23 Equals 1: Review on the Movie ‘Split’

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The movie “Split” is a sequel to the movie “Unbreakable”, which is a psychological thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring James McAvoyAnya Taylor-Joy and Betty Buckley.  It narrates an interesting yet disturbing story of a man named Kevin who is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder and his troubled soul which stations 23 distinct personalities. That sounds spoofy, isn’t it!

The title itself is very evocative and gives out a lot about the movie, But, but, but peeps, the twist will uproot each audience to a level of incomprehensibility. M. Night Shyamalan’s movie like The Visit, Sixth Sense and so on are known for its dope suspense and enigmatic screenplays.

The movie starts with an undertone of suspense, which is created around the character of James McAvoy, the victim of split personality disorder who kidnaps three young girls, the reason for which is never revealed. The story then unravels through the eyes of these girls, especially through the character of Casey played by, Taylor Joy.  His fluid personalities ranging from the playful 9-year old boy Hedwig to the Patricia to the highly obsessive Dennis and at last to the brutal and cannibal-like beast, hints at power of our mind, which literally takes the audience for a psychedelic ride!!

The 23 different toothbrushes in his closet is a striking scene, almost like a revelation to the audience who are exposed to just few personalities (like Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig). The number ‘23’ actually gets audience speechless, not knowing how to react to that fact. Mrs. Fletcher, Kevin’s psychiatrist who is aware of the 23 personalities (which he embodies) later comes to a shocking realization about his 24th personality, The Beast. This consecutive piling up off twists renders the audience, an enthralling experience. The steady plot movement without much lag ensures a constant invoking of curiosity in each of the audience. The varying voice and personae of distinct personalities is handled with commendable agility and perfection by James McAvoy, better known to us as Charles Xavier, the young professor in X-Men series.

But, towards the end of the movie there are subtle instance of staggered plot movement, which is regained by the presence of the character David Dunn, from Unbreakable. These tiny little tricks and climaxes which Shyamalan has up his sleeves are effectively used at intervals to glue in the viewers. A first-timer watching his movies will enthusiastically look up other movies of his, because the interesting theme, which underlies his cinematic universe, is the, psyche of an individual (be it a criminal, mental patient, a young boy, etcetera).

But on this same ground, M. Night Shyamalan is criticized for stigmatizing mental illness and its patients. His portrayal of violent patients at some level sends across a wrong message to a large audience. This in turn leads to massive generalization of “mental patients as violent and harmful”. But on the other hand, we can observe that these psychological distortions in each character is categorized a kind of supernatural power by him through his movies. When Dr. Fletcher remarks “Dissociative Identity Disorder is a reflection of brain’s vast potentiality rather than disability”, mildly levels the criticism offered by many critics especially psychologists.

I would rather suggest this movie, because as informed audience and movie enthusiasts this movie would really destabilize our psychological landscapes to an extent of sheer awe!

I would give a 4/5 rating for the movie.

About the author:

Treesa Reena John- JMC, Delhi University

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