McAvoy is Amazing in “Split”

Movie poster for "Split"
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

On Friday, Jan. 20, the highly anticipated M. Night Shyamalan movie “Split” was released into theaters. The thriller revolves around the main character, Kevin Wendell Crumb, and his 23 personalities. Dissociative identity disorder, more commonly known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental disorder where the individual identifies with “two or more distinct personality states.”

The aim of the movie was to not only entertain, with the comic relief character, Hedwig, one of Kevin’s personalities, or to scare you with the “Beast,” his newest personality, it was to bring to people’s attention the rare disorder. Each of the personalities within Kevin seek to get time in the “light,” to seek recognition as being real, even if as viewers we want to believe they are all in the imaginings of Kevin, a mentally ill individual. Kevin’s therapist, Karen Fletcher, played by actress Betty Buckley, is introduced as the voice of reason, and the movie spends a short amount of time showing Fletcher giving a lecture on dissociative identity disorder. Many people believe that individuals with D.I.D are faking the disorder, a stigma people with other mental illnesses also experience. At one point in the movie, Fletcher is told by a neighbor that she believes Kevin is not truly “split” at all.

M. Night Shyamalan both wrote and produced the movie, and he succeeds in raising some awareness of the reality of the stigma of having a mental illness. As someone who is familiar with mental illness, I appreciated this aspect to the movie. However, most of the film dramatizes the many split personalities of Kevin and how they eventually take over his life to the point where he can’t control them, including some who are dangerous. The movie is, after all, meant to be a thriller.

While “Split” was full of suspense and thrilling jump scares, I enjoyed the moments of humor, which were dark and subtle. Humor helped to humanize Kevin as he tried to manage his personalities. Some of the humor relied on the audience being “in the know” of what the characters in the film were oblvious to with regard to Kevin’s many personalities.

All of Kevin’s 23 personalities were played by James McAvoy, best known for playing Professor X in Marvel’s X-men movies. McAvoy shifted betweend male and female, young and old, different accents, and unique interests and mannerisms. It was as if they were played by different actors.

“Split” had its downside as well. While Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 81 percent, online comments from people who, in real life, struggle with D.I.D. criticize the film’s depiction of mental illness. The movie can give the impression that people with multiple personalities are dangerous. That may have more to do with the storyline than with McAvoy’s amazing acting.

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