What people who struggle with DID want viewers to know regarding psychological thriller “Split”
By Tallulah Cyers, English 109 contributor
Audiences flocked into movie theaters Jan. 20 to witness the newest psychological thriller, “Split,” which has topped $100 million in the box office as of Feb. 7. “Split,” directed by M. Night Shyamalan, tells the story of a young man named Kevin (James McAvoy), who kidnaps three teenage girls in broad daylight and locks them up in an underground shelter where they quickly piece together that Kevin has a rare condition known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). While the film is doing substantially well commercially, and popularity continues to grow in numbers, there is some opposition arising from another side of the spectrum of audiences.
“I am astonished that even in our modern day and age, another mainstream film portrays a DID person as a dangerous psychopath. Even after everything we know about mental health. DID is a complex trauma disorder, not a psychopathic disorder,” said Accalia Murray, a survivor of dissociative identity disorder. “People living with this disorder aren’t any more likely to hurt you than someone who isn’t living with it and this disorder certainly cannot morph a human body into something supernatural and dangerous. DID people aren’t psychopaths, and psychopaths don’t have DID. Rather, it is a result of the horrors psychopaths can inflict upon children.”
Murray expressed profound apprehension concerning the portrayal of DID within the film. Not only is she very educated on the subject, but she also lives with the condition herself. She shared that it is a relentless struggle for her and treatment is not easy due to the lack of resources available for treating it. While Murray does not discourage anyone the freedom of going to theatres and seeing the movie for themselves, she only encourages that people recognize that those struggling with the condition are not dangerous, and the director failed to make that distinction.
DID is an extremely rare condition known to be the result of severe trauma at a very young age. As viewers see in this film, Kevin switches personalities in different situations that lead him to think he’s either safe or in danger. This is an accurate representation to real DID patients. These personalities are what protect Kevin from the evils of the real world, and the reality of his abusive childhood that caused the DID to form in the first place.
His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is very fond of Kevin and holds the right intentions regarding Kevin’s well being, despite some of the manipulative tactics initiated by Dennis, one of Kevin’s alters who has obsessive compulsive disorder and is extremely sneaky. In one scene during the film after his appointment, Dennis is seen walking away from a trashcan that has been knocked over near the front entrance of the doctor’s office. Dr. Fletcher watches him from a security camera inside and realizes that Dennis has suspected that he is being watched and does not want to pose any indication that it is indeed him in control of Kevin at that very moment.
Another one of his alters named Hedwig is an innocent nine-year-old boy with childlike characteristics who happens to be easily manipulated. One of the abductees, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor), attempts to trick him into letting her escape through a window in Hedwig’s room only to find that the window is just a picture he drew and taped to the wall. All of Casey’s attempts to fool Hedwig proved unsuccessful due to his alter feeling threatened by Casey’s actions, therefore causing him to revert to a more aggressive personality.
All in all, it can be risky business to have a mental illness be the center of a Hollywood film without receiving backlash from those who struggle with the mental illness themselves. Directors have a tendency to over exaggerate to excite audiences and though it may not be intentional, it still carries an immense effect on the viewers. Critics of the film warn audiences that the portrayal of DID in this film is not an active representation to the day to day struggle of DID patients. This is particularly in reference to Kevin’s 24th personality known as “The Beast” who possesses supernatural abilities and has a hunger for human flesh.
Patients of DID ask only that people not fear them due to the unrealistic characteristics of “The Beast” in the film. Freedom of thought and action are often concepts that are taken for granted. For patients with DID, it is an ongoing battle for inner peace.