Split by M Night Shyamalan Discussed and Explained

I adored the movie Split. But let’s be clear… Split isn’t going to be for everyone. Not by a long shot. But if you like thrillers that center on characters and character studies, maybe you’ll dig this? But I will say this. It took Shyamalan years to tighten up his script for Sixth Sense to the point that he realized that Bruce Willis’ character was dead. “How often do you see dead people…” “All the time…” Um. What? We haven’t seen any yet. Hahahh. Such a great movie. Oh yes, I was saying something… and because of his extra time working on the script and the idea, the characters and everything, it made the script extraordinarily good. Well, Split was actually 10 years in the making and it was his longest gestating script he’s ever written. So, yes, this thing is bursting with potential. From the tight opening to the vexing trick ending… this is a well crafted film by Mr. Shyamalan. Don’t believe me? Here, try out a trailer and tell me what you think.


Right? Pretty tight little movie. So, if this is your first time here to THinc. welcome. But generally the way I roll, is that I talk a bit about the film generally and then I go deep deep down the rabbit hole so we can talk through the ins and the outs of what happened, why, and the details most people miss. Ok? Great. So please know, if you haven’t seen the movie yet? You’ll need to leave soon. But don’t worry. I’ll yell at you and make it clear enough when the time comes.

Split General Overview

The idea of Split is actually a well worn trope. Guy targets three girls for several days, and then abducts them in one fell swoop. The rest of the movie is our trying to understand really what is happening that is actually quite a bit deeper than that. Oh, and don’t forget that we have to escape. Right. We have to escape. The acting in this movie is stellar, truly phenomenal. And the two performances that really carry the most gravitas are obviously that of James McAvoy as “Kevin”. And Anya Talor-Joy as “Casey”. Kevin is our complicated MPD abductor and Casey is our flawed and wickedly clever abductee. And most of this movie is actually a cat and mouse game between Kevin and Casey. Which is why I enjoyed the movie so very much. And with that? I think we’ll pull the periscope, go to battle stations, and dive. So if you are still trying to decide about watching the movie… decide that somewhere else. And then come on back, because we’d love to have you join the discussion.

Split Detailed Overview

I should probably adjust one of the key details that I lied about up top. “Kevin” actually Dennis had been stalking two girls for several days. The fact that he accidentally got three girls was a bonus. (And is instrumental to the ending… but we’ll get to that in due time.)

Kevin’s Split Personality

There are 23, maybe 24 multiple personality personas within the host of Kevin. And as I refer to him in general I will call him Kevin – but I will try my best to actually use the appropriate name of the MPD persona he is using, if I can. But sometimes it will be a matter of significant debate as we saw numerous times that some of the personas tried to impersonate other personalities to cover something up. Right? And as the movie rolled along, I notated each personality I found, and the ones that I heard that were named were as follows: Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig, Barry, Orwell, Jade, Samuel Heinrich, The Beast and of course Kevin if you can count him. If you guys have other names that I missed, I would love to capture them here.

Dennis – obsessive compulsive that is one of the three in league with the beast
Patricia – only female persona that works with Dennis, loves oriental music because it helps digestion
Hedwig – 9 year old and one of the three in league with the beast
Barry – clothes designer, used to be in control. Was overthrown by Dennis.
Kevin – host of the legion and abused at a young age.

The rules of the personalities are well ordered and clear. We know that if a persona isn’t “in the light” they sit in a chair in a room somewhere in Kevin’s mind and wait. The light is how the personas refer to being in control. That is unless all order is thrown out the window by saying Kevin’s full name. “Kevin Wendell Crump”. Which, apparently brings up the trauma to the surface with his mother, and allows anyone and everyone to step into the light. But that not withstanding, the three personas that are in control are Dennis (the abductee OCD character), Patricia (the only female character of the bunch as far as we know), and Hedwig (the 9 year old, and by far my favorite). The reason they are capable of being in control is because they have pledged allegiance (of sorts) to the Beast. The rest of the personas play second fiddle and are only rarely seen.

Kevin’s timeline of trauma though is fairly well laid out throughout the movie by M. Night. We see that at the age of three, Kevin’s mother used to hurt him seriously and punish him for being untidy, or unclean, etc. (hahah, reminds me Hedwig. ETC!) And that caused his personality to shard. Then, due to an incident at work, two teenage girls played a prank on him and grabbed his hands and put them under their shirts. And that caused this final stage of chaos to begin… and the creation of the Beast to evolve into being. Right?

The Three Girls

Can I just say this? One of the flaws of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split is the way he treats the two popular girls, Marcia and Claire. Let me just put it this way, Night treats these two as a solution to a logistical problem and not actual characters in this movie. Which, I know is fairly standard in horror flicks. The red shirts don’t get named or get back stories. I just expect more from Shyamalan. But in the genre he is in, we have our hero, and then we have everyone else. But I knew that Marcia and Claire were going to die just because we hardly knew their names, let alone anything about them. We just know they are perfect. They are popular. They are a stereotype of a stereotype. And yet, Night has 2 hours of our time to work with. And if he gave them stories, I’d be yelling at him for the opposite problem… FOCUS man FOCUS!! I know. I think I’ve been affected by my new love of television and the amazing stories (taboo, the oa, westworld, 3%, etc… that can be told there and the wider canvass that it allows.)

The Counselor Discussions in Split

Throughout the entirety of the movie we are given detailed insight into the character of The Horde via counseling sessions with Dr. Karen Fletcher. And I have to point out, Dr. Fletcher is not, by any stretch of the imagination maintaining the necessary distance from her patients in order to allow her the ability to assist them. Dr. Fletcher has basically adopted her patience in lieu of having a family. Which basically leads to her own demise.

But I will say that the conversations that we get between Fletcher and Barry… or shall I say Dennis… really shed fascinating light (see what I did there?) on Kevin and the different personas and how they work. But the most interesting thing that we see play out it is watching Dennis ACT like he is Barry. And the larger reasons as to why he is doing that. Which, is because the triumverate of Patricia, Dennis and Hedwig, and how they are protecting the Beast as much as they can. Keeping everyone, including Dr. Fletcher away from the truth. But notice though, that Dr. Fletcher is on to Dennis from the beginning. And so was I actually. Even a visit before she mentioned it I was like… that isn’t Barry. The tells are all Dennis!

One other important detail the Dr. Fletcher is onto early on is the fact that she is piecing together that maybe MPD is actually a way for the mind to overcome physical ailments and physical limitations. Which, I have to say, the movie sort of threw me at first. Why is there an argument about whether personality disorders exist? They are widely understood. But then I realized what they were arguing about was the mind’s ability to overcome this physical state of limitation. And throughout the movie Night gives us more and more detail and more information to support the case that various personas are in fact physically different.

Split Story Deep Dive

There were so many critical, yet small, details in this movie, I just know that I am going to have a near impossible time being succinct. But I will try my best. The beginning is a fantastic setup to the three girls that will be abducted as they stand and wait for Casey’s uncle to arrive (oh my gosh… yeah, just realized that was who she was waiting for). But he isn’t coming. So one of the dads agrees to give Casey a ride home.

Dennis is obviously the persona that abducted them as he uses protection for his hands as he touches things. He picks up trash and gets rid of it. Not to mention, he admitted to abducting them later. Dennis drugs all the girls, and when they wake up, it’s Casey that has her head about her. And she let’s them know that attacking Dennis is a horrible plan and that, “I’ll let you know when I hear something that makes sense. We don’t even know what this is yet.”

So early on, we have three veins to this movie that are unveiling in parallel. We have the three girls that are locked up. We have the conversations with Kevin and Dr. Fletcher. And finally, we have the backstory of Casey and her own trauma that sheds light on her own story.

Dennis – “Patricia has reminded me that I was sent to get you for a reason, that you are sacred food, and that I promise not to bother you again.”

Which makes the audience, and the girls, wonder… what the heck is he talking about? Sacred food? What could he possibly be talking about? Well, we know now that he was referring to the Beast, who wants to eat the girls. But at this point in the movie we are left wondering if there are 23 personalities or if there really are 24. Could it be that they are lying?  I did love the way in which Casey tried to play Hedwig by telling him that next time The Beast is wanting a boy, and so Dennis is going to give Hedwig to the Beast. Which, if Hedwig was thinking at all, he’d realize that the Beast would basically be eating himself. Hahah. But it was a valiant effort for Casey to even try.

But if we are curious as to why these girls have been taken, we get our answer from Dennis as he talks to Casey about what exactly caused him to abduct them: “You’ve always been protected you’ve never really suffered. That’s why You were chosen. You’ve always been asleep. You never had a chance.” So, the thought is that they’ve never been abused? That’s why they were chosen? They were innocently naive?

Speaking of which, I adored the interaction between Hedwig and Casey as she tries to get him to take her to his room to get to the window he had mentioned. To get him to trust her she says, what if I tell you something and you can tell me if I am lying…  “I like getting in trouble at school on purpose. Mainly so that I can be sent to detention. So I can be alone.” Which speaks to a larger trauma, some deep seeded pain caused in her past. And we know from her flashbacks from her childhood that something terrible was happening. But it is only later on that we learn that her uncle is sexually and physically abusing Casey. Which is critically important to the ending.

As the story continues on and all the girls are separated Casey gets Hedwig to show him a walkie talkie, which hints at maybe where they are? Somewhere near a place that uses walkie talkies? And as we learn later, they are in a zoo basement cellar type location. But by then Casey knows that she only has a few hours left before the Beast arrives.

“Put your hands together in contrition. We will find our passion in the sun we will find our purpose. I read it on a sympathy card in a super market. I liked the sound of it. Dennis will explain the meaning of this evening. The beast is a sentient creature that represents the highest order of human evolution, and he believes that the ordinary time of human existence is over. I hope that will make you calm. You will be in the presence of something greater.”

As Casey is awaiting her fate with the Beast she screams and remembers back to the time when she pulled a shotgun on her uncle John. And this, without a doubt, is possibly the most disturbing scene in the film for me. The Beast eating the girls seems too comic book to be real. But Casey holding the gun on her uncle John? That was a very intense scene. And I wanted very badly for Casey to blow her uncle away. Like badly. And that she didn’t? Oh that was beyond disturbing to me. Which leaps us forward to the meaning of the ending…

The Conclusion of the Movie Split

Dr. Fletcher received 20 emails from one of Kevin’s Personas attempting to get help. Which had been happening all movie long. But this time, it seemed much more urgent. And so Dr. Fletcher gets a ride out to where the emails told her to go and meets Dennis and really gets on his good side by telling him that she thinks they are extraordinary. And, because that is what the Beast has been saying to them all along, she is invited in.

Dennis “The beast is real – he’s just emerged. He’s tall. Muscular. He believes we are extraordinary. You say the same things. He’s on the move.
Dr. Fletcher “What does that mean? Eating of the impure young?
Dennis “Sometimes there is just no other way.”

Dr. Fletcher discovers Claire, locked in one of the closets, and ends up drugged and locked up herself as a result. A few minutes later the Beast says, “Thank you Dennis”, referring to Dennis’ yielding of the light to him. And he is standing at the floral shop, and then he heads to the subway station and leaves them their on the platform floor. Then he comes running back to the hideout and breaks Dr. Fletchers back and then kills her.

Meanwhile Casey breaks out of her room and then starts going through the computer in the next room. She watches several video diary entries of the various personas and realizes that the keys to the room are under Hedwig’s hat. Quickly Casey realizes that the Beast has killed Marcia and was in the process of eating Claire. And when Casey comes to the room with Dr. Fletcher in it, she discovers the note with Kevin’s name on it: “Say Kevin Wendell Crump… that is his name.”  And so, as The Beast comes for her she says his name and The Beast flips out and Kevin comes to the surface. “Who are you, what’s happening? Did I hurt you? Dr. Fletcher?!? I was on a bus, I don’t remember – it’s September 18th, 2014 right?” And then Kevin tells Casey to go and get the shotgun he purchased and then get the shotgun shells and to kill him. And then Kevin is thrown back out of the light and numerous other persona’s come to the forefront before she runs to get the shotgun, and then runs to get the shells… which is when the Beast bites her leg.

“Your gun cannot hurt me. Kevin is a man, I am much more.” Then Casey eventually shoots the beast twice in the chest with the shotgun and he is only stunned. Then the Beast bends the bars to the cage she’s locked herself in. And as the Beast is about to kill her he sees the scars and the pain caused by her uncle and stops cold.

“The broken are the more evolved… REJOICE!”

Then The Beast leaves, and Stacey is found by a zoo employee and taken out to the police. And one of the final scenes is the policewoman telling Casey that she has called her uncle and they were waiting for him to arrive. There is one more scene immediately after the conclusion title scene – but I’ll get to that thread in a moment.

Outstanding Questions from the movie Split

Why didn’t Casey kill her uncle as a child? That was a big deal to me. But we know the answer to that, and pretty clearly. The reason is because Casey is the broken. She is the more evolved. She is the downtrodden. That doesn’t mean that Casey won’t kill him in the very near future. (Please see my discussion of the origin story in a second).

Possibly one of the biggest questions that I couldn’t answer immediately while watching this film was why did the Beast buy flowers? And more importantly… why did he place them on the platform of the train? Did Kevin’s mother commit suicide there? They were to commemorate something or someone. For sure. But who? Possibly the best answer is that this was the same line that created Mr. Dunn into a super hero in the movie Unbreakable. But to understand that bit I think we first must jump over to this bit…

The Split As Origin Story

If you walked into this movie completely blind – like absolutely unaware of what you were walking into – this next bit is going to come as a shock. But Split? It’s actually an origin story for a totally different movie that M. Night Shyamalan will be doing in the future. It’s an origin story for a sequel to another M. Night story that was really quite fantastic. Kevin, or Horde as he becomes known at the end of the movie, is actually the new bad guy for a sequel to the movie Unbreakable. Did you see the scene in the diner with the news report talking about the crime and the details and how it was similar to that one story with the guy in the wheelchair? Yeah, they are referring to Unbreakable. And instead of Samuel Jackson, we will have James McAvoy bringing the pain as Horde. Make sense? David Dunne (Bruce Willis) is there in the Diner watching the news story and now we can all eagerly await the next movie in the Unbreakable series…

Now, the question I asked above about the flowers on the station platform. Remember the subway crash that happened and hundreds of people died? But Dunn didn’t? Yeah, what if he laid the flowers there to commemorate that event? Also, did you notice that he took off his shirt inside the subway car and transformed there as well? Maybe it was an homage to Unbreakable both overtly and covertly. It makes sense to me anyway.

So, if Split is actually an origin story, some of the open ended threads of this movie make a lot more sense. Casey wasn’t able to kill the Beast… but that’s because we need David Dunne to come and rescue us all from the Beast. If the Split is an origin story, then we will definitely get another crack at Casey’s uncle… and I actually guarantee the actor, Brad William Henke, is already signed. Along with Bruce. Along with James McAvoy. 

I adored this movie. It was a great thriller and a whole lot better than a ton of M. Night’s other movies. And I’m excited to finally get him back again and back in shape! What did you guys think of the movie? Did you have any questions or points that I missed?

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12 Responses

  1. Yara

    Great review.
    But I think the ones who bought the flowers were Patricia and Dennis as they were exchanging the light. I think they bought the flowers to welcome the beast.
    As for the train platform, in one of the session with Dr Fletcher where she was trying to make Dennis admit he’s actually Dennis and not Barry, she said the things they believed about the beast and mentioned something about the beast existing “in a train hall where Kevins’s father left on a train”
    So maybe his father just walked out on him and left on a train? Or maybe his father died in the train accident from “unbreakable”? Who knows 😀
    Also there’s another open thread about the fact that Hedwig “stole” the light from Barry that’s why Patricia and Dennis are allowing him to stay.. How did he steal it from Barry? Is it really true it was because of Hedwig that Barry lost his leadership and right to allow whoever he wanted into the light?

    I did enjoy this movie but as a doctor I gotta say Dr Fletcher made some really naive and stupid mistakes that got on my nerves so much 😀

    Can’t wait for the following part

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Yara,
      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I loved your thought here, “So maybe his father just walked out on him and left on a train? Or maybe his father died in the train accident from “unbreakable”? Who knows” Totally. If he had died in that train accident then that would tie everything back together again.

      If you are a doctor, I would love to hear your opinion of the show The OA! Oh MY GOSH. hahahahah. Dr. Hap much? Wow. I did an episode by episode walk through of that brilliant train wreck. Good times.

      Well thanks for swinging by Yara!
      Taylor

      Reply
  2. Happy Pancake

    The two most distressing scenes for me occurred when Casey was in cars. When Dennis first gets in the sedan and Casey sees that it’s not the other girl’s dad – she knows she is in the presence of someone frightening, and we know it by the tears welling in her eyes and by her initial frozen-in-the-headlights response. I wanted her to say something to get the other two girls attention as they continued to gawk at their phones. I wanted her to open the car door. I wanted her to smash him in the face. Of course, we later learned that she was conditioned over years to keep quiet in frightening situations.

    Similarly, at the end of the movie, Casey was waiting in the police car, and the officer tells her that her uncle has arrived and asks if she’s ready to go. Casey’s eyes well up again, and the wait is interminable as the camera goes back and forth between Casey and the officer. I wanted to scream at the screen: tell the officer “my uncle rapes me”! If left us hanging. Will she or won’t she?

    We certainly learned that Casey learned many things from surviving her abuse. She is canny. She took her time to learn about her captor’s motives rather than make a 3 v 1 dash at the door. She looked for weaknesses and details about him and about her location. She gave the other girl advice just as said girl was being dragged out of the room “Pee on yourself,” having learned that from her own experience and noting her captor’s OCD. She wasn’t physically strong enough, old enough or experienced to stand up to her uncle as a small child, but here, she is again a ‘new’ victim and this time, she is. She drew wisdom from her life experience to promote a different outcome. So, in the seat of the police car, I am hoping desperately that she can/will draw wisdom from this captivity experience to promote a different outcome with her uncle. TELL THE OFFICER.

    Reply
    • ELIAKIM McKnight

      Real good observations on the conditioning she’d received as a child from her uncle, and her reaction in the car at the beginning. I can’t remember, but I believe she teared up before she shot the Beast, and even when the Beast relented she was in a defensive position ready to fight on. I believe that bit indicates she will use this chance to report her uncle. Even the advice to pee on yourself and your insight on that I didn’t recognize right away!

      Reply
  3. ELIAKIM MCKNIGHT

    Good review, some things to add.

    The flowers, we’re symbolic as his dad left him to his mother’s abuse by train…DID or MPD evolves as a coping mechanism for trauma. His trauma can be traced back to the train, where the Beast is also born. I believe they commemorate this connection.

    I believe that our time with Casey is done, I mentioned in another comment the subtle hints that I feel resolve her story to this point as trauma in this universe doesn’t indicate EVERYONE will become super powered. Only that the Beast believes they key to unlocking your full potential is via truama…the beauty is in her scars she has healed and still fights to live. The Beast has Darwinesque views, but his origin story allows you to understand why he’d have so many personalities to cope with so much trauma for so long so you have sympathy for how he was made and you empathize. Then he loses you because he wants to inflict pain on others to have them ascend as he has. Beast is an appropriate name, as he inhabits the nasty features of his abusers. And physical skills the animals he’s around one of his personalities shows clarity in understanding.

    Reply
  4. ELIAKIM MCKNIGHT

    I take it back about Casey’s story being done. A post at reddit quickly changed my mind. It could’ve been a dual origin story for her and the Beast. Like in Unbreakable a villain and hero were both born that day. If Casey is evolved, her appearance and the Beast could’ve happened at the same time just like Mr. Glass and David Dunn.

    Beyond that, super hero names…Peter Parker, David Dunn, Jessica Jones, Casey Cook, Bruce Banner…see what I mean.

    Reply
  5. Connor

    hey this was really interesting, thanks for posting . one question, who was she talking to on the radio? who was on the other end? i cant find an answer anywhere.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey Connor,
      Nothing definitive in the movie anywhere… BUT, it’s easy to guess. Right? We know at the end that they were at a zoo. And it would logically follow that it was probably one of the zoo employees. No? The Walkie was probably nicked from a guy on the grounds, or found and taken? And it’d have to be close to pick up the chatter.

      Thoughts?
      Taylor

      Taylor

      Reply
      • Connor

        that makes sense however why wouldnt they be alarmed at here genuine cries for help; and it seemed if anything he found it sickly amusing

      • ELIAKIM MCKNIGHT

        Nope, they answered that….it was a blink and you’ll miss it moment. When she is found by the other employee towards the film’s conclusion they head outside and see the security guard at the gate post. The black man who makes the big ooooh shit face and Casey glares at him because they both realize that’s the guy I spoke too, and he’s like they weren’t joking after all oh my God.

        If they take her the least bit serious the whole movie isis entirely different. They both r ought closure to that moment

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