Split: The Worst Portrayal of Mental Illness in Film?

Intro by Brandon

There are some movies that have great representations of mental illness. Grounded in reality, not used as a cheap plot device, and not harmful to already stigmatized communities. We will not be talking about one of those films in this episode. Today, we’re talking about the 2016 film Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and we have a lot to say about it.

This is a film about Kevin, a man with dissociative identity disorder whose alternate personalities cause him to kidnap, torture, and eventually devour some teenage girls. One of these girls is Casey, a teenager who knows exactly what to do in this situation because her uncle sexually assaulted her. I don’t know, take your questions to M. Night Shyamalan. This is a tense thriller that actually works on several levels. Unfortunately, there are also some problems with it that keep it from really accomplishing its goal.

From a mental health perspective, this is a dumpster fire of hot garbage and horrible shit. Shyamalan did just enough research to make Kevin believable as a patient with DID, but then made him a soulless killer with superpowers. As we talk about in this episode, this was not done out of ignorance. Shyamalan had the data, he knew what he was doing, and he was warned not to do this, and he chose to anyway. This is one of the first films we’ve talked about that not only has inaccurate stereotypes, but actively causes harm to the mental illness community.

So in this episode, we talk about how Shyamalan got it wrong, lay out some facts about DID, and talk about some stats on how the media influences public opinion on mental illness. All that and more coming up in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health.


Media portrayal of mental illness: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen_Platt/publication/249806569_The_impact_of_the_mass_media_on_public_images_of_mental_illness_Media_content_and_audience_belief/links/5a0abbc7aca272d40f4147b9/The-impact-of-the-mass-media-on-public-images-of-mental-illness-Media-content-and-audience-belief.pdf

Mental illness stigma: https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ps.52.7.953

Mental illness and violence/crime: http://www.mentalhealthcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/mentalhealthcenter.org_ebook_mental_illness_and_crime_print.pdf

Dr. Bethany Brand and interviews with her on DID and Split: https://bethanybrand.com/selected-media-interviews/

Dissociative disorders: https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders

Show Summary

General: Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a horrible supervillain origin story

B: First time seeing this; did some research, but still, the movie was so bad—much worse than I thought; made back over 30 times its production budget 

M: Second time; my pick—thought it would be good to talk about it because of how poorly it does to represent people with DID; not supposed to be about mental health—this is actually a super villain movie; second part of a three-part series; according to this movie, we would be OK at the end since we have self-harm scars!

Like: A decent thriller with some good performances

B: Performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy; Shakespeare in Love was worst

M: Entertaining; doesn’t feel like an M. Night Shyamalan movie; no twist at the end; Shakespeare in Love was worse

Dislike: Exploits teenage girls and mental illness

B: Exploitative of teenage girls; at the end, Beast says, “I am not human”; built on that bullshit premise that humans only use 10% of their brains and we just need to unlock the rest of it; ending seems tacked on because it wasn’t the original ending; Shyamalam’s inaction towards raising awareness about DID or trying to bring about positive awareness about DID

M: Cheesiest ending, particularly the part with Bruce Willis; very exploitative; makes me uncomfortable regarding the teenage girls’ roles; weird mention of Hooters; the writing

Mental Health: Straight facts on DID and the link between media and perceptions of mental illness

B: DID characteristics and its accuracy in the film; media coverage of mental illness is unsatisfactory, just like this movie; majority of people get their information about mental illness through films and documentaries, which makes it important to get these things right, because many people do, in fact, think that people with mental illness are inherently violent

M: Possible link between DID and Borderline Personality Disorder; mental health message are strange, like it suggests that trauma is something special and makes you great; Casey is positioned as “different” because she has mental illness and cannot relate to most other people; romanticizing mental illness 


M: If you have mental illness, either you’re a serial killer or you’re super creative and a writer and an artist—you’re never just a “regular” person.

Brandon said nothing intelligent in this episode

Next Film

Monster (2003)

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