A Comment On “Split”

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There are a list of movies, documentaries, Sundance films, and Lifetime drama’s that juggle carefully the topic of mental health and these things people still call “mental disorders”.

“Split” is not like any of them.

There are boycotts of this movie. I’m assuming that’s because they haven’t yet seen it.

If you’re new to this blog, you may not know I am someone who struggles day in and day out mentally. Were you to skim through old archives, you’d breathe in the demons and the angels: they’re spread liberally throughout this blog, like Neosporin on an open wound. If you do choose to dip your big toe in the pool of tar that is my daily experience, be warned you may be sucked down, you may be splashed with acid, burned, maimed, and/or killed. Be warned what appears angelic may indeed be the hybrid: Angehellic. Sign your name in the comment section and hit the follow button to agree to my terms and conditions, and to agree to the liability waiver: i.e, it’s not my fault if you die.

I would like to kindly ask the people who have been opposed to this movie simply because they believe it portrays Disassociative Identity Disorder in a poor light to go out and see it, or, at the very least, watch it illegally online: particularly if you believe it’s advocating the stigma we often face with mental health issues: we’re dangerous, sick, and crazy.

I saw none of that in this movie.

It’s M. Night Shyamalan. You really think it’s going to be a straight forward movie documenting the life of a “crazy” guy with DID going out and kidnapping young girls? Get real.

In fact, what makes this movie a great mental health movie is that it has absolutely nothing to do with mental health or DID. It has to do with pain, trauma, life, belief, and how all of that contributes to what we don’t know about the universe and our own brains.

There’s great information in this movie about DID that are true. I.e, different personalities harbor different health ailments, experience different memories, ages, the loss of time, and pupil sizes. One personality may have diabetes while the others don’t. One may have high blood pressure or high cholesterol while the others don’t. They have the capacity to know what other personalities think, they have the capacity to overpower one another and become the host.While I’m no expert on DID, as I don’t have it myself, I spoke once to a man with it, listened to his story, and I’m fully aware this coping mechanism the brain has created is both life shattering and fascinating just like any other mental health issue.

thinking-008What does something like DID tell us about the human mind? About life? About pain and trauma? About our own resilience and ability to adapt? If anything, Shyamalan is on our side with this. It’s not a matter of being broken or sick. It’s a matter of being pained, of being innocently human through traumas ( of any kind) that take away that feeling of humanity.

*SPOILERS*

Synopsis: A man named Kevin has 23 different personalities. Dennis and Mrs. Patricia (I think that was her name), now host the body of Kevin after stealing the spotlight from Barry. Dennis is highly neat and obsessive in nature with cleanliness because of Kevin’s mother’s abuse. He’s strong and punctual. He’s a protector; what Barry once was. Hedwig is a nine year old who spearhead’s the beast’s arrival alongside Dennis. Dennis kidnaps three young girls who he believes will be food for The Beast, as they aren’t “pure”. Several other hidden personalities reach out to Kevin’s psychologist hoping to stop it all. She is in the process of using his case, and others, to promote the reality of DID and the authenticity/power/possibilities of the brain.

In Dennis’ sense, pure means ” highly damaged”. He meant to kidnap just the two girls, but the third one came along by accident. The two girls he targeted for days, watching the ease of their lives. Those are the ones The Beast and personalities like Dennis believe need to be purified–i.e, made to suffer. What The Beast learns is the one girl kidnapped by accident has been sexually abused and physically abused, and as a result lets her go. She’s evolved, he said, and she should rejoice.

Of course there is a supernatural element that is greatly appreciated, and maybe this is where people get all huffy. No, he’s not insinuating that people with multiple personalities (or anyone with a mental health issue) are monsters like “The Beast”. Stop thinking literally and start thinking critically. In fact, “The Beast” isn’t a personality at all. The beast isn’t human: he bends metal bars, grows taller, more muscular, has veins of blue/grey all through his body, climbs up walls, runs and behaves like a lion or tiger, and devours the innards of the two impure (undamaged) girls.

The personalities within “Kevin” (the main character) all recognize The Beast as something greater than themselves, something greater than a human, and within that recognition they become the beast. The beast is the manifestation of pain and growth, and the almost egotistical strength which comes with it. That strength can be used for good or bad. Or both simultaneously.

I believe The Beast is correct. The things you suffer force you to grow in strength or succumb to nothingness, and you may unlock portions of yourself and your brain beyond average comprehension. You learn things others may never learn. That I do rejoice in. It’s not invalidating anyone’s struggle. It’s simply suggesting that maybe we don’t know all we think we know. 

When you’re in an introductory fiction writing class, one thing many professors or teacher ask you to do is think of a character. Think of their name, personality, likes, dislikes, e.t.c. Then, compose a story, or an outline of one, and plop your character in that realm. That’s what Shyamalan has done, and gracefully so. He’s created a multi-layer character (literally) that get’s dropped in a multi-layered story.

The story in itself isn’t about DID. The character happens to have it, but this isn’t Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”. That was a movie (based on John Nash) where the story was built around the ailment (schizophrenia) of the character. “Split” is a movie where a supernatural character is absorbed into a universal, and relevent story: two separate concepts merged together. This was a movie where a message was thought of, and the character most fitting was plopped in the story to explain.

So, before you jump on the bandwagon of hating this movie, twist your lens a little and dig a little deeper, particularly if you struggle mentally yourself. This isn’t a movie to portray you as a monster, as a crazy person, as a freak, as a sick criminal. It’s a movie that reminds you although you may be different, although you may suffer, there are many things in life we may never be able to understand. There are many things about the brain we may never understand. And because you struggle in the way you do, you get a sense of life, of the human mind, that most other people never will. And that is something incredibly special.

Painfully special, even.

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2 thoughts on “A Comment On “Split”

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