Deviancy in film Split (2016)

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The film, Split (2016), is a movie based on the life of Kevin, a mentally ill young man suffering from the dissociative identity disorder (DID) condition, comprising of more than a dozen different personalities that compete to define the individual at a time (Rose, 2017). The credit that can be given to the film is that it has been able to capture the actual definition of DID, which is basically the existence of two or more personality states that have distinct that present and alternately take control of the individual (Fischer, 2017). Nevertheless, from the very onset, it is possible to conclude that the film Split (2016) has fallen trap to the general and common myths associated with mental illnesses. This is because; the film has focused on depicting the dissociative identity disorder in its severest form, with most of the competing personalities in Kevin being violent or basically rough. According to Thio, Taylor & Schwartz (2013) in Chapter 8 of the book Deviant behavior, one of the myths commonly held about mentally ill people is that “mentally ill individuals are crazed, violent people” p.179. This myth has largely been advanced in the film, considering that rarely does the true personality of Kevin feature in any episodes of the film. In fact, the true personality of Kevin has only been given a fair appearance towards the end of the film, where Kevin is revealed as an employee of a zoo. Therefore, it can be concluded that on the positive side, the film, Split (2016) has done a good job in establishing the DID mental illness as a disorder of multiple personality states competing to control the affected individual. However, on the flip side, the film has advanced the common myth that mental illness, and most specifically DID, has to be associated with weird and violent behaviors.

The other area in which the film, Split (2016) has succeeded in depicting the dissociative identity disorder validly, is in the area of the causative factors. According to the Psychiatrist, Dr. According to Garret Deckel, DID is a mental disorder that is mostly suffered by the “people who have been chronically abused, typically in situations with no viable escape” (Nedelman, 2017). This aspect has been demonstrated clearly in the film. According to the film, the cause of Kevin’s present condition is his abusive childhood. Kevin had a mother who was also mentally unstable, and he constantly abused him throughout his childhood, denying Kevin the opportunity to live a healthy and happy childhood. Considering that the DID condition is known to occur when an individual is subject to abuse in an environment that does not offer viable options for escape, the film has actually perfectly established this point, by underlining that the abuses Kevin suffered occurred when he was a child and under the care of his mother. Situations where abuses occur when the child is under the care of their parents, guardians or caretakers are commonly inescapable, because such children are largely reliant on those adult individuals for most of their needs (Rose, 2017). Under such circumstances, the abusive and traumatic situations suffered by the child can “reconfigure the mind” into different parts or personalities” (Nedelman, 2017).

Additionally, the film has been successful in portraying the DID condition currently suffered by Kevin as being the result of a reconfigured mind, which has in turn developed multiple personality states, all of which are competing to control Kevin. The development of the multiple states of personalities as depicted in the film captures the actual and true trajectory of the DID condition, which is “emerge and develop within the individual in response to the mind’s choice to hide from the pain of unresolved past” (Clayman, 2017). Kevin, as depicted in the film, has clearly carried the baggage of the pains of a traumatic past that is not resolved. This is because, Kevin’s agenda is to cause suffering to those people who are pure and who have not been exposed to any abuses or pains in their lives, thus the major reason he spared Casey even after killing and cannibalizing the other two of her teenage friends. The major reason why Kevin, this time having been adopted and subject to the control of the ‘beast’ personality state or fragment of his multiple personality states, is because he noticed Casey to be bearing scratches of old wounds on her back (Shyamalan, 2016F). Consequently, Kevin, even in the most violent and dangerous of his multiple personality states, decided to spare the life of Casey, because he believed that just like him, she is also pure in the realms of pain and suffering. On the contrary, Kevin regarded the rest of the teenage girls and even his Psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, as being impure, simply because they had not experienced the pain and suffering in their childhood that would render them pure in the world of pain and suffering. This aspect is a demonstration of Kevin’s attempt to escape the realities of life, that there could live and exist individuals who have ever been abused or subjected to pain and suffering since their childhood.

Kevin, as portrayed in the film, Split (2016), is suffering from the DID condition that causes him to transition from one condition to the other in a split-second and without any warnings. This depiction of the DID by the film is also accurate, considering the fact that according to Psychology Today, dissociative identity disorder “is characterized by a fragmentation, or splintering, of identity rather than by a proliferation, or growth, of separate identities” (Psychology Today, 2017). Therefore, the accuracy of depiction of the DID condition in the film draws from the fact that the film shows the competing personality states of Kevin are clearly fragmented, such that he bears very distinct and identifiable personality states. The different personality exhibited by Kevin at different times and in different circumstances include the normal Kevin, Barry, Hedwig, Patricia, Dennis, among a dozen of other distinct personality, each taking a competing turn to dominate and modify Kevin’s behavior and traits accordingly (Shyamalan, 2016).

Nevertheless, one of the fundamental misgivings and misconceptions represented by the Split (2016), in relation to the dissociative identity disorder, is that advancing the notion that “the mentally ill can b easily and clearly distinguished from the mentally healthy” (Thio, Taylor & Schwartz, 2013). The film has advanced this notion through depicting Kevin as a weird and clearly mentally unstable individual from the beginning to the end, without according true identity and personality to portray its worth. To this effect, the film has created and associated Kevin with over 20 distinctive personality states and fragments, which then dominates the whole film, without giving the normal, mentally stable and fully human side of Kevin to manifest. The DID condition is not a clearly demarcated mental state that has to be associated with mentally ill behaviors at all times (Fischer, 2017). Instead, the traumatic experiences and abuses suffered by an individual cause the reconfiguration of the mind into “parts can step in to handle traumatic or stressful situations, while other parts dissociate, or escape, from reality” (Nedelman, 2017). Therefore, it would have been fair, just and balanced for the film, Split (2016), to also show and depict in Kevin the other side of the DID, which enables him to cope and adapt to stressful situations, and remain a sober, normally oriented and sane human. Nevertheless, what the film has seen is to take the extremes of DID, and depict them throughout the film.

Lastly, the film, Split (2016), has registered a major failure in depicting the dissociative identity disorder as unrecoverable mental disorder. One of the common myths normally held by individuals is that “mental illness is essentially irrecoverable; most mental illness patients will never recover” (Thio, Taylor & Schwartz, 2013). This is the whole theme that has been advanced throughout the film Split (2016), most especially because Kevin has been portrayed as DID patient under psychiatric treatment program, but who cannot recover (Rose, 2017).  The film has indeed portrayed and succeeded in peddling the blatant lies that instead of recovering, the individuals suffering from DID eventually turn out to be violent and dangerous, just like Kevin did in the film. This portrayal of DID is both wrong and dangerous for the society, because it depicts DID and the patients suffering from this condition for what they are not (Fischer, 2017).

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  1. Clayman, J. (Feb 01, 2017). Split: Horror with a Side of Split Personality: The Unhealthy End of the Identity Spectrum. Psychology Today. Retrieved: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reel-therapy/201702/split-horror-side-split-personality
  2. Fischer, K. (January 26, 2017). Movie ‘Split’ Does Harm to People with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Experts Say. Healthline. Retrieved: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/movie-split-harms-people-with-dissociative-identity-disorder
  3. Nedelman, M. (January 23, 2017). What Shyamalan’s ‘Split’ gets wrong about dissociative identity disorder. CNN. Retrieved: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/23/health/shyamalan-split-movie-dissociative-identity-disorder/index.html
  4. Psychology Today. (2017). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). Retrieved: https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder
  5. Rose, S. (January12, 2017). From Split to Psycho: why cinema fails dissociative identity disorder. The Guardian. Retrieved: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/12/cinema-dissociative-personality-disorder-split-james-mcavoy
  6. Shyamalan, M.N. Dir. (September 26, 2016). Split. United States: Universal Pictures. [Film] Retrieved:
  7. Thio, Taylor & Schwartz. (2013). “Chapter 8” In Deviant behavior. Pearson.
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