Two months ago, I had stumbled upon the trailer for the movie Split, directed and produced by M. Night Shyamalan. I quickly became intrigued by the movie and could not wait for it to come out. The fact that they were bringing mental illness (Dissociative Identity Disorder, to be exact) into the movie world was interesting to me. I just hoped that it wasn't going to be a movie full of jokes about the disorder and everything that goes with it.
Basically, the movie is about a man, Kevin, with 23 other personalities inside of his brain. He kidnaps three girls in broad daylight from a birthday party. The man then locks these three girls into an underground passageway. One of his personalities, "Patricia," tells the girls that they are there for a specific reason, but they don't reveal it to us. All we know is that his 24th personality, "The Beast" is on its way.
Now, I don't want to give away any spoilers away because the movie just came out, and I highly recommend this movie, for a lot of reasons.
Being the psychology junkie that I am, I was a little nervous to go into this movie because I knew that they were dealing with a mental disorder. When explaining a disorder to a large population, it can either go one way or the other. The definition of Dissociative Identity Disorder is "a disorder characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personality states." Obviously, they have the definition down right, seeing as though Kevin has 23 other personalities. When I was watching the movie, I never felt so offended that I had to walk out. However, it sort of offended me that people were laughing at how he was dealing with his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which one of his personalities had; but I just had to realize that they didn't understand it fully.
And that's where I think knowledge comes out to play in this situation. 90% of the people sitting around me in that theater could not have known absolutely anything about DID or mental illness, so how could they understand that this is an actual real problem? Not once, though, did I feel like the production of this movie was to poke fun at people with this disorder whatsoever. It was just dramatized, like any other Hollywood film. I think that the psychologist in the film really helped with this. She was one of my favorite characters in the movie (besides 9-year-old Hedwig), simply because of how desperately and passionately she cared about Kevin and his personalities and how passionately she was trying to help him and cure him. It seemed like the production of this movie did a lot of research before they just threw it together and tried to make the disorder seem like something it is not.
Surprisingly, this movie was based around a true story--something I found out after researching after I saw the movie. Billy Milligan, born February 14th, 1955, was accused of raping three women and was soon diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder soon after that. He walked after going on trial, saying that his mental illness could not be controlled and that's why he committed the crime. His story and how it connects to the movie is extremely interesting. You can read about him here.
So, my question is, was Split a sign of awareness for mental illness or simply just for entertainment? Personally, I think it was to create some kind of awareness for the disorder and other mental disorders. I believe this because of a specific quote that stuck out to me in the movie. The quote was this: "The broken are more evolved." After Kevin said this to Casey in the movie, it made me think: would this reach the attention of people who don't know anything about mental illness? By putting people like Kevin up on a pedestal, could we receive more of the attention that we deserve and need to cope with mental illness?
Editor's Note: It is important to understand that individuals with mental illness are not inherently dangerous and should not be feared. Only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. To learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I encourage you to read this article from one of our other contributors.