About half way through “Split” I closed my eyes and nearly fell asleep. Yet I walked out of the theatre feeling positive about the film overall. It’s too long, without question, and there are too many unresolved issues at the end. But the moments that are good are pretty darn good.
And isn’t that the problem with most M. Night Shyamalan films? He tends to start with an intriguing concept, cast terrific actors, and then meander his way to a twisty finish that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. This twist isn’t that twisty and yes, there is a much-hyped cameo at the end that I will of course not ruin for you, but none of that is consequential to the meat of the story.
James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man with 23 – or maybe 24 – dissociative identities. He sees a therapist, who specializes in these types of patients (the glorious Betty Buckley.) He’s been doing well; recently though he suffered a trigger to past trauma that has the doctor concerned. And she should be.
As we know from the trailer, Kevin – well, “Dennis,” one of the alters, has kidnapped three young girls and is keeping them locked away for something. We’re not sure what. The girls encounter Dennis, but also “Patricia,” another of the sinister alters buried within Kevin’s psyche. And we meet Hedwig, a 9-year-old alter who might be the scariest of the bunch. McAvoy plays each identity distinctly, but with a commonality that makes it feel more authentic. It’s a solid performance. Ms. Buckley is entertainment-royalty and her no-nonsense yet incredibly empathetic portrayal of Dr. Fletcher is my favorite part of the film.
The other portrayals were fine; it’s too bad they didn’t have much to work with. Casey, the featured victim, is played by Anya Tayl0r-Joy and she is fine but a little boring. There are flashbacks to her as young girl, which gives us a glimpse into her own secret past and the eventual end to her arc. I would have liked to have seen more attention given to this back story and would have loved for it to come full circle in a different way.
The most interesting part about “Split” is the way it envisions those people who have Dissociative Identity Disorder. While a rare diagnosis, it is very real and as the film points out it typically results from childhood trauma that is so severe and significant that the patient creates alters in order to survive the emotional pain they are experiencing. All alters tend to serve some purpose. Dr. Fletcher believes that they may have unlimited potential; that D.I.D. might be the path to the supernatural.
I’ve often said that the clients I’ve counseled who had extensive trauma in their history also seem to have remarkable spiritual gifts: a unique charisma or an exaggerated empathic ability or something else. I frame it as God’s gift to them for having to endure the evil in the world in such a difficult way. Dr. Fletcher and I would have an interesting conversation, I think.
Too bad the movie itself didn’t turn out to be as interesting.
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Notable Actors: James McAvoy, Betty Buckley, Anya Tayl0r-Joy