Explainers

‘Split’, Explained

July 18, 2018
23 min read

Our favourite kind of movies are the ones that end in a twist that no one saw coming. And M. Night Shyamalan is the kind of filmmaker who thrives on these twists, ‘Split’ being his latest entry. When he made ‘The Sixth Sense’, he set a new definition for twist endings, but after that, he couldn’t really live up to the status he had created for himself. Until now. After a series of films that turned to be quite disappointing, especially ‘After Earth’, Shyamalan tried to make things right by making ‘The Visit’ and producing the sci-fi drama ‘Wayward Pines’. And now, he is back in the groove by making the critically and commercially successful ‘Split’.

Split, A Summary

Three girls are abducted by a man who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder. As they try to figure out their way around his different personalities, they are unaware of an imminent threat that looms on the horizon for them. All they know is that if they don’t find a way out soon, they will become food for something. The central attraction of this film is James McAvoy who played the role of Kevin and his many personalities. McAvoy has always been one of my favourite actors, and after this film, well, words aren’t enough!

Before we delve further into the deep recesses of this story and all that it entails, I must warn you, you DO NOT want to be spoiled for this. TRUST ME! SPOILERS AHEAD, ETCETERA!

The Curious Case of Kevin Wendell Crumb

When Kevin was just a child, his father left him and his mother. He went on a train and never came back. After his father’s disappearance, his mother became a bit unstable. She became abusive towards him and used excuses to lash out on him. For example, she wanted him to keep everything spotless. If he didn’t, he was punished. With the loss of his father and the constant tyranny of his mother, Kevin underwent a mental process where to deal with different circumstances, he developed different personalities. What all he went through and what all he suffered in his life is unknown to us. But for someone who developed 23 personalities, it wouldn’t have been so easy.

From the two-minute scene that we got with Kevin, we can tell that he is horrified by his actions, and so, he requests Casey to kill him. The worst thing for Kevin is that he isn’t in control of his personalities. He is helpless about who shows up when and for how long. Given the fact that he hasn’t been in control of his body for about two years, we can see that Kevin isn’t one of the dominating personalities.

It is sad to see that after being suppressed by his mother for so long, he has fallen prey to the dominance of other personalities. The only way to bring him back is to call out his full name, Kevin Wendell Crumb. The reason for this being his safe-word(!) is a bit sad, too. In his flashback, we see his mother ready to whip him for making a mess, calling him out with his full name. So, in the end, his mother still holds control over him.

Kevin is a good guy, and honestly, so are most of his personalities. At least 20 of them. These personalities are varied, they are talented- some with a great sense of fashion (Barry) and others with a deep knowledge of History. They are different in their postures, their IQs, their interests, even in their sexual orientation, but they are all there to protect Kevin. This is pretty evident from the scene when Kevin asks Casey to kill himself, other personalities quickly take control and try to make things right. This tells us that Kevin has been through some pretty nasty situations and he needs someone to protect himself because, apparently, he hasn’t had someone like that in his life. So, all his personalities are an act of self-preservation. But how far will these personalities go to preserve him?

The Havoc of the Horde

Out of all the personalities, including Kevin, the ones we get to see the most are Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig. We don’t know how most of Kevin’s personalities developed, but we do know how Dennis came to be. Kevin’s mother kept a tight leash on him and punished him severely if he ever made a mess. Considering, he was just a child, he was prone to do it; hence, giving an excuse to his mother to beat him up. However, he soon understood that keeping things spotless wouldn’t get him into so much trouble, and so, came Dennis. Dennis was the guy in charge of keeping everything neat and clean. We can imagine that he must’ve come pretty early into Kevin’s life. He may even be one of his earliest personalities, and perhaps, this is why he is the strongest one. However, he wasn’t the one in control.

Barry, the gay fashion-designer, is one of the more composed personalities, “an extroverted leader”. He’s in charge of all the personalities and allows control to them turn by turn. And this seems to work well because this has brought stability into Kevin’s life. He has been in the same job for past ten years, so things must be going well. Well, they are going as well as they can for 23 people living in the same space.

For so many people living under the same roof, it is understandable that there will be differences of opinion and a fight for control. These personalities are in the same body, hence, imagining the conflict in Kevin’s head is practically impossible. All of the docile personalities seem to have accepted the leadership of Barry, and they all seem to function pretty well. But two personalities- Dennis and Patricia- seem to have a trouble. In fact, they’re the ones causing the trouble. And that’s why they were banned from control.

Unbeknownst to Barry, there is another personality that can take control of the light on will. It is Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy. Hedwig seems like one of the docile ones, given that he is a child, and maybe that’s why Barry, and the others, didn’t pay much heed to him while they were busy tackling Dennis and Patricia. He has recently been able to “steal the light” and this power of his brought him into the focus of Dennis and Patricia. Hedwig must have been the neglected one. He tells Casey that after the Beast comes, no one will ever make fun of him again. Dennis and Patricia played on this factor and brought him into their confidence. So now, when Hedwig takes control, he can transfer it to Dennis and Patricia, without the knowledge of other personalities.

In one of the recordings that Casey plays on the computer, Barry says that he feels like he is losing time. This means that the “stealing of light” has been going on for quite some time. Later, we find out that it wasn’t Barry who was visiting Dr Fletcher, it was Dennis. The signs were there all along, though.

When we first see him, disguised as Barry, visit Dr Fletcher, he is constantly correcting the position of things, like a book on the bookshelf, a showpiece on the table, the box of chocolates. And then he pitches the idea of looking after themselves after the doctor is gone. If you keep a close eye, you can see the clear hint of Dennis in Barry. How his expressions change and his voice drops; how when it feels like the mask is slipping, he quickly picks up the pitch and goes back to being Barry. He even opens the door using a handkerchief. There are small ups and downs and slight variations in the way he holds himself that we can see his true identity. And if this doesn’t display McAvoy’s acting talent, then what does?

The Beauty of the Beast

But why were Dennis and Patricia banned from taking control? It looks like they believe that there aren’t 23 personalities, rather 24. This 24th one, whom they call the Beast, will be the strongest of them all. It will have an impenetrable skin, the ability to crawl on the walls, and superhuman strength. Since all of Kevin’s personalities manifested after he went through something, it is only logical that there is a reason for the Beast’s existence. We didn’t exactly get to know why or how the Beast came to be, but there is a good chance that it was because of Dr Fletcher.

Dr Fletcher is pretty dedicated towards her work and her patients, so much that she “chose them as a family instead of taking a more traditional path”. She is very much intrigued by the changes a person undergoes when they switch personalities. Just as in Kevin’s case, we see that different personalities have different body languages, different accents, and they all think differently.

When he becomes Hedwig, he becomes prone to manipulation, he thinks and acts like a 9-year-old would, and he has the strength of a kid. When Casey and Marcia hold the door while Claire tries to escape through the vent, Hedwig tries to open it but fails to. But the next moment, when Dennis takes control, he easily overpowers their efforts and opens the door. Moreover, in the form of the Beast, he opens a locked door without much effort. Thus, for a different personality, there is basically a different person.

Dr Fletcher strongly believes that Dissociative Identity Disorder is not as much an anomaly as it is a step towards evolution. While talking to a fellow doctor and while attending the seminar, she puts forward this theory. She talks about how these people can change their body chemistry at will. How a blind girl developed other personalities who could see. She attributes this change to the will of the person suffering from DID. She believes that these people can bring about these changes in their body because they want to. Obviously, she has expressed these views to Kevin/his personalities. Dr Fletcher says that “they are what they believe they are.” In the end, when the Horde is marvelling at the powers of the Beast, Patricia says, “We are what we believe we are.”

Considering these instances, two things become pretty clear. First, the personalities believed that they needed someone stronger to take care of themselves. Second, through Dr Fletcher’s views, they were convinced that something supernatural, something above the normal humans can exist if they believe it does. This means that they were inspired to conjure the personality of the Beast through Dr Fletcher’s thoughts and their surroundings. The characteristics of the Beast, as the TV reporter said, was “an amalgam of the various animals in the zoo”. The Beast requires sacrifices of the “impure” souls and believes that the people who have suffered in life are the pure souls and that the world belongs to them. The ones who haven’t known the suffering “are asleep” and they don’t deserve the world. The criterion for purity comes from Kevin’s troubled background.

The Broken are the More Evolved

Kevin has obviously had a very troubled life. Starting from his childhood, he lost his father and had to live with an abusive mother. He must have started developing personalities early in his life, and this would have only added to his problems. People would have made fun of him due to this, and it only escalated his problems, giving rise to new personalities in the process. So, it is understandable if one of Kevin’s personalities holds a grudge against the people who have never suffered in their lives, who have never struggled or been ridiculed, who have always looked down at someone who’s going through some sort of pain. He knows how strong you have to be to go through certain situations in your life, and that’s why he believes that the ones who are broken are stronger, more evolved.

Dr Fletcher mentions an incident where Barry told her that one day when a school was on a field trip, two girls played a prank on him. While it might have been a fun dare for two schoolgirls to get his hand under their shirts on their breasts, it wasn’t so good for Kevin. He had been abused as a child and this incident brought back those memories for him. This gave another proof to him that people who have easy lives will never understand the pain that others have to go through. He believes that they lack the awareness to comprehend such situations, and this is exactly why they are lesser than the ones who have gone through these things. Perhaps it was because the schoolgirls played a prank on him that he decided to abduct schoolgirls.

A theory considers that it might have been Claire and Marcia who played the prank on him, and that’s why abducted them. However, there is the thing that Casey and Marcia are from Philadelphia, while the girls on the school trip were from Camden, New Jersey.

What’s Up with Casey?

Right from the start, it becomes clear that the targets were Marcia and Claire. Casey just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Dennis had been watching the two girls for a couple for days and their abduction was planned. There were two beds in the bunker, and before we are introduced to Patricia, we can hear Dennis and Patricia arguing, she asks “Is SHE in there?” And when the girls cry out for help, she asks, surprised, “how many are there?” This means that abducting Casey was not the part of the plan. Perhaps this why, Dennis quickly sprayed the girls in the backseat, while he took his time to process Casey’s presence. Also, if he knew anything about Casey, he wouldn’t have abducted her.

On the note that Dennis took his time to knock Casey unconscious, we have another thing to process. Casey knew something was wrong as she kept glancing in the rear-view mirror. And she saw Dennis before the other girls, she saw him clear the wrappers and she watched him as he calmly put on a mask and sprayed the girls. So, with all this time on her hand, why didn’t Casey switch to flight mode, instantly. Why did she keep watching Dennis while he did everything? A pretty stupid thing to do, huh? Well, think before you speak.

Throughout the flashbacks in the film, we see Casey’s backstory. Casey had a close relationship with her father who used to take her hunting. We also meet her uncle who seems a cool guy at first, as he tells funny stories and joins them on their hunting trip. But from one particular scene, and a very disturbing one at that, we understand that the uncle has been abusing Casey since she was a little girl. What’s worse is that after her father’s sudden death, the uncle became her guardian. How many times she has been abused in the past years (which could very easily be about 8-10 years) is unimaginable. In fact, we see her point the shotgun at her uncle after he apparently harassed her, but she is unable to pull the trigger.

So, if she saw a strange man in the car who attacked his fellow girls and she didn’t do anything is because she froze. While many people consider that fight or flight is the first reaction that comes out when you find yourself in such a situation, they should know that many-a-times people simply freeze before they consider their options. Especially for someone who goes through such a thing on a regular basis in her life with neither fight nor flight being a viable option, it is understandable why she froze. This also explains that while the other girls were freaking out, why Casey was so calm and composed.

When Dennis was taking Marcia away, Casey told her to pee on herself. At first, it looked like she had read into Dennis’ OCD for cleanliness and understood that if Marcia was soiled, he wouldn’t touch her. But this seems a bit of stretch after just one encounter. The more plausible explanation is that Casey knew this trick because she had tried it out herself and knew that it would work.

When Claire suggested they “go crazy” on him, adding that she knew a bit of karate, Casey backed out. Casey knew that Dennis was stronger than them and that it would be foolishness to make him mad by trying to attack him. Perhaps, at some point, she had tried to fight her big, strong uncle and figured that their current situation would pan out similarly. It also answers why she was dressed throughout the film while the other girls had to lose one-half of their clothing.

Dennis made them lose their clothes when he saw that they had been messed up, even if with a crumb. Casey was made to take off her shirt about 2-3 times, and every time, she had something underneath. It is because she wanted to hide the marks on her body. While some of them could have been self-harm marks, most of them looked like her uncle’s doing. Because Casey didn’t want people to see it, she wore full-sleeved t-shirts to keep everything well covered.

A person on Reddit noticed another detail that could attribute to Casey wearing so many clothes. When we first see her uncle luring her to himself, he tells Casey to come and play the game of being animals. He asks her to take her clothes off, because “animals don’t wear clothes”. After everything he’s done to her, the uncle is no less than an animal for her. And she wears extra clothes because deep in her psyche, it is rooted that the more clothes she wears, the farther she will be from being an animal.

Hence, through her troubled past, Casey had learnt to read and tackle the situations accordingly. This is why she had more chances of surviving the whole ordeal. This is why she was stronger than Claire and Marcia. Oh God, was the Beast right, then?

In an Alternate Shyamalaniverse

Night Shyamalan is known for the twists he keeps up his sleeves. ‘Split’ was different than his other films because rather than just adding a twist, he left a few loose ends. Take, for instance, Casey’s fate. When we last saw her, she was tucked safely inside a police van, while a policewoman waited for her to respond after telling her that her uncle was there to pick her up. What did Casey do? Did she tell on her uncle and got him arrested?

It is quite hard to believe that after surviving everything that happened to her, she would still go back to her uncle. That after surviving the clutches of one animal-like personality, she would go back to her uncle who is no better. There are two things that seem possible right now. First, Casey got her uncle arrested and tried to leave her past behind. Second, she went back home and killed him. There was a Casey who couldn’t pull the trigger on her uncle. But after the events of the film, she has learnt to shoot the thing that is coming to destroy her. And so, hopefully, she finally got rid of him.

In the scene following this, we saw Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig marvelling at the Beast’s strength and making plans for the future. While this was a very impressive scene, owing, especially, to the incredible James McAvoy, it wasn’t the part of the original ending. Shyamalan had another scene in mind, and it was darker. However, it made the Beast’s intentions one-dimensional which didn’t serve the purpose of its existence. So, it was dropped out. In it, we see Kevin sitting on a roof and looking down at the kids coming out of a school. We hear Dennis say “look at all these unbroken souls”, to which Patricia responds, “such a waste”. CHILLS!

Hello, Bruce Willis!

Like a lot of people, when I saw Bruce Willis come out of nowhere to deliver a line with a cup of coffee, I was very confused. And ‘what the hell is Mr Glass?’ is what I thought, too. But for the people who knew what it meant, it was a BIG reveal. It was something no one saw coming in 15 years! Literally.

The thing is, in 2000, Shyamalan released a movie named ‘Unbreakable’. It was based on a man named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who discovers that he is practically unbreakable. He has never fallen ill, never broken a bone, and he survived the train crash that killed everyone but him. He meets a man called Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) who is his polar opposite. Price has a disease that renders his bones prone to breaking on the slightest of a hit. Due to this, he was named Mr Glass.

If you haven’t yet seen this film, then you should do it as soon as you finish reading this article! Because while you’re wasting your time, Shyamalan is out there making a sequel to ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’. It’s gonna be huge, and you don’t want to miss it. So, watching ‘Unbreakable’ is mandatory. Might as well do it ASAP.

Now, if you’ve seen the film, then, OH MY GOD, it brings so many things into perspective. For the unbreakable superhero, we’ve got an equally, in fact, more, formidable villain. Since both films have happened in the same universe, it also gives us a chance to try and tie the timelines of the stories, and pick on the subtle hints that Shyamalan had given in ‘Unbreakable’. Yes, ‘Split’ isn’t a recent idea, and no, it isn’t tied to ‘Unbreakable’ just for the sake of the twist. In fact, Kevin’s story was supposed to be the part of ‘Unbreakable’. After he accepts his superhero status, David saves a family from a man. This scene was supposed to feature three girls being rescued from a super-evil man. But Shyamalan decided that Kevin deserved his own story, and hence, the scenes involving Dennis and Patricia were cut out from the film.

Now that we know that Shyamalan knew what he was doing while making both of these films, we can pick up on a few details. In ‘Split’, it is shown that Kevin’s father went on a train and never came back. For a standalone film, it’d sound like the father abandoned him. However, we know that about 15 years ago, there was a huge train crash in which everyone died. Is it possible then that Kevin’s father was on the same train and never returned because he had died? This explains the flowers he takes to the station, before transforming into the Beast and why the Beast is said to reside in the train station. If this is true, then this would mean that not only did Mr Glass bring out the superhero in David Dunn, he also, unknowingly, paved a way for the creation of the supervillain.

Another detail worth mentioning, though on a purely speculative basis, is Kevin’s presence in ‘Unbreakable’. There is a scene where David is in a crowded place and every time he is touched by someone, he can see the crimes they have committed in the past. In the same scene, a woman passes by David with her son, and David senses that the woman has been abusing her son. Was that Kevin and his mother?

The Devil in the Details

By connecting ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’, and now making their collective sequel ‘Glass’, it looks like Shyamalan has successfully created his own universe. His own M (Night Shyamalan) CU, if you will! And with a great franchise comes the great responsibility of fine details. Here are some of the few connections between the two films, and other subtle minutiae:

  • Shyamalan was heavily influenced by the alliteration trend in the name of the superheroes like Peter Parker, Stephen Strange, Clarke Kent. So, he decided to do something similar to his characters. This is why we have David Dunn, Casey Cooke and Kevin Crumb.
  • The names of both the movies, ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’, are the polar opposites of each other.
  • Both the antagonists, Mr Glass and the Beast, are on the opposite spectrum of mental and physical strength. While Glass is weak physically, he has full control of his shrewd intellect. On the other hand, while the Beast is the epitome of physical strength, his mental condition is, well, split! In fact, something similar to this detail was already mentioned in ‘Unbreakable’. In the scene where David talks to Elijah’s mother, she says that Elijah believes that there are two kinds of villains. One who is physically strong and fights the hero with his hands. And the other brilliant one who fights the hero with his mind.

  • Hedwig tells Casey that he likes Kanye West’s music and even dances to it in front of her (epic scene, by the way). In Kanye’s first hit “Through the Wire”, there is a line in the middle that says, “I must got an angel, cause look how death missed his ass, Unbreakable what you’d thought they’d call me Mr” Wow? I know!
  • When Dr Fletcher receives a bunch of emails after which she goes to Kevin’s place to make sure if he is alright, the number of emails is exactly 20. All 20 of them were calling out for help.
  • In ‘Unbreakable’, Elijah Price tells David Dunn that for someone so unbreakable like him, there is someone else who is equally weak. This means that Price was the balancing factor for Dunn. Similarly, in ‘Split’, Casey was the balancing factor for Kevin and his personalities. Both of them went through similar trauma and abuse in their childhood, and both of them handled these situations in completely different manners. While Kevin broke down in 23 additional personalities, Casey held her ground, constantly learning from her experiences to survive further.
  • It is likely that in ‘Glass’ David Dunn, the superhero, and the Beast will come face to face with each other. This event is foreshadowed in a scene in ‘Unbreakable’. In one of the scenes, Elijah has a comic book. On the cover of that book, we see a good-looking superhero fighting a villain that closely resembles an animal, i.e., a/the Beast.
  • Both David and Kevin realised their true potential on a train. For David, it was after surviving a train crash, and for Kevin, it was changing into the Beast in a train.
  • In the last scene, as we switch from the Horde to the title card to the scene with Bruce Willis, the same music from ‘Unbreakable’ plays out. Sounded familiar, right?

  • With all these small hints and big twists, there was something right in front of our eyes, even before we had seen the movie, that pointed towards a connection between ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Split’. It was the poster! See how they align?

Read More: Get Out, Explained

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