left his glasses on (discontinuity) but maybe she spoke-through and didn't front. They're apparently capable of that (the scene early in the movie with Dennis & Patricia having a conversation together outside the holding cell). I'm kinda more impressed with the mirror ending; it's more artsy.

Deleted Scenes

Shaw's Party

Shyamalan explains this "connection" between what autistic brains can do and what DID brains can do. Like he's become a neuroscientist after writing and directing a script.

Shaw's Date

The thoughts over mind/body thing is incorrect as stated earlier on this page. DID folk don't think things and have it come true. Not of the mind or body. I'm not saying brain or trauma reactions have nothing to do with physiological issues in DID, but I'm saying thoughts — those things we can overhear, direct, change, create — have nothing to do with it. So it's not thoughts over body. It's mind — and all of its parts including subconscious — over body. Gurus can learn to control the body by controlling their mind. But if you ask them, I seriously doubt it has anything at all to do with thoughts.

Then envying DID patients because we're never alone — BS. Many DID folk have not met their headmates. We're as "not alone" as Dr. Fletcher is not alone in her apartment building because there's people in other apartments.

The Many Faces of James McAvoy (casting mini documentary)

Ashwin Rajan Executive Producer should know better than to call this "split personality" by now. *sigh*

Shyamalan: "The movie is essentially a fantasy…I wanted to take something scientific and psychologically proven and keep going with it, keep going. First two, three steps have been proven and then the next one was not proven, but it's a question. You can get stressed and your blood pressure goes up, will you believe that? Do you believe I give you a pill and it's full of sugar, but I told you it's a cure, and a portion of the population cures themselves of all diseases, do you believe that? It's true, that's a fact, it's in every scientific study everywhere, and every medicine is pit against the placebo effect. Now I'm going to introduce you to DID, where each individual personality believes they are who they are 100%. One personality has diabetes, one has high cholesterol, one can't see, and their body changes chemically as they get to that belief system. Now I'm going to ask one more question, and that's the one no one has asked, which I'm asking, which is, what if a person with DID thought one of its personalities was supernatural? Would they have supernatural powers?"

Well, that's a great way of setting a fictional premise. Without taking responsibility for traumatized people haunted by stigma and myths and misunderstandings about their disorder.

This departure-from-reality point is unfortunately already shown not to be true. I believe I have wings and a tail, but I don't grow wings and a tail. Star thinks she had the magical power of healing, but doesn't in this world. DID systems are rife with non-human, mystical critters, creatures who believe they have or once had special abilities, and yet none of them have come forward with these supernatural abilities — even within the DID community. So this point of departure led to a script and film which skirted reality convincingly enough that the dive into fantasy dragged a lot of gullible viewers into a falsehood that wasn't clearly supposition.

Anyway, at least his soliloquy in this section is essentially correct, and anyone who believes that Split is an accurate portrayal of DID has to look at the list of films by Shyamalan to understand he deals in fiction. Or listen to this portion of the bonus materials and hear the departure from reality from the writer/director's mouth himself.


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