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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Split - M. Night Shyamalan's return to form

Split hasn't really found the popularity it deserves, so there's a big chance it might not have been on your radar. If you have not seen this movie yet, be warned that this quick look on the movie contains crucial spoilers to the plot. I'll be looking at how Shyamalan proves he can still make good movies, despite a long series of awful decisions, some think starting way back with Signs, I'm thinking more like The Happening, since Lady in the Water was his last movie that I could force myself to enjoy. I also want to talk about how this movie ties to one of his earliest works and what it means for future Shyamalan films.
Split is the story of Kevin Wendell Crumb, who suffers from a mental disorder called dissociative identity disorder (DID), or what we're calling a "split personality". We're slowly and cleverly explained throughout the movie that ever since he was a young boy in a very abusive family, Kevin's mind creates different personalities to help him cope with his situation. But it doesn't stop there. While he constantly develops new and different people in his head, each one with their own traits, Kevin loses control over his own self. The movie starts by showing us his latest two personalities, who've taken full control over his body and plot to awake his 24'th personality they call "The Beast". These two personalities, Dennis, an obsessive compulsive brute, and a soft-spoken and cunning lady named Patricia, kidnap three young girls to feed The Beast when he awakens.
Yes, with 23 personalities and going, we can safely call him Legion. The thing is, we're not shown all 24 of these characters, poor James McAvoy has to portray 5 or 6 different people in one movie, but he is doing such a great job, you'll forget you're watching the same person. There's also one kid inside Kevin's minds, who is established to have the ability to take the spotlight whenever he wants, and it's really sad to think that the kid is the representation of Kevin's own childhood.
The genius behind Split comes from the obscure mystery behind the so-called split personality disorder. As far as I've read about it, few people have been diagnosed in reality with this disorder and it's usually considered controversial. There aren't any actual scientific proofs or conclusive studies to confirm the existence of this mental state and, generally, people who exhibit behavior compatible with DID are diagnosed for other mental disorders, like schizophrenia. Also, people who claim they have a different personality living inside them behave strangely and can't function normally in a social environment, so they're very obvious. Before you accuse me of having one opinion or another, I'm not an expert, this is what I've just read and found very fascinating, I'm not arguing for the existence of such a disorder, nor am I denying its existence. I'm sure Shyamalan knows more on the subject than I do and I'm sure he took many liberties too with this premise, and he made sure to include that debate in the movie.
The surprise is in the fact that the disorder is just a plot device to drive the narrative and characters. Behind the thick premise that different personalities causes the body to manifest in different ways, like one personality having insulin-dependent diabetes, for example, while all others don't suffer from it, lies a deeper meaning. It's about the coping mechanism people who have gone through trauma have to deal with. After the girl shoots two shotgun shells at him, barely doing much, The Beast shows his awfully enraged face from the darkness and bends cast metal bars with his bare hands. He sees her scars, realizes that she must have been through a brutal experience similar to his and declares her pure, pure like Kevin, the one he's supposed to protect and "make stronger". At this point, is actually Kevin the one who spares the girl because he sees himself in her, or does The Beast only need to consume impure flesh, like his mother, to become stronger? At the end, we're shown that the most important thing is the story behind these characters.
The media already gives this brutal murderer a nickname, The Horde, for he has many personalities, just like they did before with the maniacal and brittle man in  the wheelchair who's been causing so many accidents to find a superhero. Mr. Glass. On a chair next to the counter, in a diner full of people watching the news, sits David Dunn (played again by Bruce Willis very briefly), the Unbreakable hero.
Nope, not Bruce Willis, you'll have to see the movie for yourself

M. Night Shyamalan not only makes another great thriller the way he used to, but makes sure we know the story is tied to one of his best movies, Unbreakable (2000). Sure, he could have taken a more subtle approach, with sprinkled hints throughout the movie, but he went for the shock factor and I can expect that. It's like he wanted to stay true to his "Shyamalan twist" meme and give people something to awe at. The actual story ends at the title drop, the rest is a bit of a clever fan service. I don't know if he'll make a sequel or another tie in to this, showing David Dunn battling The Horde, Shyamalan has never been the sequel type, but who knows, right? Other than this little big nod, the main stories of the movie are left basically unresolved. The murderous Beast and the other personalities inside Kevin's mind are free to "show the world his true power", while the girl has to go back to her very troubled life. It isn't satisfying, I know, but it's close to perfect. Shyamalan could've went the cheap route and do exactly what I imagined would happen, since the movie kinda set it up like that. I thought the kid personality, who can take "spot" whenever he wants, would have taken control just long enough for the girl to mortally wound Kevin's Beast, or maybe even Kevin himself, but, as someone said to me, that would've been cliche, and I'm glad now that it didn't happen that way.


So, what does this mean for Shyamalan's future in film-making. Well, Split proves that Shyamalan still has it, the thing that makes people create wonderful visual stories. He's a great director, he knows where to point the camera and how to direct people, but he rarely takes these chances. It's not the first time he tried to go back to the roots after... well, After Earth. He made a thriller with some found footage horror elements, called The Visit, but it's not really a stand-out movie. Is he allowed, now that he made Split and proved himself again, to make crappy summer blockbusters for Hollywood actors' children and get a break from the whole "what the hell happened to you, Shyamaladingdong, you used to be a good director?" I don't know about you, but in my humble opinion, I think we can criticize his future movie and leave that part out. Instead, I'm gonna replace it wit "oh you cheeky bastard, you did it for the money, didn't ya?!"