Since its release on Jan. 20 of this year, the film “Split” has been topping the box office and receiving positive critical feedback, despite controversial content.
In the film, three girls are abducted by Kevin Crumb, a man with severe dissociative identity disorder. He keeps them locked in a small room, and they are confronted with many of his 24 personalities.
“Split” plays with some dark content, mainly that of child abuse. Kevin’s multiple personalities came about in response to the abuse he experienced from his mother
His 24th personality, named “The Beast,” believes those who have experienced abuse and suffering are “pure” and will rise above humanity.
According to the DSM-5, a publication by the American Psychiatric Association that provides a classification of a wide variety of mental disorders, dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously called multiple personality disorder, is a psychological condition that comes about most often in response to a traumatic experience, usually after some form of abuse.
The disorder creates at least two distinct, separate identities or personalities in order to help a person cope with the trauma.
The DSM-5 also states that DID is extremely rare. While there are many documented cases of people with dissociative identity disorders, some still argue that the disorder does not exist.
This disbelief is a major center point of the film, as well, as Kevin and his therapist hope to make the disorder better-known.
Kevin has 23, later revealed to be 24, vastly different personalities. Some of these are seen as bad personalities and so are not allowed “in the light,” which means that they cannot control Kevin’s body.
“Barry” is one of Kevin’s personalities, and he controls who is allowed “in the light.”
According to Keith Cates, an associate professor of the division of counseling, rehabilitation and interpreter training (CRIT), the idea that one personality is dominant or controlling is actually a frequent misconception in films portraying DID.
“I’ve met several people that I truly believe may have DID, and from my experience, there doesn’t seem to be a mastermind personality behind them that is so well put together—no fantastically controlling personality and all these subpersonalities,” Cates said.
“All the personalities are subpersonalities; they are all shadows of themselves and two-dimensional.
“It’s rare to meet someone that has a really good, whole, deep personality and then a breakoff. They are usually splintered, with multiple equal subpersonalities.”
Controversy has risen with the release of the film due to the negative image “Split” creates about people with mental disorders. Kevin’s personalities can be, at times, angry and violent, which some fear will lead people to develop a negative stigma that those suffering from mental disorders are dangerous.
Carol Booker, a clinical counseling supervisor and Troy University faculty member, said that she has dealt with the stigma of mental illness throughout her career.
“During my career, I have seen the change from a society that truly would assume that mental illness meant danger, to one that at least now is opening up and realizing that mental illness is an illness, as is a physical illness, and should be treated with the same respect in terms of getting assistance and getting help,” Booker said.
“The image created in films like this one, that someone with a mental illness is always dangerous or violent, just isn’t correct.”
She referenced the film shown on campus Monday night about Chamique Holdsclaw, who was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, yet she played WNBA basketball and is now speaking out against the stigma that is caused by a mental illness diagnosis.
“Split,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, needs to be taken with a grain of salt when viewing it for accuracy, as it does display nonhuman acts near the end of the film.
“The Beast” is able to change the physical composition of his body, making himself taller and stronger, which is not in the capacity of human ability.
Shyamalan hopes to create a sequel to “Split” that will connect the plot with another of Shyamalan’s films, “Unbreakable,” which also centers around people with meta-human capabilities.
While it may draw in some controversy, James McAvoy’s acting chops and ability have been critically praised and make this film a must-see for many.