Looking Back at 2010s Films: Split (2017)

12 Oct

james-mcavoy-split-image

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, for me, the best kind of film is the film you don’t expect to like/love as much. They’re far more interesting than the films you go in expecting to like/love, because with those films, they’re usually exactly what you expect to see, without much of a surprise. And those films keep people from coming back to them so often. But when other films contain twists and turns to keep the story coming and going, you can go back and rewatch those films with the knowledge you have from the first viewing and look at them in a different way. Maybe you’ll think less of them because things don’t add up as well as you thought, but then again, maybe you’ll like them even more because you know there’s more to discover and admire about them.

When it comes to M. Night Shyamalan, when he can succeed at this sort of thing, he can make some great films that get better the more you watch them. “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “Split”–these are four of Shyamalan’s films you have to watch more than once. (Even a few more viewings of “The Village,” which I know a lot of people hate, are worthwhile in order to understand it more.)

“Split” was a big risk for Shyamalan to take. He had to put total faith in his audience to stay with it all the way through to the end, even when things get head-scratchingly odd in the final act. And it apparently paid off, as the film was both a critical hit and a financial success. I get the feeling that it was a box-office hit because people had to see the film once, tell their friends to go see it, and then revisit the film to notice more hints and clues that point to the final story-twist making sense.

That’s what I did. And I have to admit, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t sure exactly where the story was going. But I stayed with it because I felt like it leading me somewhere, and I wanted to know where…

Much of the film is based on the idea that hasn’t been entirely scientifically proven about Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.), that one personality is so different from the others that it can take on physical traits that the others couldn’t handle or the personalities actually become who they think they are. As with similar movies like “Psycho” and “Fight Club,” “Split” isn’t to be taken too seriously–it’s just a thriller that has some fun with the concept. And in “Split’s” case, it’s about a man with 24 different personalities, one of which is a beastly killer known as The Beast. He feeds on those who don’t know true suffering, such as sheltered young people with no problems in the slightest, whom he declares as “impure.” Watching the film again, I realized this was a way to counteract for his host’s tragic abusive childhood (as hinted in a flashback late in the film).

I’m going to go into spoilers here, so SPOILER ALERT!!!

The Beast is real. It changes size, his veins bulge, he climbs walls, he’s super-strong, and seemingly can’t be destroyed–use a knife against him, the blade breaks apart; pelt him with a shotgun, it just barely breaks the skin. It kills (and eats) two of the three girls captured by The Horde (the personalities that serve The Beast’s purposes). Why doesn’t he kill the third girl, our main character Casey Cooke, even though her attempts to fight back are hardly successful? Because he can tell by the scars on her body that she knows what it’s like to understand pain and suffering whereas the other two were probably self-entitled rich girls who had everything go perfectly well for them up until now. By the end of the film, we have it figured out that Casey is often brutally assaulted by her uncle who took her in after her father died. (These are things that aren’t clearly explained, but we pick on them pretty easily.) So now, when Casey behaves the way she does throughout the film, we now understand why during the second viewing. She knows how to survive because she’s been going through this stuff for half of her life.

When she’s finally rescued and her uncle comes to pick her up, she has a look on her face that could read one of two things–either she’s going to stand up to her son-of-a-bitch guardian now that she’s faced unspeakable evil, or she’s going to report him to C.P.S. and be rid of him. Either way, I get the feeling she’s not going to take any more crap from him.

Having seen “Glass,” I was glad to find out that she’s living a happier life. Kudos to Casey!

I love “Split.” It gets better each time I see it, with new things to discover and think about. Shyamalan put a lot of passion into this project, and it didn’t backfire. He thought the whole thing through the same way he thought the story of “The Sixth Sense” all the way through, and it really shows! I haven’t even mentioned the thorough production design, the fitting cinematography, the chilling music score, or even James McAvoy’s brilliant performance in which he has to portray many different personalities with different facial expressions and body language. There’s a lot to this movie even before the big twist was revealed at the end (that “Split” is set in the same universe as “Unbreakable”) that fascinated me simply because it was made by a person who loves movies and respects his audience. I felt glad to see that Shyamalan was BACK in a major way, and um…I’ll talk about “Glass” sometime in the near future.

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