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Split: A disturbing tale of violence

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, March 8, 2017  /  09:18 am
Split: A disturbing tale of violence

This image released by Universal Pictures shows James McAvoy in a scene from, (Universal Pictures via AP/File)

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller Split shatters the heart more than it spikes the adrenaline. Shyamalan, mainly known for his films in the horror and thriller genres, has just released a new work called Split.

This time, unlike The Sixth Sense ( 1999 ), which touched on paranormal phenomena, or Signs ( 2002 ), which discussed the possibility of extraterrestrial life, this film has a psychiatric touch to it.

The main premise centers on Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a zookeeper with a dissociative identity disorder, who has 23 distinct personalities. The horror lies in the premise that his 24th personality, a malevolent and savage brute called the “beast” is about to be unleashed.

The disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder, is thought to be a complex psychological condition likely caused by many factors, including severe trauma during early childhood from prolonged exposure to extreme and repetitive physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

When Kevin was little, he often received corporal punishment from his mother, who was obsessed with cleanliness and tidiness. He lives in isolation in a room at the zoo he works in and is being treated by a psychiatrist called Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley).

Trouble ensues when two gregarious girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), visit the zoo one day and flirt with Kevin. They tell Kevin to put his hands on their breasts. This incident upsets Kevin and makes him feel “impure,” triggering his trauma on a scale never imagined before.

Led by anger, Kevin abducts the two girls. Unfortunately, the girls’ friend, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), who hitched a ride with these two girls in the same car, is also taken.

The three girls are put into a desolate room, where they meet Kevin’s different personalities.

There is Dennis, a stern obsessive-compulsive man who likes to watch the girls dance naked; then Hedwig, a timid 9-yearold boy with a penchant for breakdancing to a Kanye West tune; and Miss Patricia, a housekeeper who likes to listen to Chinese instrumental music.

Every one of Kevin’s different personalities presents a parallel temporal and spatial presentation. The most interesting part of the movie is the dynamic between Kevin and Casey, who also possesses psychological complexity. The story explains how Casey is also actually a survivor of violence.

Psychological mumbo-jumbo aside, the film’s moral might be this: violence creates nothing but destruction and suffering. In a 2016 documentary entitled Audrey and Daisy about rape cases that occurred to American high school students, there is a mantra above the head of Daisy’s brother, saying monsters are made, not born. Split encapsulates this idea very well.

Dissociative identity disorder might be a very rare type of psychiatric disturbance, but the film should serve as a cautionary tale for adults about the serious and severe consequences of child abuse.

But as W. Somerset Maugham said, suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive. But a little warning does no harm. Those struggling with severe psychological trauma should not watch this film as it may trigger trauma and create some really vivid flashbacks.