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Within the process of watching an M. Night Shyamalan film, there exists a parallel and simultaneous process of searching for its inevitable twist. This has been true of every film the writer-director has made since his surprise smash debut, “ The Sixth Sense ,” nearly two decades ago. We wonder: How will he dazzle us? What clues should we be searching for? Will it actually work this time?

Increasingly, with middling efforts like “ The Village ” and “ Lady in the Water ”—and dreary aberrations like “ The Last Airbender ” and “ After Earth ,” which bore none of his signature style—the answer to that last question has been: Not really. Which makes his latest, “Split,” such an exciting return to form. A rare, straight-up horror film from Shyamalan, “Split” is a thrilling reminder of what a technical master he can be. All his virtuoso camerawork is on display: his lifelong, loving homage to Alfred Hitchcock , which includes, as always, inserting himself in a cameo. And the twist—that there is no Big Twist—is one of the most refreshing parts of all.

“Split” is more lean and taut in its narrative and pace than we’ve seen from Shyamalan lately. Despite its nearly two-hour running time, it feels like it’s in constant forward motion, even when it flashes backward to provide perspective.

It’s as if there’s a spring in his step, even as he wallows in grunge. And a lot of that has to do with the tour-de-force performance from James McAvoy as a kidnapper named Kevin juggling two-dozen distinct personalities.

From obsessive-compulsive maintenance man Dennis to playful, 9-year-old Hedwig to prim, British Patricia to flamboyant, New York fashionista Barry, McAvoy brings all these characters to life in undeniably hammy yet entertaining ways. There’s a lot of scenery chewing going on here, but it’s a performance that also showcases McAvoy’s great agility and precision. He has to make changes both big and small, sometimes in the same breath, and it’s a hugely engaging spectacle to behold.

His portrayal of this troubled soul is darkly funny but also unexpectedly sad. Kevin is menacing no matter which personality in control, but the underlying childhood trauma that caused him to create these alter egos as a means of defense clearly still haunts him as a grown man. Flashes of vulnerability and fragility reveal themselves in the film’s third act, providing an entirely different kind of disturbing tone.

First, though, there is the abduction, which Shyamalan stages in efficient, gripping fashion. Three high school girls get in a car after a birthday party at the mall: pretty, chatty Claire ( Haley Lu Richardson of “ The Edge of Seventeen ”) and Marcia ( Jessica Sula ) and shy, quiet Casey ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), who was invited along out of pity. But they quickly realize the man behind the wheel isn’t Claire’s dad—it’s Kevin, who wastes no time in knocking them out and dragging them back to his makeshift, underground lair.

Repeated visits from Kevin, with his varying voices and personae, gradually make it clear that their kidnapper harbors multiple personalities. Only Casey, who emerges as the trio’s clever leader, has the audacity to engage with him. As she showed in her breakout role in “ The Witch ” as well as in “ Morgan ,” Taylor-Joy can be chilling in absolute stillness with her wide, almond eyes—as much as McAvoy is in his showiness. She makes Casey more than your typical horror heroine to root for, particularly with the help of quietly suspenseful flashbacks that indicate how she acquired her survival instincts. Her co-stars aren’t afforded nearly as much characterization or clothing, for that matter.

But we also get a greater understanding of Kevin’s mental state through the daily sessions he (or, rather, a version of him) schedules with his psychologist, Dr. Fletcher (an elegant and soulful Betty Buckley ). A leading researcher in the field, she believes having dissociative identity disorder is actually a reflection of the brain’s vast potential rather than a disability. Their conversations, while exquisitely tense, also provide a welcome source of kindness amid the brutality.

And they help us put together the pieces of this puzzle—which is actually a few different puzzles at once. There’s the question of what Kevin wants with these girls. There’s the question of how they’ll escape. But the fundamentally frightening element of this whole scenario is how the various personalities interact with each other—how they manipulate and intimidate each other—and whether there’s an even more fearsome force gaining strength.

West Dylan Thordson ’s score and an expertly creepy sound design help make “Split” an unsettling experience from the very start. But the movie staggers a bit toward the end with some contrivances and coincidences, and it goes in directions that feel a bit exploitative—as if it’s wringing childhood abuse for cheap thrills. I’m still wrestling with how I feel about it, but I know I walked out with a slightly icky sense, even as I found the film engrossing both technically and dramatically.

Still, it’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later. Make sure you stay in your seat until the absolute end to see what other tricks he may have up his sleeve.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Split movie poster

Split (2017)

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

116 minutes

James McAvoy as Kevin

Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey

Haley Lu Richardson as Claire

Jessica Sula as Marcia

Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher

Kim Director as Hannah

Brad William Henke as Uncle John

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The Movie “Split” Analysis Essay

The movie “Split” is a psychological horror-thriller filmed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring James McAvoy, who plays about a person who has 23 prominent personalities due to sexual abuse happened in his childhood (Fischer, 2017). Each character of the person has a name and story, but the first man portrayed is Kevin Wendell Crumb. He kidnaps and imprisons three teenage girls in an isolated facility. The main character has a dissociative identity disorder (DID): one day, he may be a little boy, and tomorrow he is a strict teacher. When one of his 23 personalities kidnaps three schoolgirls, some of the characters approve of this act, and some want to fix the situation.

In the movie, Crumb shows typical symptoms of the disorder, such as the transition from one personality to another occurs spontaneously. Sometimes the change takes a few seconds; other times, it lasts for hours and days, while a person has a memory loss for some time. Each personality has its name, habits, intonation, facial expressions; for instance, “Dennis” imprisons girls, “Hedwig” has a childlike nature and wants to play with them, “The Beast” aims to kill girls and take ownership of the world.

The character tried to “fix” the problem by having visits to a psychotherapist. In the movie, we see the scenes of Kevin’s appointment with a psychotherapist. The doctor asks the main character, who is in front of him by building hypotheses, and Kevin confirms or rejects the guesses. When a dissociative identity disorder hits a person severely, the only recommendation for the main character to resolve the psychological issue is contacting a psychotherapist and conducting comprehensive treatment. I would suggest using cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy approaches to treat the person with the DID because it helps to decrease negative responses to stressors, which cause the appearance of other personalities (Dryden-Edwards & Stöppler, n.d.). Furthermore, these approaches are recommended to help a person unite all characters and control them to avoid adverse consequences (Fischer, 2017).

Dryden-Edwards, R. & Stöppler, M. (n.d.). Dissociative identity disorder. MedicineNet. Web.

Fischer, K. (2017). Movie ‘Split’ does harm to people with dissociative identity disorder, experts say. Healthline. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2023, October 31). The Movie “Split” Analysis.

"The Movie “Split” Analysis." IvyPanda , 31 Oct. 2023,

IvyPanda . (2023) 'The Movie “Split” Analysis'. 31 October.

IvyPanda . 2023. "The Movie “Split” Analysis." October 31, 2023.

1. IvyPanda . "The Movie “Split” Analysis." October 31, 2023.


IvyPanda . "The Movie “Split” Analysis." October 31, 2023.

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Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ Has Personality. O.K., Personalities. Lots.

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split movie review essay

By A.O. Scott

  • Jan. 19, 2017

At once solemn and preposterous, sinister and sentimental, efficient and overwrought, “Split” represents something of a return to form for its writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan. Or maybe I should say a return to formula. The movie, shot in and around Philadelphia, Mr. Shyamalan’s hometown, proceeds nimbly and with suave misdirection toward a pair of rug-pulling final twists that an attentive viewer will probably be able to anticipate. It’s not exactly a Choose Your Own Adventure, but you can opt either for the pleasure of surprise at the end or for the satisfaction of working out the puzzle as you go along.

Thanks to “ The Sixth Sense ” and “ Unbreakable ” back around the turn of the century, Mr. Shyamalan stands as a pioneer of spoiler-centric cinema. Like those movies, and like his later, lesser entertainments (“The Village”; “The Happening”), “Split” is all plot, an ingenious (and also ridiculous) conceit spun into an elegant ribbon of suspense. The less said about that plot, therefore, the better.

Movie Review: ‘Split’

The times critic a. o. scott reviews “split.”.

In “Split,” three teenage girls are kidnapped by a man with multiple personality disorder. In his review A.O. Scott writes: At once solemn and preposterous, sinister and sentimental, efficient and overwrought, “Split” represents something of a return to form for its writer and director, M. Night Shyamalan. The movie proceeds nimbly and with suave misdirection toward a pair of rug-pulling final twists that an attentive viewer will probably be able to anticipate. The film is lurid and ludicrous, and sometimes more than a little icky in its prurient, maudlin interest in the abuse of children. It’s also absorbing and sometimes slyly funny.

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What I can safely divulge is that three teenage girls are kidnapped after a birthday party by a close-cropped guy named Dennis in a buttoned-up shirt. He is obsessed with cleanliness, and he sounds weirdly like John Turturro for a guy supposedly from Philly. In fact, Dennis is played by the soft-eyed, shape-shifting British actor James McAvoy, as are the other 23 personalities residing in the body of a guy who shares the surname of a famous (and famously odd) Philadelphia-born artist .

These “alters” — a word familiar to fans of the Showtime series “United States of Tara” and other pop-cultural treatments of a controversial and often poorly understood psychological disorder — are a diverse bunch. Some are male, some female, at least one is a child (named Hedwig) and another (named Barry) is a gay stereotype. What they want with their captives is not immediately clear. What Mr. Shyamalan wants is to strip them down to their underwear and to explore, exploit and occasionally subvert the basic tropes of the female-victim psycho-slasher movie.

One of the young women — a gothy, spooky misfit named Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) — is singled out for special attention from the camera (though not, at least initially, from Dennis and his colleagues). Her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), alternate between panic and defiance, but Casey counsels patience and watchfulness. Flashbacks to a hunting trip she took as a 5-year-old (Izzie Leigh Coffey) in the company of her father (Sebastian Arcelus) and uncle (Brad William Henke) seem to explain the source of her survival skills, though it turns out that those memories have another, darker meaning as well.

Dennis and company, meanwhile — it’s mostly Barry, actually — consult with a therapist, Dr. Fletcher, who lives alone in a gracious, book-stuffed rowhouse and who is played by the wonderful Betty Buckley. Dr. Fletcher’s primary function is to explain the movie to the audience, foreshadowing the climax with her heterodox pseudo-scholarly theories about her many-sided patient, but Ms. Buckley also provides a dimension of warmth and wit that “Split” would be much duller and uglier without.

Mr. McAvoy, for his part, revels in the chance to use his sensitivity for evil, and to showboat his way through a series of appropriately overwrought characterizations. This breathlessly melodramatic thriller shouldn’t be taken as a psychological case study, any more than Mr. Shyamalan’s laughable “Lady in the Water” should be mined for clues about the habits of film critics.

“Split” is lurid and ludicrous, and sometimes more than a little icky in its prurient, maudlin interest in the abuse of children. It’s also absorbing and sometimes slyly funny. Some years back — it’s startling to contemplate just how long ago it was — Mr. Shyamalan was puffed up into a cinematic visionary, hailed on the cover of Newsweek as “The Next Spielberg.” That hype (and his own self-aggrandizing tendencies) placed a disproportionate burden of significance on a filmmaker who has always been, at heart, a superior genre hack.

“Split” is being released by Universal under the Blumhouse label, a brand associated with unpretentious, clever, neo-traditionalist scare-pictures like “Insidious,” “Paranormal Activity” and “The Purge.” That seems like the right company for Mr. Shyamalan, and the January pre-Oscar doldrums may be the perfect moment to appreciate his skills. He is a master of mood, pace and limited perspective, moving the camera so that the thing you most desperately want to see — and are most afraid of seeing — remains teasingly out of sight.

He uses Ms. Taylor-Joy’s enormous dark eyes as a mirror and a lure for the audience’s attention. He delays the inevitable, inevitably deflationary revelations for as long as possible, minimizing the obligatory third-act flurry of chasing, fighting and bloodletting. And he sneaks in a few self-referential winks, including an allusion to his last really good movie that feels at once like a promise of better mischief to come and an implicit apology for all the disappointment in between.

A film review on Friday about “Split” misstated the movie’s rating status. It is rated PG-13, not R.

How we handle corrections

Split Rated PG-13. Not superbloody, but supercreepy. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes.

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Home — Essay Samples — Nursing & Health — Dissociative Identity Disorder — Kevin Crumb from the “Split” Movie: Psychology Analysis


Kevin Crumb from The "Split" Movie: Psychology Analysis

  • Categories: Childhood Dissociative Identity Disorder Trauma

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Words: 2619 |

14 min read

Published: Nov 5, 2020

Words: 2619 | Pages: 6 | 14 min read

Table of contents

Introduction, review of literature, critical background, works cited.

  • Allen, Jon G. Coping With Trauma: Hope Through Understanding. 2nd ed., American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc, 2005.
  • Bellis, Michael D. De, and Abigail Zisk. “The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma.” Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, vol. 23, no. 2, 16 Feb. 2014, pp. 185–222., doi:10.1016/j.chc.2014.01.002.
  • Boysen, G. The Scientific Status of Childhood Dissociative Identity Disorder. vol. 80, 2011, pp. 329–334, The Scientific Status of Childhood Dissociative Identity Disorder.
  • Carr, Alan, et al. “A Systematic Review of the Outcome of Child Abuse in Long-Term Care.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 22 July 2018, p. 1., doi:10.1177/1524838018789154.
  • Haddock, Deborah Bray. The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook. 1 edition ed., Contemporary Books, 2001.
  • Kopstein, Andrea. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2014.
  • Shyamalan, M. Night, director. Split. Universal Pictures, 2017.
  • Stickley, T., and R. Nickeas. “Becoming One Person: Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing , vol. 13, no. 2, 16 Mar. 2006, pp. 180–187., doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2006.00939.x.

Should follow an “upside down” triangle format, meaning, the writer should start off broad and introduce the text and author or topic being discussed, and then get more specific to the thesis statement.

Provides a foundational overview, outlining the historical context and introducing key information that will be further explored in the essay, setting the stage for the argument to follow.

Cornerstone of the essay, presenting the central argument that will be elaborated upon and supported with evidence and analysis throughout the rest of the paper.

The topic sentence serves as the main point or focus of a paragraph in an essay, summarizing the key idea that will be discussed in that paragraph.

The body of each paragraph builds an argument in support of the topic sentence, citing information from sources as evidence.

After each piece of evidence is provided, the author should explain HOW and WHY the evidence supports the claim.

Should follow a right side up triangle format, meaning, specifics should be mentioned first such as restating the thesis, and then get more broad about the topic at hand. Lastly, leave the reader with something to think about and ponder once they are done reading.

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Split is twisty, weird, and a great guide to writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's obsessions

Everything Shyamalan loves to explore is in this film, which stars James McAvoy as man with dissociative identity disorder.

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James McAvoy plays one of his split personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split.

There’s a clever hint in Split — I won’t give it away — that the latest thriller by famously twisty director M. Night Shyamalan exists in the same universe as at least one of his other movies.

That hint feels calculated to blow our collective minds. Are all of Shyamalan’s films in the same universe? Most of them are set in and around Shyamalan’s hometown of Philadelphia, as is Split . Could Cleveland Heep from Lady in the Water , out on a stroll sometime, accidentally wander into the Village ? Could Graham Hess find himself administering the Eucharist at church one day to David Dunn ?

Whether or not Split represents the birth of the Shyamalan Unified Cinematic Universe remains to be seen. But Split does unify Shyamalan’s films in other ways, specifically through its three biggest themes, which thread throughout most of the other movies he’s written and directed, from The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable to The Village and The Visit . Even less critically praised entries like The Happening and Lady in the Water echo these themes.

Split might be Shyamalan’s most straightforward exploration to date of these three big themes, but they’re present, in some form or another, in most everything he makes.

1) People are motivated by death and dark secrets

Split pits a trio of teenage girls ( Anya Taylor-Joy , Haley Lu Richardson , and Jessica Sula ) against their kidnapper ( James McAvoy ), a man with dissociative identity disorder (DID). He has 23 identities, and, it seems, a 24th may be readying itself to emerge. His therapist ( Betty Buckley ) is convinced he and others like him hold the key to some discovery that science does not yet understand.

Casey (Taylor-Joy, who was last seen in The Witch ) is introduced to us as a sullen teenager and a clear outsider who’s only at a birthday party for the other girls because Claire (Richardson) felt compelled to invite her out of kindness. When Claire, Casey, and Marcia (Sula) are kidnapped, Casey’s first instinct isn’t to fight back. She despairs. Why even try?

A scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split

In flashbacks, we come to realize that this instinct comes from both Casey’s loss of her beloved father and a secret she’s been hiding since she was a child. Casey’s been helpless for a long time, and it’s part of why she keeps to herself.

In this way, Casey is just one in a long string of Shyamalan characters who’ve isolated themselves in response to the loss of someone close to them. In Signs , Graham Hess is haunted by the loss of his wife; in Lady in the Water , Cleveland Heep has lost his entire family. David Dunn in Unbreakable is haunted by the near-loss of his wife, which has caused him to suppress an important memory. The village of The Village is created by people seeking to escape their tragedy and loss. Most of the action in The Happening comes from the same place. The Visit turns out to be about losing parents, too. And the whole concept of The Sixth Sense famously hinges on death and loss.

The fact that loss is a trigger for most of Shyamalan’s films is intriguing: There’s no clear biographical motivation for this, although Shyamalan went so far as to produce a fake documentary in 2014 about his own brief death as a child , in order to promote The Village .

Of course, death is hardly an obscure inspiration for movies. But it seems to occupy a special place in Shyamalan’s psyche. He’s interested in how people react to losing someone or something close to them, and his canon reflects that. That feeling of absence where once there was a person, for him, is the ultimate way to explain why people act how they do. Split joins that long line with yet another loss-haunted character.

2) The world contains more than we can see (sometimes)

Shyamalan’s psychological horror/thrillers often suggest that our senses can deceive us, and that what we think we know about the world is often wrong. This is how the famous “Shyamalan twist” usually operates: The characters — and the audience — make a set of assumptions about the world that turn out to be untrue. Surprise!

The Village is the most clearly allegorical of these twists: For most of the film, Ivy and Lucius (and the audience) assume that frightening creatures are keeping the villagers from entering the woods. The truth, of course, is much more complicated. A similar narrative move, in which a basic assumption about the movie’s setup turns out to be false, is what twists The Visit . (Shyamalan also served as a producer on Wayward Pines and directed one episode, which draws on the same uncertainty.)

Bryce Dallas Howard in The Village

In some films, like Lady in the Water , The Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable, it’s what the characters believe about themselves that turns out to be totally false. Can we even be sure our minds are accurately feeding us information about our own nature? Or — as in Signs and The Happening — has science really sorted out the natural and supernatural world as neatly as we think?

Split capitalizes on similar moments of pulling the rug out from under the audience. While the characters quickly figure out that their kidnapper has DID and is manifesting multiple personalities, how that condition actually works in this instance is the mystery. (McAvoy’s extraordinarily committed performance — in the credits, he’s listed as playing nine different characters — is a feat of remarkable shape-shifting.)

Shyamalan’s propensity to turn the tables on his characters and the audience works to his advantage in Split, which is actually less twisty than some of his other movies. But because we know it’s a Shyamalan movie, we spend the whole time second-guessing whether what we think we’re seeing onscreen is actually what we’re seeing, and whether the assumptions we’ve made are true. That means even when there’s nothing to second-guess, we’re still second-guessing — and so seemingly simple plot elements (some candy on a table, for instance, or the way someone dances) feel like they could be clues about some unknown mystery. That could be annoying, but in Split it feels like it’s all part of the game Shyamalan is playing with us.

But the self-deception common to Shyamalan’s characters is here, too; Casey has to find the truth about herself and discover her own agency through the fog of trauma in order to stay alive. This self-deception is also refracted in the kidnapper, who has so many personalities warring within him that it’s basically impossible for him to know himself.

As for science, the therapist, Dr. Fletcher, is sure she’s found something remarkable in this patient, something that may unlock mysteries of the human brain and belief in the divine. And she has. It’s just not what she thinks it is.

3) Your trauma is your superpower

This is the main theme of Split , and to be honest, it’s a troubling one. It’s voiced most clearly at the end, by a (literal) predator, who tells Casey that she is pure because of what she’s endured at the hands of others.

Naturally, the words of a predator and a villain should be taken with a hearty dash of salt — but it seems like the movie doesn’t discount this suggestion at all. Split’s whole bent is toward saying that only those who’ve endured extreme anguish or abuse are really capable of surviving in the world, and that they ought, in some manner, to be grateful for it. The kidnapper’s disorder came about as a way to cope with an abusive mother, while Dr. Fletcher is certain that the results of that abuse will give the human race new insight into its own condition, maybe even unlock its own potential.

Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in Unbreakable

This is a common trope in superhero stories from Batman to Captain America: Trauma is what gives heroes their powers. And it’s a continued theme throughout Shyamalan’s work as well. In Unbreakable , the superhero connection is made explicit, and trauma is what surfaces David’s potential. In Lady in the Water , Heep’s repressed grief is what makes him powerful. In The Sixth Sense , it’s what gives Cole the ability to see ghosts.

Given how common this trope is, there’s probably some truth buried in it, and some utility to it as well: Trauma is horrible to endure, but those who get through it can develop reactive instincts that can be an advantage in future troubling circumstances.

But the coupling of this suggestion with DID feels off in Split . Of course, people with DID do at times display extraordinary abilities that don’t seem to fit into what we know about human biology and psychology. There’s an argument to be made, and the movie seems to want to make it, that DID can and even ought be treated as more of a feature than a bug — that the kidnapper’s disorder gives him superpowers, which he developed to survive his childhood abuse. And Casey, too, received a sort of gift from her own trauma.

However, Split isn’t deeply reflective on this point. And by mirroring the trauma-as-superpower trope in both the kidnapper and Casey, the movie runs the risk of exploiting something that lots of people struggle with — both the effects of abuse and disorders like DID — and saying that they’re more special than other people, which could be taken as just another way of saying that they’re weird.

James McAvoy in Split

That almost certainly wasn’t Shyamalan’s aim. He tends to like a positive ending, and he seems to be going after something interesting with Split. But while this idea of trauma-induced ability could be taken as empowering, it also feels a little fetishistic here. And Split ’s ultimate outcome is a little troubling for those who actually do struggle with DID. A bit more attention to the implications of the screenplay would have not just avoided some of these pitfalls but also picked up the pace in some spots where the film lags unnecessarily.

Still, even with its drawbacks, Split is a solid encapsulation of what Shyamalan is all about, propelled by all his favorite topics, goosed by the audience’s expectations of a Shyamalan film, and topped off with the signature Shyamalan twist. And if it turns out to launch the Shyamalan Unified Cinematic Universe, too, I doubt fans will complain.

Split opens in theaters on January 20.

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What the movie 'split' got right (and wrong).

split movie review essay

Author’s Note : The following is a discussion of the movie “Split” and contains spoilers.

A “split” is a separation, a rift between two things. It can be a split within the mind, something that happens for survival. In the real world, such a “split” (more of a separation, a dissociation than a schism), isn’t horrific. A split can also refer to a fissure between the real and the fictitious, the truth and the untruth. Movies, books and the like dance around this fissure in an attempt to inform us and entertain us. I recently saw a movie I thought might take the split between reality and unreality and blast it into a giant chasm.

The movie “ Split ” premiered in theaters across the U.S. on a January weekend in 2017. As a mental health writer, someone who lives with mental illness, a certified counselor and author of a novel (“Twenty-Four Shadows” published by Apprentice House Press) about dissociative identity disorder (DID), I was highly curious about this new movie.

Curious, to be sure, but skeptical. “Split,” after all, is a thriller and the previews made it look creepy indeed. Was this going to be another uninformed, sensationalized, inaccurate portrayal of mental illness and people who live with it? Seeking an unbiased impression of what this movie was up to, I went in with an open mind, a notebook and a pen. I emerged with mixed feelings. Split between pleasantly surprised and somewhat disappointed.

A Pleasant Surprise: “Split” Got Some Things Right

“Split,” for the most part, wasn’t overly sensationalized. For much of the movie, “Split” portrayed a man with DID as an actual person. Or more accurately, as actual people. We find out fairly late in the movie the original identity is Kevin and that Kevin has 23 alternate parts. “Split” treats these alters as it should: separate identities in their own right, each with different traits and personalities.

The alters, collectively called a system  (a term the movie correctly uses), see a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Fletcher who explains, “The brain has learned to adapt to the trauma.” This is exactly what happens  in DID. A child experiences severe trauma — usually in the form of abuse — and to handle it, the psyche splits, shatters, into alternate parts.

In “Twenty-Four Shadows,” Dr. Charlie, Isaac’s psychiatrist, uses a starfish analogy to explain DID to Isaac and his wife.

“It [the separation into alternate parts] happened because the one, whole starfish couldn’t withstand the severity of the abuse. It was either fragment into different entities or be completely destroyed. To survive, the starfish fragmented. Little Isaac’s mind was shattered for self-preservation.”

“Split” does a refreshingly good job of showing dissociative identity disorder isn’t behavior fabricated for attention, nor is it a weakness. It’s the brain’s survival instinct rising up to meet a terrible challenge. “Split” was spot-on in other ways. Through Dr. Fletcher and Kevin’s alters, “Split” lets us know:

  • Different alters can and do have different traits (right or left handedness, IQ, strengths, need for glasses, medical issues and more.)
  • Someone with DID can function well in life (Kevin’s system has held a job for 10 years, sees a therapist, prepares food, etc.)
  • Alters have a disconcerting sense of lost time that happens when a different alter is “in the light” (a correct expression used in the movie).
  • People with DID frequently use the terms “we” or “us” rather than “I” or “me”
  • Brain scans show significant differences between the identities; the scans are unique for each alter.
  • Protection is an important concept (alters Dennis and Patricia believe they’re the only ones who can protect Kevin while in reality, all of the alters serve the function of protecting the primary identity, each in different ways).
  • DID systems have a structure, a place for the alters to be and live when they’re not out in the world (in “Split” it’s very simple, just a room with a chair for each alter, but in reality, the structure is often more complex. In “Twenty-Four Shadows,” the structure is an elaborate blanket fort.

Another surprise is the movie’s subtle acknowledgement of the stigma people living with DID face . Dr. Fletcher’s friend, for example, refers to clients as “those people” and she doesn’t see how Dr. Fletcher can stand to work with them. I was pleased with Dr. Fletcher’s positive response. She countered the “those people” remark and talked about the alters having strengths and other legitimate characteristics. It’s also refreshing Dr. Fletcher doesn’t automatically assume her system of clients is involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of three local teenage girls. She doesn’t equate such an incident with the behavior of someone with DID. Good for her. However, this segues into the less palatable aspect of the film…

Unpleasant Expectations: “Split” is a Thriller

As accurate as some of the movie’s conceptualizations of DID are, this movie is a thriller. Thrillers must scare. They must be real enough to invade our psyche and put us on edge. “Split” is real enough. The bad guy is a real person with a real disorder portrayed, for the most part, in a realistic way. For full fright effect, a thriller must go beyond the real into that which is unthinkable outside of the movie theater. “Split” achieves the real and the unthinkably unreal .

The movie splits from accurate reality when it veers from what DID is to what it isn’t: supernatural. The good news: the kidnapped teenage girls aren’t tormented by the person who is a system of alters. The bad news: the alters are actually elements of a horrible, nasty, scary beast who wants to get them all.

Here’s a counter to the eye-roll, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me elements. Contrary to what we see in “Split”:

  • The person with DID is not a monster, nor does he or she host a monster inside.
  • The Incredible Hulk stuff like super-human size, strength and speed really is just the stuff of movies and comic books.
  • DID isn’t in the realm of the supernatural.
  • People with DID can’t scale walls like salamanders.

Does “Split” Perpetuate Stigma?

I am very curious to learn how others are answering this question. Any movie, show, commercial, book or greeting card that doesn’t get something right is perpetuating misunderstanding, which in turn decreases empathy. That’s stigma.

Therefore, “Split” contributes to the perpetuation of stigma against DID. Kind of. The morphing into the beast is so incredibly and ridiculously unrealistic I wonder if it’s even possible to really increase the stigma against DID. So many aspects of the disorder are portrayed correctly and well and favorably. This movie is a thriller and is meant to thrill and frighten. Since DID isn’t frightening, the movie had to create a monster.

The movie’s end shows us what is dangerous in the real world. A TV news reporter stands at the scene giving a sensationalized, uninformed account of what had occurred, and she blatantly suggested “pure evil.” This is maddening. However, as I think about it, I realize the reporter kept the focus on the supernatural. She didn’t blame mental illness in general or DID in particular. People expect news to be trustworthy. Hopefully we don’t expect movies like thrillers to be fully trustworthy.

I went into “Split” unsure. I don’t love the fact mental illness is used as the basis of a thriller. However, seeing the movie rather than just the trailers left me pleasantly surprised. DID is a disorder that arises as a survival mechanism out of horrendous abuse in childhood. DID is about survival, not destruction. As Dr. Charlie continues to explain to Isaac and his wife Reese in “Twenty-Four Shadows,”

“Just like with an actual starfish, the pieces live. And they grow. And they regenerate—form new identities. But they are still physically part of the original starfish, the ore of the being, the part that’s also a fighter and a survivor.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Image via the “Split” Facebook page

With credentials as a Nationally Certified Counselor and personal experience with mental health care, novelist and columnist, Tanya J. Peterson uses writing to increase understanding of and compassion for people living with mental illness. She has written four critically acclaimed, award-winning novels, a self-help book about acceptance and commitment therapy, and she writes extensively for the mental health website Her HealthyPlace writing includes a weekly column entitled Anxiety-Schmanxiety. Additionally, she writes individual articles about mental health for all ages that appear in various online and print sources. She takes her novel Losing Elizabeth and the accompanying curriculum into high schools and community programs. she also has a monthly radio show entitled Wellbeing & Words. Visit to learn more about Tanya and find links to connect with her.


Review by Brian Eggert January 20, 2017


Nearly two decades ago, M. Night Shyamalan arrived with near-universal praise as a virtuoso filmmaker for the new century. After shocking audiences with a twist ending on The Sixth Sense , he followed his 1999 breakthrough with Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), stylishly self-conscious and entertaining films each with considerable human depth. He soon devolved into preposterous, pretentious fare like The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006), and somehow convinced backers that The Happening (2008)—a thriller about Mark Wahlberg running from air—was a visually compelling idea. Shyamalan quickly lost his touch, but The Last Airbender (2010), a single entry into “The Night Chronicles” with Devil (2010), and After Earth (2013) were still to come. Now the writer-director’s downward turn is best forgotten, if for no other reason than Split , his latest, proves to be his best work in a long, long time.

A kidnapping thriller that follows several conventions, and also shirks them, Shyamalan’s Split echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Brian De Palma’s Sisters ; in other ways—certainly by the last, enthusiastic frame—it’s pure Shyamalan. At once overwrought and carefully structured, sort of funny yet also terrifying, and laden with a few twists along the way, the film does what the filmmaker should have been doing for the last fifteen years: plays with his favorite genres in a fun way. The basic plot involves the abduction of three teenagers, the socialites Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and an unwelcomed misfit Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, from The Witch ). They’re locked in a subterranean room by Kevin (James McAvoy), a disturbed man with several personalities trapped inside of his shaved head.

Stricken with dissociative identity disorder, Kevin has twenty-three separate personalities or “alters” rattling around in his brain, some from either sex, some quite pleasant, some outright monsters. For instance, there’s Dennis, a germophobe with a penchant for watching underage girls. Or there’s the prim and proper Patricia, a British-accented lady. Most enjoyable is Hedwig, a 9-year-old boy with a lisp who delivers a boisterous dance to Kanye West. Elsewhere, a sympathetic psychologist (Betty Buckley, terrific) treats Kevin’s condition, believing that each of his alters has its own distinct physiology to which the host body will physically change to suit each one. But several of Kevin’s personalities have teamed up and named themselves “the horde” in anticipation of a twenty-fourth personality, a monstrous entity called “the beast”—a frightening notion for the kidnapped teens who are prepared as sacrifices to the beast.

Even writing it out, the plot sounds silly. Yet McAvoy’s tour de force performance demonstrates his enthusiasm for making each alter a distinct and committed portrayal, despite Shyamalan’s script reducing each personality to a cliché. McAvoy seems to be having a blast playing his multi-faceted psycho, and his energy proves contagious, involving the viewer in the otherwise outlandish proceedings. Nevertheless, the majority of his twenty-three alters have been buried deep by the five or six personalities in control. But those we do see are performed with the same manic quality McAvoy brought to his deranged role in Danny Boyle’s Trance (2013). Also excellent is Taylor-Joy, whose victim remains defined by several haunting flashbacks that build toward a present-day relevance in typical Shyamalan fashion.

Above all, Split remains compellingly watchable from start to finish. This isn’t another of the writer-director’s understated mood pieces that purveyed the early part of the last decade, nor does it scream for desperate approval as his recent found-footage yarn The Visit did. To put it simply, Shyamalan uses his strengths and minimizes his weaknesses. He’s always been superb at conceiving innovative plot concepts; however, he often explores those concepts to an unsatisfying or merely ridiculous end. The notion of plants fighting back against humanity by creating an airborne disease remains compelling, but watching people run through a field from the wind is a laughable way to explore said notion on film. For much of Split , the director confines his plot to a tense situation about a victim navigating the fragile mind of her captor, while the psychologist on the outside lends insight into the status of the film’s monster. Only near the end does Shyamalan rely on some distracting CGI and supernatural elements that take a relatively contained thriller and blow them up into a much larger, but also lesser story.

Even so, Split delivers a tense and entertaining B-movie experience that seems to revel in its performers and the novelty of its plot, albeit in fun and not-so-self-serious ways. It would make a fine double-feature alongside last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane , in that both involve kidnapping victims on their tiptoes around their unstable host; both could be taken as-is, or could be considered a part of a franchise; both contain a third act with unexpected supernatural elements; and both feature an incredible performance by the resident kidnapper. Shot in Shyamalan’s hometown of Philadelphia by Michael Gioulakis, the cinematographer who gave It Follows those timeless textures, Split looks good and has a lot of atmosphere. But if another actor had delivered a less committed performance than McAvoy’s, the entire film may have fallen apart.


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Split movie review: M Night Shyamalan, James McAvoy deliver a class act

Split movie review: the movie marks a return to firmer ground for writer-director m night shyamalan and his supernatural/psychological thrillers, and the credit for it goes to james mcavoy..

split movie review essay

Split movie director: M Night Shyamalan Split movie cast: James McAvoy, Betty Buckley, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula Split movie rating: 2.5

M Night Shyamalan’s trademark twist here is more of a tool, and his treatment of three kidnapped teenage girls who are made to remove their clothes, not too much but not too little either, is only just short of exploitative. However, if Split marks a return to firmer ground for writer-director Shyamalan and his supernatural/psychological thrillers, the credit goes to McAvoy. He is Dennis/Patricia/Hedwig/Barry/Jade etc etc, going up to 23 personalities, as the film repeatedly tells us. Split never gets anywhere close to a glimpse of all 23, but McAvoy at least seems capable of holding them — and, yes, one more; the film’s big reveal — all in.

split movie review essay

We meet Dennis first, as Split opens to a creepy beginning where a birthday party finds a strange girl called Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) sitting alone and silent. The father of the birthday girl, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), offers to drop Casey home. As he is putting the gifts into the trunk of his car, inside which wait Claire, Casey and a third girl, Marcia (Jessica Sula), a man approaches him and there is a sound. Unseen by the girls, Dennis enters and takes the wheel.


Dennis is just one of the many personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb, as we and the girls soon discover, adding to their and our horror and uncertainty. However, rather than focus on what is a nightmare in itself, of three girls locked in the basement by a deranged man with an obsession for cleanliness — the recent 10 Cloverfield Lane comes to mind — Split keeps turning to long sessions of Kevin, now as the gay fashionista Barry, with his counsellor, Dr Fletcher (Betty Buckley).

Dr. Fletcher is the outside observer in this story, and good and wise as Buckley is and looks, she appears to be around just so to spell out Kevin’s condition for us. And to nudge us towards thinking of his dissociative identity disorder (or DID) in terms of “unleashing the mind’s true potential”, and “an ultimate doorway to things unknown… the supernatural”.

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There is a story to how Kevin got here, and it leads back to childhood abuse. There is a story to how Casey got here, and it leads back to childhood abuse too. Both are hinted, never explored, and in Casey’s case recounted in an almost dreamy extended sequence of a hunting expedition, and seem too much of a plot contrivance. The talk of “sacred food”, “evolution”, “sentient beings”, “suffering making one more complete”, and “being banned from light”, may be too much highfalutin after all.

That is also because Casey’s unnatural stillness, a fact the film is seeking to draw our eyes to, seems as much a result of Taylor-Joy’s incompetence in portraying the many horrors she is facing. The other two girls are almost as inert, but have lesser to do.

As long as McAvoy is on screen though, in different voices, clothes, stature, posture, smiles, and even gaze, Split needs little else. He evokes menace, desire, love, respect, pity, and fear. And not necessarily in that order.

The twist in the end, if one can call it that, is ultimately worthwhile for acknowledging this class act.

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2016, Mystery & thriller/Horror, 1h 57m

What to know

Critics Consensus

Split serves as a dramatic tour de force for James McAvoy in multiple roles -- and finds writer-director M. Night Shyamalan returning resoundingly to thrilling form. Read critic reviews

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Split videos, split   photos.

Though Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all of the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him -- as well as everyone around him -- as the walls between his compartments shatter.

Rating: PG-13 (Disturbing Thematic Content|Disturbing Behavior|Some Language|Violence)

Genre: Mystery & thriller, Horror

Original Language: English

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Producer: M. Night Shyamalan , Jason Blum , Marc Bienstock

Writer: M. Night Shyamalan

Release Date (Theaters): Jan 20, 2017  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Apr 5, 2017

Box Office (Gross USA): $138.1M

Runtime: 1h 57m

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Production Co: Lightning Entertainment, Blinding Edge Pictures, Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions

Sound Mix: Dolby Digital

Cast & Crew

James McAvoy

Kevin Wendell Crumb

Anya Taylor-Joy

Casey Cooke

Betty Buckley

Dr. Karen Fletcher

Haley Lu Richardson

Claire Benoit

Jessica Sula

Izzie Coffey

Five-Year-Old Casey

Brad William Henke

Sebastian Arcelus

Casey's Father

M. Night Shyamalan


Marc Bienstock

Steven Schneider

Executive Producer

Ashwin Rajan

Kevin Scott Frakes

Buddy Patrick

Mike Gioulakis


Luke Franco Ciarrocchi

Film Editing

West Dylan Thordson

Original Music

Mara LePere-Schloop

Production Design

Jesse Rosenthal

Art Director

Jennifer Engel

Set Decoration

Paco Delgado

Costume Design

Douglas Aibel

News & Interviews for Split

Major Awards Need to Stop Ignoring Incredible Horror Performances

Glass First Reviews: Jackson and McAvoy Shine in What Critics Are Calling a Disappointing Trilogy Conclusion

An Oral History of Split with M. Night Shyamalan and James McAvoy

Critic Reviews for Split

Audience reviews for split.

This is mostly McAvoy's show, giving a stellar performance as a dozen split personalities, but the rest of the characters and actresses have their moments to shine too. Shyamalan has never been this sincere and focused, not even in his brilliant first few films. And then there is the final moment, starting with the musical reference, that connects this brutal, exciting and fascinating tour de force with a former hit. That's such a massive goosebump inducing moment, you're still shaking while the end credits are rolling.

split movie review essay

M. Night Shyamalan's journey since 1999 when The Sixth Sense was released on theaters. After that movie's massive success, you could make the argument that he was (probably) the most sought-after filmmaker for a while. To this day, some people still consider The Sixth Sense to be his best film. And others would say Unbreakable, which I did see in theaters, is his best film. I remember very little about Unbreakable, but I do want to see it again. Having said that, given Shyamalan's career trajectory until 2015, you can't blame people for gravitating more to those first two movies as opposed to his output post-Unbreakable but pre-The Visit. Shyamalan's reputation took a nosedive, at least in my opinion with The Village. Though I would make the argument that Signs was the first well, umm, sign that the quality of his movies might dip a little. I wasn't a big fan of that movie, but you could have said that it's just a weak movie. Every filmmaker has a weak movie, no one has a perfect filmography, so there's nothing to worry about. The Village, however, was positively awful, lacking in suspense and its nonsensical twist insulted the audience's intelligence. The Village was so bad that, for a while, I actually refused to watch any of his movies. Seriously. I haven't seen The Happening, The Last Airbender or After Earth and I doubt I'll ever watch them because, quite frankly, they offer nothing of interest to me. I believe I even mentioned this in my review of The Visit, but I was really hesitant going into that movie because of the low expectations Shyamalan's own previous offerings had instilled in me. I don't wanna say I was worried, but I wasn't gonna allow myself to get excited about it just because it had received fairly positive reviews from critics and audiences. But, much to my surprise, I really did like The Visit. The problem with a lot of Shyamalan's movies post-Sixth Sense was that he was always trying to find a way to top himself with what he accomplished in the movie that made him famous. You could see that Unbreakable, despite being his follow-up to the Sixth Sense, didn't have that self-imposed pressure to live up to some sort of hype. Shyamalan made the movie that he wanted to make and, again, it worked out in the end because, as I already said, a lot of people believe Unbreakable to be his best movie. The problems come in when Unbreakable's disappointing box office performance. I think this is when his self-imposed pressure manifested itself. Because, while Signs wasn't a copy of The Sixth Sense, it was more along the lines of what people wanted from him. And, sadly, Signs was successful, so now he had a formula he could work with. Signs didn't work, for me, and The Village was even worse. Despite how bad his movies got, he just kept trying harder and harder. The harder he tried, the more his subsequent movies sucked. Which is why The Visit was such a refreshing change of pace. The Visit is such an effective movie. You know why it was effective? Because of its simplicity. Shyamalan didn't try to craft a complex horror movie with a bunch of clues, red herrings and subtext before, ultimately, utilizing a twist that made no sense given everything you saw. No, he made a simple movies about two siblings spending sometime with their grandparents, who start to show some really strange and creepy behavior. The twist itself is also, again and this is something that Shyamalan should stick with, was very simple and made complete and utter sense given everything that you had seen play out. And, of course, given the fact that it was Shyamalan's return to his roots, you could say, the movie was massively successful, making almost TWENTY times its budget. $98 million gross on a $5 million budget. This is the part that worried me, however. Because now that Shyamalan was on the winning side again, it inspired a fear in me that he'd give in to the tendencies that led to him, basically, becoming a joke with his insistence on nonsensical twists. Robot Chicken even did a sketch parodying this. The jokes and memes throughout the years have been plenty. This brings us to Split, however. I've written this 'essay' on Shyamalan and, by this point in the review, I'd almost be done with it. Not in this case, however, now is when we're actually gonna talk about the movie. So sit down and prepare your body for a long one. As I mentioned, I was worried that this movie was gonna see him back to his old tricks that, obviously, fell out of favor ages ago. I mean, honestly, prior to The Visit, if anyone had told me that Shyamalan's next movie was gonna be about a man with 23 different personalities (and a 24th more powerful one that the film builds up to, honestly, quite expertly) who kidnaps three teen girls, I would have lost my mind. But, upon having watched the movie, I can safely say that Mr. Shyamalan is not up to his old tricks. In fact, in my opinion, Split is the next logical step for Shyamalan as a filmmaker after The Visit. The Visit shined because of its simplicity. Split is definitely a little more complex, obviously, since, again, it deals with a man with dissociative identity disorder. Despite Kevin (the man whose body the personalities are inhabiting) having 23 and, again, later a 24th, different personalities, you only really get to spend time with three of them. You get to see some more of them in these short video journals later on in the film and as part of a chaotic exchange, where several other personalities take control of Kevin's body to attempt to understand what's going on. Those three main personalities, though, are Patricia, Dennis and Hedwig (who's a nine-year-old boy). These three have, essentially, shut all the other personalities out of the light (as they call it) and have taken over Kevin's body. These three personalities that are controlling Kevin's body are doing so as a result that they've had enough of people making fun of them and not believing in their existence. Their answer to this is to, seemingly, create a 24th personality, one that is super powerful, can scale walls and withstand insane amounts of punishment, making him near invulnerable. They do this to show the world what they are truly capable of. And that is one of the topics that I found most interesting about this movie. Because Barry, one of Kevin's personalities, who seems to be the most 'stable' one, goes to this psychiatrist, even though it's later revealed that Dennis has been pretending to be Barry all along. This psychiatrist brings up some very interesting ideas in how these people are viewed as less than other people. She brings up the idea that, what if, these people are more than. The reasoning behind this, she says, is that maybe they've unlocked the next step of human evolution. She cites examples where a person who was blind developed different three personalities, all of which had the ability to see. She also cites an example of how a dog reacted differently to a person's multiple personalities, in spite of them being in the same body. I don't know if any of this is based in reality, though Billy Milligan was arrested three rapes in Ohio in the 70s. At his trial, he claimed two of his other personalities committed the crimes without his knowing. He was the first person, diagnosed with D.I.D, to plea insanity. He also had 24 personalities, so there's obvious inspiration drawn from his case. What I'm referring to is the cases of, say, the core person have a physical disability and an alternate personality not having it, like, say, blindness. And, again, if there is a basis in reality, then who are we to say that people with multiple personality disorders are any less than us. This is something I have, and will, never claim. Like what if this was possible, to where we would access some 'secret' part of our brain that would allow us to But the topic that is brought up is definitely an interesting one and one that, honestly, I should probably do more research on because, quite frankly, I was utterly fascinated by its inclusion in this film. And, realistically speaking, they sort of have to go that route considering that Dennis, Hedwig and Patricia constantly talk about the arrival of the Beast, as the 24th personality is known. Once the Beast is revealed, his intentions seem to be to eradicate the world of the impure young. What he means by impure young, however, is young people that have not suffered once in their lives. They don't know true pain and, as a result, they have no value in the Beast's version of what this world should be. Oh yea, he also has three teen girls as hostage. Casey, of course, is the one who's the most developed. You get to see flashbacks to when she was a little girl, revealing a pretty horrifying and dark past where ***SPOILERS*** she was sexually molested by her uncle. An uncle that, later, became her legal guardian as a result of Casey's father's death. I'll be honest, while I certainly sympathized with Casey and, definitely, wanted to see her get out of this situation, she's not nearly as interesting a character as Dennis, Hedwig and Patricia are. I mean that's almost an unfair comparison, really, but every time James McAvoy was on-screen, it was like nothing else mattered because I was completely enthralled by him. And it's not like the movie failed to get me invested in Casey, because they did a good job at building her as a character. One who tries to assess the situation before she commits to anything. She uses certain of the personalities' traits against them, hopeful that she'll be able to get one step closer to escaping. Again, she's, actually, a well-written character. But it's like none of that matters once the triumvirate of personalities show up. I suppose it should be obvious that no review of this movie is complete without mentioning how fucking fantastic James McAvoy was in the lead role. No, seriously. He was out of this world in this movie. Joaquin Phoenix was cast before McAvoy and, honestly, I think Joaquin would have also done a great job, but it's hard to imagine anyone BUT McAvoy playing this role. The thing about McAvoy, that maybe Joaquin doesn't have, is that McAvoy can properly play a character like Hedwig, who's meant to be more innocent and, obviously because he's a child, childish. I say this because McAvoy, for the most part, has spent his career playing likable, very charming men. But he's also great at playing a detestable asshole, as Filth. I don't wanna say he's a detestable asshole here, but it requires him to flex his dramatic muscles a bit. Patricia is always cool, calm and in control. Dennis is meticulous and a neat freak, this personality manifested itself as a result of Kevin's mother's incessant need for everything to be spotless. And Hedwig, well, of course he's a child and he acts very much like a child. And the way McAvoy handles all of these characters is, honestly, something to behold. There's this one scene just before the movie ends, where Patricia, Hedwig and Dennis are having a conversation with themselves and the way McAvoy jumps from character to character, assuming their personality if even for just a few seconds, is quite lovely to see. This is a movie that people aspiring to be actors should see. I'm serious about that. Just study McAvoy's performance, his body language, his inflections and facial expressions. Something as small as body language can tell you just what character he's meant to be. Honestly, most actors don't get roles this meaty and, I'm assuming, that it's gonna be challenging for most of them to tackle. But, honestly, McAvoy hits a grand slam with his performance here. As far as the climax is concerned, it's really fucking good honestly. Because they do a great job at building to the eventual arrival of the Beast and, when he does, they also succeed at making him seem like a terrifying and menacing individual. No complaints about that, in the slightest. Let's see, as far as twists are concerned. Honestly, there really aren't any. If The Beast being revealed as an actual being with superpower counts, then yes, but I really don't see that as a twist. But, in all honesty, a Shyamalan movie without a twist is a twist in and of itself in a meta kind of way. I've already mentioned Casey's past, so I'm certain you could put two and two together about the Beast's mission. This brings us to the portrayal of mental illnesses. And, perhaps rightfully so, this film was controversial by people suffering from D.I.D as, yet another, stigmatization of their illness. I don't suffer from D.I.D, so I'm not gonna claim what is or isn't offensive to that group. I could claim that intelligent people could understand the difference between art and reality, but there's no denying the fact that there are some people that can't tell the two apart and will use this as a way to keep ostracizing those with mental illnesses. I am sorry that that is the case, but that's the way life is sometimes, sadly. I'm not making excuses for this movie, but I have to judge by what I see on-screen, as I am someone who is able to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Having said that, the biggest negative I have has to do with how they tie this to Unbreakable. After everything happens and there are people at this diner watching this news report about the Beast's action, one lady mentions (in a forced manner) that this case reminds her about that guy in the wheelchair from 15 years ago. Obviously referencing Samuel Jackson's character from Unbreakable. The lady slowly moves back to reveal the person sitting next to her to Bruce Willis' character from Unbreakable. He provides the name of the man she meant, Mr. Glass, and then the movie ends. This was probably the worst way to tie it back to Unbreakable, honestly. It just came across as so forced and unnatural that it didn't work in the slightest for me. It was Shyamalan's attempt at connecting his own universe together, a la Marvel, and it just didn't work. It is, to me, the worst part of the movie, by far. And, even then, it's not that big of an issue given that the movie ends immediately afterwards. I don't know what else to say, this review has gone on long enough. This is Shyamalan's best film in almost over two decades. The writing is smart, the atmosphere is tense and James McAvoy gives an Oscar-caliber performance. So, yea, I guess you could say I thought that this was a great movie. Here's to hoping Shyamalan's career renaissance continues with Glass, the last of his Unbreakable trilogy and, obviously, a continuation of this one with Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson returning. I would gladly recommend this movie to anyone.

A very welcome return to form from the filmmaker who gave audiences one of the greatest supernatural thrillers of all time, M. Night Shyamalan's twisty scary-good latest Splits its aces beautifully between psychological and supernatural horror...and both of them play a winning hand thanks to staggeringly brilliant multi-multi-faceted performance by James McAvoy. In this PG-13-rated thriller, three girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) get kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities (McAvoy) and try to escape before the apparent emergence of a more sinister 24th. The writer-director's previous film, The Visit, boasted decent thrills and a solid twist but hardly made up for the Trifecta of awfulness comprised of The Last Airbender, The Happening, and After Earth (okay, so only the second of these can be called out-and-out 'awful,' but it's so patently bad that it brings down anything else in its blast radius). Split, however, finds Shyamalan in top form, on par with his second best, Signs, and approaching the level of expert craftsmanship of genre evidenced by his - and one of the horror's - best, The Sixth Sense. It would be hard to reach the mantle of that particular gem, but it tries its damnedest and viewers are the better for it. Serving up a crackling good story that amazingly doesn't demonize mental illness, it gives the troubled kidnapper at its core, Kevin Wendell Crumb, personalities both good, bad, and downright ugly. Plus, it shows him seeking treatment and what happens when he doesn't follow doctor's orders. And yes, just like that old chestnut filmic amnesia, it stretches credulity beyond recognition but the suspension of disbelief is worth it for the twisted and thrilling character study that it provides. Believe it or not, however, his is not the main character. That honor falls on Casey Cooke who makes a great foil to the many faces of Crumb. She comes with a heart-breaking backstory but manages to get the heart pumping thanks to her never-say-die heroism in the face of unspeakable terror. Without the actors to pull this all off, Shyamalan's complicated captivity narrative would be for naught. Taylor-Joy, who honed her horror chops with Witch, a very different but nonetheless killer thriller, makes for a very convincing heroine, earning every tear and mad tear. McAvoy, however, sells through 23 different personalities, each with different inflections, tics, and looks. It's a veritable masterclass in acting and it's beyond head-scratching that he didn't nab an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination. This particular genre has never been highly regarded by the H'Wood elite (The Exorcist getting bested by The Sting at the 1973 Academy Awards--'nuff said), but such a slight is really downright scary. To Sum It All Up: The Best of the Beast

Started off okay but wasn’t worth sitting through.

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Teen girls in danger in smart, satisfying, scary thriller.

Split Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Not a lot of overtly positive messages messages, b

Casey is a survivor, clever and self-reliant under

Women are kidnapped and locked up. They're treated

Teen girls are forced to remove articles of clothi

One use of "f--k" and an abbreviated use of "mothe

Adults drink cans of beer during a deer hunt.

Parents need to know that Split is a smart, satisfying horror thriller from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan. It's about a man (James McAvoy) with multiple personalities (aka dissociative identity disorder). Violence and scariness are the big issues here. Characters die, women are kidnapped…

Positive Messages

Not a lot of overtly positive messages messages, but the film does explore the unknown possibilities of the human body -- and how a certain state of mind can exert control over our physical selves.

Positive Role Models

Casey is a survivor, clever and self-reliant under pressure. She stands up for herself and thinks clearly in a crisis, although she gets very little reward for her strength.

Violence & Scariness

Women are kidnapped and locked up. They're treated roughly and sprayed with a mace-like knockout spray. A man holds a knife to a girl's stomach. A man is hit with a chair. A young woman's stomach is ripped open (very brief). A man squeezes a woman around her middle, breaking ribs/spine. Characters die. Fighting with baseball bat. Sounds of ripping/eating a human body. Suggestions of an abusive uncle-niece relationship; a teen girl is shown with multiple scars on hr stomach and arms. Rifles and shotguns seen/used; shots are fired. A small girl points a rifle at a man. Characters hunt deer in the woods; dead deer seen. Offscreen attack.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Teen girls are forced to remove articles of clothing; they're shown in bras, panties, and other underthings. Reference to a man who "likes to watch young girls dance naked." Reference to a "prank" in which teen girls grab a man's hands and put them on their breasts. Strange, brief, comical kiss, with a reference to "being pregnant."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

One use of "f--k" and an abbreviated use of "motherf----r," as well as two uses of "s--t," plus "blow me," "ass," "damn," "hell," "Jesus," and "God" (as exclamations).

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Split is a smart, satisfying horror thriller from Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan . It's about a man ( James McAvoy ) with multiple personalities (aka dissociative identity disorder). Violence and scariness are the big issues here. Characters die, women are kidnapped and hurt, and a young girl is abused by her uncle (though there's not a lot of gore or horror, and much takes place off screen). Characters fight; one is hit with a chair, and others are threatened with baseball bats and knives. A body is briefly shown with its stomach ripped open. Rifles and shotguns are seen and sometimes fired; characters hunt deer. Teen girls are forced to remove some of their clothes, revealing their bras, panties, and other underthings. There are also spoken sexual references, as well as infrequent swearing (including one "f--k," plus "s--t," "ass," and more) and some social drinking by adults. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Based on 40 parent reviews

An outstanding film with incredible acting but it's very important not to let any kid under 14 watch it.

What's the story.

In SPLIT, teen birthday girl Claire ( Haley Lu Richardson ) is finishing up a party with her friend Marcia ( Jessica Sula ). But her "mercy invite," troubled Casey ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), can't find a ride home. Claire's dad prepares to drive them, but then a mysterious man ( James McAvoy ) kidnaps all three girls and locks them in a windowless room. They notice that he acts strangely, showing different personalities and holding conversations with himself. Unbeknownst to the girls, the man goes to see his therapist, Dr. Fletcher ( Betty Buckley ), who tries to communicate with his 23 personalities. But he warns her of the coming of "the Beast," an all-powerful monster that could be a twenty-fourth -- and who might just have an appetite for teen girls.

Is It Any Good?

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan launches a full-fledged comeback with this tense, satisfying horror-thriller. Split is refreshingly infused with thoughtful ideas and sly suggestion, rather than gore or brutality. Shyamalan has had quite an up-and-down career; in 2016 he tested the waters with the small-scale The Visit , and he now makes a bold return to his Sixth Sense and Unbreakable glory days. Split actually resembles the latter film in some ways, rooted in real-world theories about the elastic limits of human possibility.

As ever, the director's camerawork is above reproach; he creates a sinister, windowless, underground lair, smoothly snaking with corridors, dingy doors and pipes, and harsh pools of light. His writing is subtler here than in other films, with a few odd touches but confident overall. Best of all are the two leads: Joy ( The Witch ) has an awesome, ethereal presence, and McAvoy conveys at least a half-dozen of his character's personalities with an uncanny, haunting clarity. Split is a smart movie that will undoubtedly leave viewers thinking -- and discussing.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Split 's violence . How much takes place on screen vs. off? Does that approach soften the impact of the violence ?

Is the movie scary ? Why or why not? What tools and tricks do filmmakers use to scare viewers? Why is it sometimes fun to be scared?

How does Split compare to other movies about dissociative identity disorder (multiple-personality disorder)?

Do you believe the human mind is capable of asserting control over the body, possibly correcting and curing diseases and disorders or gaining strength?

How does Split compare to Shyamalan's other movies? How is it similar? How is it different? What is he known for?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : January 20, 2017
  • On DVD or streaming : April 18, 2017
  • Cast : James McAvoy , Haley Lu Richardson , Anya Taylor-Joy
  • Director : M. Night Shyamalan
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors, Latino actors
  • Studio : Universal Pictures
  • Genre : Horror
  • Run time : 116 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language
  • Last updated : November 27, 2023

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"Split" has very problematic views on psychological disorders — but to explain why, I need to spoil the film's brilliant twist

M. night shyamalan has a doozy of a twist at the end of "split," but does it make mental disorders a punchline, by matthew rozsa.

As the title of this article indicates, everything that follows is a spoiler for "Split."

It looks like "Split" is going to be M. Night Shyamalan's big comeback  and deservedly so. The surprise sequel to the 2000 cult classic "Unbreakable" has the cleverest twist from Shyamalan's entire oeuvre — yes, even better than "The Sixth Sense." That's not only because the plot of "Split" is a perfect fit for the universe of "Unbreakable" but because Shyamalan was able to release a secret sequel in the first place without the general public's discovery until it hit theaters. If you're a fan of "Unbreakable" like me, then it is definitely worth seeing.

At the same time, understanding "Split" in the context of "Unbreakable" helps illustrate exactly what is so problematic about the movie. Whereas "Unbreakable" used comic books as the source material for its supernatural conceits and monsters, "Split" grounds its mythology in the science of psychology — except that mental illnesses, unlike comic books, aren't fictional. There are real people out there who have to live with the countless burdens, seen and unseen, of feeling like a psychological "other," and "Split" further perpetuates harmful stereotypes instead of combating them.

The premise alone is troubling enough: James McAvoy plays Kevin Wendell Crumb, a zookeeper with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls and later his therapist in order to sacrifice them to one of his multiple personalities, known simply as "The Beast." Right there you have a horror movie that has been sold to the public based on a pernicious prejudice — namely, that of the evil, violent, and otherworldly "crazy person."

Those who have this disorder  are not any more likely than the rest of us to be violent , of course, but viewers will be left with the opposite impression as they watch McAvoy show off his prodigious skills by portraying one creepy "crazy" character after another, after another. (And yes, as almost every critic has agreed, he is highly skillful at doing this.) It doesn't help that another one of Kevin's personalities is a pedophile who forces the girls to dance in various stages of undress, which plays up the prejudice that mentally ill people are more likely than others to be sexual predators.

Indeed, the use of sexual abuse as a plot device speaks to the deeper problematic element in "Split." In "Unbreakable," Samuel L. Jackson's character, Elijah Price, argues that comic book superheroes are simply based on real-life people who happen to have remarkable abilities, such as Bruce Willis' character, David Dunn, being the sole survivor of a train crash that killed every other passenger. In order to fit the "Split" story into the universe of "Unbreakable" Shyamalan presents people who are "broken" from severe psychological trauma as being able to physically enter the next stage of human evolution.

This is why during the film's climax Kevin is transformed into a murderous, cannibalistic beast, complete with a mane of wild hair, super strength, the ability to climb walls and unbreakable skin. Not only does he have dissociative identity disorder but his early childhood traumas have also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which, according to the film's logic, add to his "brokenness" and thus his likelihood of entering the next stage of evolution.

This isn't merely a quirk in a convoluted narrative; it's the movie's main contribution to the mythology first established in "Unbreakable." And like so many of Shyamalan's films, it is clear in retrospect that he had been setting this up to happen throughout the film's running time. One of the teenage girls, Casey Cooke (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is gradually revealed in flashbacks throughout the movie as a sexual assault victim and a cutter so that The Beast ends up sparing her in the end after realizing she is also "broken" and "pure."

Just as the twist in "Unbreakable" hinges on the notion that heroes and villains in comic books usually exist along different points of a spectrum, so, too, does the surprise plot twist in "Split" use psychological atypicality to posit that the good guys and bad guys are really not so different from one another.

Where Shyamalan stumbles is the ham-handed use of mental abnormality as a stand-in for the superpowers of heroes and villains. Juxtaposing real hardships with fictional tropes lends itself to gross oversimplifications. This isn't the first time that Shyamalan has exploited mental illness in this way, as major plot points in films from "The Sixth Sense" and "The Village" to "The Visit" all depend on acts of violence being perpetrated by individuals with psychological disorders. Shyamalan's films reduce the meaning of having any kind of mental health condition to merely having potential for disruptiveness and violence. People with emotional issues are "others" while those who are unaffected are considered "normal" and must figure out a way to deal with them.

The shame of it is that there is a kernel of a progressive idea in "Split." As an autistic person myself, I have repeatedly written that spectrum disorders should be viewed as simply a different way of mental functioning rather than an inherently "unhealthy" or "inferior" one. I would argue that the same thing is true about many other mental health conditions. Although our culture tends to view non-neurotypical behavior as inherently "bad," we need to be culturally retrained to recognize that the only "bad" behavior is that which causes people to harm one another.

If someone is psychologically atypical but can socially function without posing a risk to himself or herself or anyone else, then the burden should fall on members of society to shed any prejudices that might cause them to stigmatize or otherwise wrong that individual. "Split" takes a step in this direction by positing that  "mental sickness" might not always be an actual illness — but then takes two steps back by exploiting moviegoers' fears that people with unusual mental conditions can be unpredictably violent.

I've been a huge fan of "Unbreakable" from the moment Samuel L. Jackson uttered the immortal line, "They called me Mr. Glass." Shyamalan sets up "Split" brilliantly as both a freestanding film and a sequel to "Unbreakable." If the overwhelmingly positive audience response in my theater is any indication, there will likely be a third film in the series and I look forward to seeing how Shyamalan can expand on the themes of the cinematic universe he has created.

I just hope he won't forget about the problems of the real universe as he sets about completing his own.

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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split movie review essay

  • Entertainment

Multiple Personality Disorder (Split Movie Review)

For my final project about mental illness, I chose to write about the movie Split. I chose Split because the main character's diagnosis is dissociative identity disorder commonly referred to as DID (previously known as multiple personality disorder). DID is something I have always been fascinated with even before this course so I am excited to have the opportunity to research this disorder further and share my thoughts on the subject.

The movie Split is an American psychological thriller film by M. Night Shyamalan. In Split James McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a troubled man diagnosed with DID due to childhood trauma that followed him into adulthood. Throughout the movie, Kevin is shown often in the office of his psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher where we get more of an insight on his disorder, how it came about, and the identities or "alters" and more about their backgrounds. Kevin is diagnosed with twenty-three different personalities in this film and it is not until later we find out about the final and twenty-fourth personality referred to only as "the beast". At the beginning of the film, Kevin abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an underground dungeon he had built. The girls spend the entire movie planning and attempting their escape while encountering some of Kevin's prominent personalities along the way. Barry is one of the main alters we encounter; he seems to be the ringleader controlling which personalities get to surface as well as the one who interacts with Dr. Fletcher frequently before she realizes Barry is only a personality and Kevin is the patient. Dennis is another important alter because he is the one who initially abducts the three girls at the beginning of the movie. Dennis is interesting because even though he is a part of the mental illness of the main character, he possesses his issues and is portrayed to have OCD. Throughout the film, we also meet Patricia, a female motherly role, and Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who befriends the captives along with a couple of others that make brief appearances. Since Split is a series, we do not meet all the personalities in this film however, the final and most important alter is "the beast". The Beast is portrayed as a frightening murderous superhuman who can run quickly, climb walls and bend steel bars. The Beast is the most important alter because throughout the film the girls are in a race against time to escape their captor before the beast surfaces.

During the film, we see Kevin in Dr. Fletcher's office quite a bit. Although they spend a reasonable time discussing his disorder and touching on his different personalities as well as how he is coping and managing, we do not see the treatment aspect of his condition. Upon researching DID and comparing it to what we have learned throughout our course, I would have to say the best type of treatment for DID would be cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT focuses on changing negative thinking and behavior and emphasizes learning new ways of thinking and behaving to help us face difficulties and achieve our goals. There are several stages of CBT: establishing safety, stability working through and integrating traumatic memories, integration, and rehabilitation. CBT is a hands-on approach and a widely used form of therapy to treat a vast variety of disorders because there is no one solid treatment plan. There are many tools and techniques involved with CBT making it a customizable treatment plan to fit an individual's specific needs. During CBT individuals can learn important skills to improve their mental health and way of coping such as identifying problems more clearly, distinguishing between facts and irrational thoughts, stop fearing the worst, understanding how past experiences can affect present feelings and beliefs, facing fears rather than avoiding them, establish attainable goals, and becoming aware of your mood. These skills are important to learn especially in someone suffering from DID because DID is commonly brought on by a traumatic event such as abuse and often these alters, or personalities come to light to help an individual hide from what they have experienced almost like their way of being protected. By shifting the individual's way of thinking and presenting them with new ways to cope they can learn to change their behavior more healthily.

I have seen the film Split a couple of times now and this is the first time I sat down and dissected it. I have always thought it was a powerful film and accurately portrayed mental illness. M. Night Shyamalan did an amazing job showing what someone with DID goes through and James McAvoy gave an incredibly realistic performance on what struggling with mental illness is like. The film was meant to be a thriller and somewhat on the horror side so there were a few aspects that were unrealistic in the realm of portraying DID as an illness, for instance, the beast. The Beast was superhuman; he was shot and stabbed and came out unharmed. He scaled the walls and bent steel bars to get to his victims. As a personality or altar of Kevin, the beast in real life would not have acquired superhuman powers, although it has been reported that people with DID do take on personalities that resemble animals or fictional characters, their physical form does not change. Other than that minor detail made for shock value the film was extremely accurate in showing what DID is like as an illness. Individuals suffering from DID often have more than three personalities and twenty-four is not an outrageous stretch, they do change their appearances to fit as well as minor things like needing glasses or having an accent. Often people with multiple personalities do interact with all their alters and lose bits of memory or time which McAvoy convincingly showed us. Another thing I learned about DID was that a lot of times the personalities they take on serve a purpose. In Kevin's case, he had Barry who took initiative to attend therapy and seek help, Patricia was the motherly figure he never had, and Hedwig was the innocent child he could revert to and hide behind. Overall, I genuinely believe the film had many strengths versus weaknesses. I know DID is rare, however, I would love to read either a professional breakdown from someone who has worked with DID patients or a comparison on how someone who suffers from the condition can relate to this character just to learn how accurate the portrayal was compared to my opinion.

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