Split is the latest film from director M. Night Shyamalan (director of blockbusters like The Sixth Sense and extraordinarily awful flops like The Last Airbender). It’s a thriller about a man with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. When the trailer came out, it was criticized for perpetuating a dangerous stigma around with people with D.I.D. The trailer portrayed Kevin, the lead character with D.I.D as an antagonist, and almost made it look as though his disorder gave him superpowers. It was something that should have been criticized. The movie itself, however, was widely different.
In the movie, it was made clear that the character with D.I.D. was an outlier, a special case. Kevin’s doctor mentioned that several other patients she worked with who were doing very well and had fulfilling lives. She seemed to truly care for her patients and fought to have them recognized. Her character also accurately explained D.I.D., which is important as it brings real support and awareness to the disorder to audiences who may not believe that it’s real. The film also showed that Kevin developed D.I.D. as a coping mechanism for abuse, and it was made clear that although it did help him, it wasn’t something to be praised nor did it give him “super powers”. There is a fantastical element to the film in which characters have “superpowers”, but it was not related to Kevin’s disorder (the film exists in the same universe as Unbreakable, a 2000 Shyamalan film). The superpower part really just brought up a discussion about how much the mind was capable of. This aspect of the film was not supposed to be a direct representation of mental illness, it was more of a thought on what powers the mind holds.
Kevin wasn’t even made to be evil, he was shown to just want to be accepted and you really felt for him.
Some people thought it was transphobic, but I personally didn’t see that. The character with D.I.D. had a few female personalities, but I didn’t feel they were intended to be comic relief. One had a very integral part in the story. The lead character Casey was very strong and was shown to be smart, not a sad victim. She was able to connect to Kevin as she had experienced and was experiencing trauma and abuse. The movie really touched on how different people deal with trauma, which is important to understand. The other girls that were kidnapped were also strong characters as well, as they fought back instead of waiting to be rescued.
Although Split is not free of flaws, it was much better than expected and had some really good parts. It touched on how different people deal with trauma, presented D.I.D. as a real disorder, brought up various issues with abuse and assault, and the character with D.I.D. wasn’t shown to be completely “crazy” and “evil”. All in all, it was an enjoyable, deep thriller that should be a positive turning point for director M. Night Shyamalan.