Why I won’t see Split

*Spoiler Alert: This article discusses key plot points.

There’s something thrilling about being scared. For many years, horror movies have been a key component at my girls’ nights. A temporary fright is exciting, but still safe. Fear demands to be felt, which provides an oddly comforting break from reality. Horror movies are absorbing, making their plots more impactful than you may think.

When the trailer for Split came out last summer, I was intrigued. It showed three girls being abducted and taken to a bunker, an unoriginal but frightening premise. My fascination faded into sad astonishment when the trailer was over; I realized the antagonist’s mental health issues with dissociative identity disorder was central to his character and his evilness.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

“An individual with multiple personalities can change their brain chemistry with their thoughts,” says his therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher, played by Betty Buckley. It’s later revealed that his dissociative identity disorder transforms him into an actual beast — his villainy rests on his mental illness.

M. Night Shyamalan, you got it all wrong. This character is an unfair and untrue Hollywood cliché that says that violence and mental illness reinforce each other. In reality, people with mental illnesses are two and a half to four times more likely to be victims of violence than any other group in society. And as media reflects society, this movie encourages the mental health stigma.

Mental illness should not be constructed as menacing and evil for shock value. I like to be scared, but not at the expense of demonizing a minority. These portrayals “other” them even more.

Jessica Rong, a member of Ryerson SMASH (Students for Mental Awareness, Support, and Health), says she’s deeply upset by the movie, especially as someone who has a mental illness. “Coming to terms with my mental illness is a process that has taken me years. It is because of these harmful stereotypes and images that are constantly produced — and reproduced — that this process becomes even more difficult.”

Kristen Jess, a Ryerson English student and research assistant at the Modern Literature and Culture Centre, saw the film. She found the overall effect of his character to be harmful.  

“While they have his therapist portraying a more positive attitude towards those suffering from mental illness, and in essence validating their experience, (she) is ultimately murdered by the patient, proving those who distrusted stigmatized patients right.” This tells audiences that people with mental illnesses are barbaric and can’t be helped.

As campaigns like Bell’s Lets Talk are gaining traction, Jess said she was surprised to see a movie like this become so popular.

“I think it’s a very backward film to be featured now,” she said. “People are interested in empowerment and giving a voice to minorities and disenfranchised groups — belittling and silencing them is almost outdated.”

Still, Split has a 75 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and The Guardian even gave the film a four-star rating. Rong noticed her friends sharing the trailer over social media. “It was literally inescapable,” she said. “(It) made me question why they didn’t share things in support and solidarity with the destigmatization effort. Why is it easier to share a trailer that stigmatizes and ostracizes individuals, than to share something that is supportive?”  

Look beyond Split’s entertainment value and see the bigger picture. “Through media’s representation of mental health, it becomes difficult to see people separately from their mental health diagnosis,” Rong said. “But the truth is, I am not my mental illness.”

 

13 Comments

  1. Great Article!

  2. Okay, this is a huge SPOILER ALERT but he’s not simply mentally ill, he’s a shape shifting super villain and this is his origin story.
    Perhaps you should watch the film next time rather than write a heartfelt, virtue signalling article about a trailer.

  3. It’s a work of fiction. People will always play on reality to make good stories. Nobody is complaining about the Blaire Witch Project because it’s a ‘misrepresentation of witches.’

  4. I agree with Kenny, your article is invalid in the sense that this movie is doing good things in the mental community. It’s showing those with this mental enhancement are better, they’re stronger sure he killed his therapist and other people but how many people day a day from other people’s hand take gangs for an example they kill each other.

    In the end what I’m trying to say this movie is a signal to all those who has been shown as outcasts in this society, who are being branded as a step back in the evolution chain. This movie is to show that we’re stronger, we’re better this is not a mental disorder we have but a mental ehancement. We’re the next steps in the evolution chain.

  5. He actually was supernatural though. I completely agree how mental illness is presented in media is terrible and inaccurate. But in the movie it turned out all along he was a supernatural shapeshifter, it wasn’t actually his mental illness resulting in him hurting people.

  6. Whatever happened to simply enjoying an obviously fictional piece as art or entertainment. I mean first of if a person is intelligent enough to realize this is a false representation of DISASSOCIATED [IDENTITY] DISORDER, they are also intelligent enough to discard it’s content as appropriate reference materials on the matter! However the real shocker is how polished this article is, as if the funding agent of this article has a personal issues with the move or production crew/staff. It really make a great point of how wrong it is to misrepresent mental illness and it’s suffers, provide lots of good verifiable information. Then completely misses the fact the move is about the origin story of a super villian named THE HOARD, it’s not some reference to barbaric tendencies within D.I.D. patients. Any critical and non-biased viewing of the film would have pick up on that, especially with the self-appointment into a position of power by the protagonist and the reference to Mr. Glass as the obscure antagonist! Just a little bit of integrity will bring far more power to your articles!

  7. Its kind of akin to complaining that Psycho was wrong in its depiction of mothers, without viewing a complete product you cannot form a valid opinion and certainly shouldn’t be writing about it. Egg meet face.

  8. I agree with Hedwig (nice name choice btw) along with anyone else who really doesn’t agree with the contents of this article. If you actually watch the film, you’d find it to be quite empowering to those who have experienced intense trauma to their mental health and well-being. SPOILER ALERT: Before The Hoard tries to kill one of his last victims, he notices scars all over her body. Scars from being a victim of abuse as a child. I.E abuse that can cause serious mental health problems down the road. He does not kill her and continues to say something along the lines of “Those who have suffered are the strongest….”. After that scene, I honestly felt like it did some good for those who suffer from mental illnesses by creating a sense of unity and strength. But hey, that’s just my subjective opinion after actually watching the film.

  9. After watching this movie i thought the general idea they want to get across is that People with DID are actually more mentally aware than any of us who dont experience this disorder. The trailer may seem like it demonizes the character with DID but its more than meets the eye…not to throw out any spoilers which would help me further explain this, but i thought this film was more interesting than it was scary….

  10. I find it hard to judge a movie from the trailer it self, especially when only one person represented in this article has actually seen it.

    As a person who suffers from depression, looking past the surface of the stereotypical stigma surrounding mental illness, I really liked the movie. The main character, Kevin Wendell Crumb, is presented as a man with 24 distinct personalities due to Dissociative Identity Disorder. The premise of the therapist is that she believes individuals with DID have the capability to be supernatural, to alter their brain chemistry. Despite having 24 personalities, there are 3 personalities who represent evil that take over the others, resulting in all of Kevin’s violent acts. Throughout the movie we learn that Kevin was abused as a child, triggering his DID, and the therapist explains that some of the personalities were developed to protect Kevin, but ultimately they shut him out and have their own agenda.

    I think this is very representative of mental illness. I am not my illness, I have an illness, but there are times where my illness takes over. This movie represents that, in the sense that the personalities created to protect Kevin ultimately end up hurting him. When one of the main characters brings Kevin out “into the light”, we discover that he has not been “himself” for years, and that he has allowed his mental illness to consume him. He then requests that the character murder him so that he does not have to live with what “he” has done. Mental illness involves seeking help when you need it so that it does not become who you are. If anything, looking under the surface, I would say that this is representative of mental illness, because if you do not seek help for yourself, it can easily consume you.

  11. Adding on to my previous comment, every time Kevin would go see Dr. Fletcher, it was the result of alarming emails about needing emergency appointments. However, when Kevin would go to the appointment, he would say it must have been one of the other personalities and that he was fine. This is said by one of the evil personalities.

    This itself is representative of mental illness because the other personalities, the ones that are not evil, are reaching out for help. The more violent the movie gets, the more often Dr. Fletcher receives emails requesting emergency appointments, up until the night she goes to visit Kevin after receiving dozens of emails asking for help. The other personalities know that the evil ones are taking over, yet they continue to reach out for help. Earlier in the film, one of the ‘evil’ personalities Hedwig tells one of the girls that the three personalities (Patricia, Hedwig and Dennis) had been banned from taking the light for a while but they are back now. This represents how Kevin has attempted to get better with the help of Dr. Fletcher and with her help has banned the evil personalities. But these evil personalities have the power to over take him. This is relevant because it represents the rollercoaster that is mental illness. It involves up days and down days and sometimes the ‘darkness’ does take over. Obviously this movie is a complete exaggeration, but I personally do not believe it is a horrible representation of mental illness.

  12. these are the type of articles that make me wonder what has happened to the world. It’s just a movie and that’s that. The movie was not made to attack those struggling through mental illnesses, one day every movie is going to be so plain and boring , creativity will be a thing of the past because you do not want to “offend” someone ! No backbones now a days

  13. At the end of the movie Bruce Willis’ from Unbreakable appears suggesting that the world this movies exists in is supernatural. The ‘split’ character doesn’t have D.I.D, he’s a super villain. However, this revelation is at the end and people who haven’t seen Unbreakable wouldn’t understand, I can see how the portrayal of this character is problematic. Great article!

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