Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film. Over the course of its story, teenage girls are brutally attacked, watch their friends die, and get both their entrails and strategically sexy parts of their clothing ripped to pieces by a monster. The characters are one-dimensional and unrealistic, nothing more than plot devices. It’s basically your generic B-movie, except for one very crucial difference: The monster isn’t the result of a science experiment gone horribly wrong or a supernatural demon. The “monster” is a person with DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Honestly, saying ‘person’ is a bit of a stretch as Shyamalan never treats Kevin, our monster, with any shred of humanity. In Shyamalan’s vision of mental illness, Kevin doesn’t get to be a person. Every other character, no matter how flat, has a life outside of the horror narrative. Kevin’s entire existence, in contrast, is that of brutal violence and little else. Shyamalan robs him of any real agency long before he transforms Kevin into “the Beast,” a depraved supernatural being – a literal monster.
This dichotomy is the heart of Split: in one corner, we have the normal human people such as the bubbly suburban girls and the self-interested therapist. In the other corner, we have monsters with DID. Within the Horde system (yes, that’s really what Kevin calls himself), headmates with visible symptoms of OCD and PTSD are also portrayed as sadistic and volatile. No one with a mental illness in this movie is shown as nice or normal.
Real people with DID battle a cloud of ignorance and fear. We are treated as dishonest, juvenile, and unstable threats. If someone finds out you’re plural, the responses range from dismissive to outright hostile. Living with DID means constantly monitoring your actions to keep yourself safe.
As I write this, every survival instinct urges me to delete this entire piece. I can count the number of singlets (people without DID) who know I’m plural on one hand. The only way I can publish this is with the promise of anonymity. I am terrified of what would happen if my employer knew, despite the fact that having DID has zero effect on how well I do my job. I am terrified of a mental health professional finding out, as an official diagnosis of DID risks surrendering any control over my life. That is, if the therapist even believes my system exists at all. I am a child, a liar, or a monster. I am never a human being.
Movies like Split trade on sensational imagery of DID and position us as nightmares, not people. If we’re creatures of the shadows, we are only there because we have been pushed into these dark corners. We deserve to tell our stories: include the voices of the marginalized in your media or don’t write about us at all.