I haven’t written a movie review in a while, so I thought it was time to get back on that bandwagon! You may have heard about the newest James McAvoy movie, Split.
Three girls are kidnapped by Kevin, a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities. They must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
As soon as I read that, I knew that this movie would have terrible mental health representation, and that I needed to see it. Knowing what awful misinformation is being perpetuated by the media about mental health is important to me. It is only by knowing it that I can help fight it. There will be spoilers, and there are trigger warnings for sexual assault, child abuse, potential transphobia, and harmful stereotypes and misinformation about mental health. Also, while I have experienced dissociative episodes, I do not myself have DID. If I express myself badly in this review, please let me know.
The medical misinformation in this was truly astounding. I watched this with my boyfriend (a med student), and multiple times throughout the movie we literally had to pause it and rant about how wrong it was. For example, the therapist in the movie claims:
Dr Fletcher: An individual with multiple personalities can change their body chemistry with their thoughts.
WRONG. She goes on to talk about how Dissociative Identity Disorder (a real mental health condition, read a bit about it here) makes people with mental illnesses have superpowers. Even more insultingly, the 24th personality that emerges near the end of the movie is basically that of an animal. Named the Beast (yes, really), it has inhuman strength and can survive at least two point-blank shots. The movie claims that this 24th personality has emerged from Kevin’s proximity to large animals, as he lives in an unused part of a zoo. WOW.
Kevin’s backstory? He was abused by his mother as a child, and therefore he has DID. Little else is mentioned, except that one of his personalities, Dennis, emerged in an attempt to protect himself from abuse. Dennis does not often come ‘into the light’ (i.e. take control) because of his OCD and his voyeurism. (Please note: Dennis’ OCD was used as a way to get the young women to strip to their underwear, as their clothes were ‘dirty’. Yup, really.) Also – abuse can lead to mental illness, that is true. But not everyone with mental health problems has been abused. Really.
This abuse is apparently the impetus for the Beast to attempt to destroy the lives of young girls who have not been abused. One of the girls, however, has been sexually assaulted, and has scars all over her body. When he sees them, the Beast says:
The Beast: You are different from the rest. Your heart is pure! Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.
WHAT THE FUCK?!!! I genuinely don’t know what to say. This is saying that suffering and pain leads to a type of purity. It is saying that perpetrators of sexual assault are performing a service – that sexual abuse survivors have been cleansed by their actions.
Finally, to round it off, some of Kevin’s personalities are female. For example, when the personality Patricia comes into the light, she dresses in female clothes. Now, there have been cases of those with DID having personalities of different genders – here I am interested in how Split represents this. I highly doubt that DID was researched fully when Shymalan was writing it, and in my mind, with all the other enormous flaws in the movie, it was linking being transgender to mental illness. I am not trans, so whilst this made me a bit uncomfortable, I really can’t make the call whether this is being actively transphobic.
Over all? Stay the FUCK away from this movie. It is insulting, perpetuates dangerous stereotypes, and doesn’t even have a decent plot.