By Lindsay Tidmarsh
The Mirror Staff
The film titled Split inspired petitions and incited anger in the hearts of those affected by the mental illness from Hollywood, again.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Newest Film Split is a Controversial Snooze
March 9, 2017
ENTERTAINMENT: The Thriller you’ve been waiting for is jam-packed with personality, but is it worth the price of admission?
Early this year, director M. Night Shyamalan did it again: another movie cashing in on an offensive, overplayed stereotype. The film Split inspired petitions and incited anger in the hearts of those affected by mental illness who feel they are being misrepresented by Hollywood, again.
Yet, despite these petitions and objections, the film was not pulled from the theaters; it was released as scheduled on Jan. 20, and it has earned more than $222 million at the box office.
X-Men’s James McAvoy stars in the horrifying thriller with award-nominated actress Anya Taylor-Joy, known for her haunting role in The VVitch: A New England Folktale.
Split follows an unfortunate trio of girls who are kidnapped by the obsessive-compulsive creep Dennis—one of the 23 alter egos within Kevin (McAvoy). They are taken to an obscure location where they are to serve as a kind of “sacrificial meal” to the mysterious 24th unseen alter ego, the Beast.
McAvoy plays a total of 23 different personalities, the most notable being Dennis, an obsessive-compulsive control freak who “likes to watch girls dance;” Patricia, an eerie yet motherly woman; Hedwig, a nine-year-old child who loves dancing to Kanye West and excessively using “et cetera” in multiple phrases; and Barry, a generally likeable effeminate fashion designer and gay stereotype. Each alter ego patiently waits for their turn in “the chair,” or a chance to gain their moment in the spotlight.
One of the few girls who is luckily equipped with multiple survival skills from traumatizing past experiences and a sharp mind is Casey Cooke. As we witness through flashbacks, she’s sexually abused by her uncle, who later becomes her guardian—after the death of her father. She uses these traits and unfortunate knowledge of abuse to break free from Kevin’s clutches, outsmarting her tormentor on her way to freedom.
For those who suffer from mental illness, Hollywood is their greatest enemy. Misrepresentation is the norm, further stigmatizing an already isolated group.
Unlike McAvoy’s character, individuals suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) are hardly threatening. These people are not, as the film suggests, dangerous beings. What we’re dealing with is a small, vulnerable and seldom violent group of people who are being targeted by Hollywood. They are vulgarly exaggerated and exploited, and Split only adds to the damage.
I found the film somewhat distasteful and offensive, using cheap and tired tropes that are damaging not only the underrepresented population of those diagnosed with DID, but also the community of transgendered individuals. Much like Psycho’s Norman Bates and Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill, this film misportrays the LGBT+ community and people labeled with psychiatric disabilities and psychosocial disabilities.
Besides being offensive and grossly exaggerated, it was also incredibly anti-climatic. Though I entered the theater with low expectations, I still managed to become disappointed and wonder if the twist was truly worth the price of admission.
I understand Shyamalan’s intention, which was purely entertainment and thrill, but we need to realize the consequences of exaggerating the most extreme and negative aspects of people and taking that to the screen. It damages viewers opinions of the people suffering from these conditions and places the thought that these people are just as dangerous as the characters in the film into their brains. It makes those who are uneducated and afraid become violent.
This carelessness of misrepresenting the innocent beings left a bad taste in my mouth, and I found it very hard to enjoy and support the film or the subject matter.
However, I appreciated the alarming accuracy of the film; from the use of Kevin’s last name as a trigger to disrupt the balance of the multiple personalities to the traumatic roots of his disorder, it’s clear Shyamalan has done his homework. He even tries to include a “concerned” psychiatrist, though she seems too “concerned” with Kevin’s condition and potential to physically transform the body to actually make sure he isn’t keeping any frightened half-dressed girls in his basement.
Although I didn’t entirely enjoy my time spent in the theater hoping for a moment that might cause me to grip the edge of my seat, this film wonderfully showcases McAvoy’s undoubtedly impressive range. His acting diversity is on full display and outshines all others in the film, as he completes his performance with multiple accents and costume changes.
Taylor-Joy isn’t someone to ignore, either. Her performance is haunting and convincing, and her large doe-like eyes add an element of innocence that is perfect for horror. She never seems to disappoint me, and I deeply enjoyed her moments spent fending for her life on screen. She’s the type of character that you know the audience can relate to; Casey feels detached from the people at her school because of the pain she’s experienced and how different that makes her feel. She’s a nice girl—they’re all nice girls—but her non-conformity to society’s high standards is what sets her apart from the other two captives. Her physical scars mirror her mental ones, and this is what saves her from The Beast: the suffering she had endured.
Overall, the film was just a big “eh.” I couldn’t seem to find any moments that really made my spine crawl and turn my knuckles ghostly white, as Split lacked that mind blowing twist I had been waiting for and expecting.
I wouldn’t call it “scheming garbage” or accuse it of plotting against those diagnosed with mental illnesses; though, I can guarantee that if the time came where I had to choose between either rewatching the film or spending hours watching paint dry, I’d stick with the wet paint.
Split will be released on video April 18.