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.