Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, and in a cameo: Bruce Willis
Seen on: 11.2.2017
Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula) are in highschool together. Casey is not exactly friends with Claira and Marcia, but one afternoon she catches a ride with Claire’s father. And it’s just on this afternoon that the three girls are abducted by a man (James McAvoy). Only that he doesn’t seem to be just one person – he can be very different indeed. And he is preparing for something. Something big. Something that is coming for them.
I hadn’t meant to watch Split with its treatment of mental illness of which I had heard only bad things beforehand. But when it became a social occasion to meet with a friends and celebrate a birthday, I ended up seeing it anyway. While competently made on a cinematic level, it turned out to be even worse than I thought regarding the mental health issue, so file this under “I watched it so you don’t have to.”
Just to be very clear: the split personalities the main character – mostly referred to as Kevin – shows may be called a result of Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it has about as much to do with real-life DID as a tomato. It’s an offensive, stigmatizing portrayal of a mental disorder that has already been sensationalized many times in the media and is probably among the most stigmatized disorders – and trust me that all people who struggle with their mental health have to face stigma in some way. Other people have spoken about this with more authority than I can as a neurotypical person.
And no, it doesn’t help, either, that we see the new personality who emerges from the protagonist being portrayed as basically the next evolutionary step for humanity. Up until that point Kevin was “only” shown as violent, dangerous, unpredictable and generally fit for locking away and not much else. But showing Kevin becoming a superhuman called The Beast is literally dehumanizing people with mental health issues. I knew that things would be bad, misrepresenting the disorder and playing to stereotypes, but that last bit really took the cake.
That alone would have been offensive enough, but the film doesn’t leave it at that. Casey, it turns out, has been extensively abused by her uncle, leaving her body with scars. The Beast – about to kill her – sees the scars, proclaims her pure-hearted and leaves her to it. This romanticization of suffering, this image of the purefying effect of putting people through hell is a trope that has to die. Putting people through hell puts people through hell, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t somehow make them a better person, magically eradicating their badness until they’re saints (a very Christian notion). It just means that they have seen shit. And sometimes it means that they are too broken to not be nice all the time.
With all that it doesn’t matter that McAvoy plays his heart out and obviously relishes trying his hand at his many different roles (which were easily distinguishable from each other). And it doesn’t matter that the girls, above all Taylor-Joy, were good. It certainly doesn’t matter that the film is well-paced or connects to Unbreakable with an after-credits scene. None of this will change the fact that this film is a trash fire.
Summarizing: Stay far, far away.