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SPLIT - Analysis of the movie - a case of personality dissociation disorder

Atualizado: 21 de ago. de 2023

“Split” - Analysis of the movie - a case of personality dissociation disorder.

The movie 'Split', deals with the case of Kevin, a man with multiple personalities, and is the second movie of the trilogy of M. Night Shyamalan, after Unbreakable, released twenty years ago, and followed by Glass, which analysis are also available in my Blog.

This is not the first time that a movie has touched on this subject, being "Psycho" one of the best-known and acclaimed movie of this kind. “Psycho” is developed into a series available on Netflix, called "Bates Motel", where the original, and fictitious story of Norman Bates is told.

The dissociation of personality, as seen in the movie is rare, and many details of the movie have a cinematographic, rather than psychological, approach. The characters of the movie will be approached symbolically in this text.

The aim is not to extend the discussion on the subject, but to bring some enlightening considerations to the lay public, since I have received numerous questions about many details of the film, as well as the existence or not of such phenomenon.

The film features the kidnapping of three teenagers, two of whom were being observed by Dennis, one of the personalities. The third kidnapped girl was kidnapped by mistake, while hitchhiking with colleagues.

Kevin is the original personality, or as Jung calls it, the ego complex. Kevin features 23 personalities, each with distinct characteristics, with different ages, interests and behaviors, as if they were really 23 different persons. .

Kevin suffered abuse during early childhood, and developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD. Dennis is the personality who assumes the OCD, keeping everything neat and organized in an attempt to contain abuse and maternal anger, this seems to be the first post-traumatic stress dissociation of this case. Dennis emerges to protect Kevin, preventing his mother from unduly punishing him. Such behavior does not usually resolve the conflict, since abusive parents do not usually interrupt the abuse in the case of good behavior of the children. The abuse, or the aggressive and destructive character, is part of the personality of the adult, and the child is not the triggering factor of the abuse, but the innocent victim of a power relationship between naturally fragile children with adults, by the natural characteristic of childhood, where children need and depend on adults for everything.

Dennis seems to be the strong and responsible adult personality, who protects the helpless child from a hostile world. In a healthy personality, these characteristics would be recognized as resilience and would be naturally incorporated into the personality of the subject.

Another personality featured in the film is Patricia, a religious fanatic, who together with Dennis, is in control of all personalities. In addition is Barry, an existential crisis stylist, and Hedwig, a nine-year-old child. The other personalities do not appear in the movie, but Kevin has on his computer a link to each one of the identities. Symbolically, his computer is broken up into many consciousness 'windows' as he is broken up in many personalities.

The 'windows of consciousness' are symbolic referred to as 'light'. Each personality would have a chair, attempting an opportunity to sit under the light, that is, to access consciousness and have a life of its own.

The concept used in the film is the same as that used by Freud, who uses the symbolism of light to explain the difference between conscious and unconscious.

The film insinuates that Kevin could choose who would be in the light, which is false, not only in the film, but in reality. Each personality plays a defense mechanism that Kevin developed to survive the numerous abuses he endured throughout his life. Personalities function as autonomous complexes, which assume the command of consciousness according to the perceived 'dangers'.

The personalities are unsuccessful attempts to adapt and overcome abuse, and to complete separation of personality, psychosis itself.

Kevin has a very nice psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher. In fact, Dr. Fletcher is too sweet, overly sympathetic, overly enthusiastic about her patient's multiple personality phenomenon, fantasizing that multiple personalities would be a special, perhaps superior, human capacity.

Dr. Fletcher makes several mistakes during the process, one of which is to pay no attention to the negative transference, overvaluing the positive transference with some of the personalities. She also failed to credit the existence of the twenty-fourth personality, "The Beast," interpreting this possibility as a threat of attempted control that Patricia and Dennis were trying to exert on other personalities. This in itself would be an important warning, for in a case of personality dissociation the only personality who could actually take control; it would be Kevin. Kevin is the ego of the patient, who was fragile and dissociated, trying to avoid psychosis.

Psychological defenses are attempts of adaptation, as well as an important tool of defense against suffering. Freud describes the defensive structures, such as denial, sublimation, hysterical conversion, and many others. Such defenses try to preserve the ego, and avoid the rupture of personality.

Jung constructs the theory of complexes, and the ego is the main complex, called egoic complex, part of the psyche responsible for the cohesion of the personality structure, conferring the unique character of each personality.

We would all have, besides the ego, the persona, the shadow, anima and animus, depending on whether we are men or women, besides the archetype of the wise old man or wise old woman. In addition, the archetypes of mother and father would help in structuring the personality. The archetype of the mother would be predominant in the first years of life, structuring the care of the body itself and the primordial affective bond between the baby and the mother, or the person who cared for it. The archetype of the father is the archetype of order and logos, only to quickly summarize such complex and important concepts for the study of Jungian theory.

Kevin suffered serious abuse in his earliest childhood, and his development was drastically affected. Young children are not able to maintain order and cleanliness in the way that many adults would like, healthy children make mess, make dirt, not because they are poorly behaved, but because they have not yet developed enough to learn certain principles of hygiene and organization. Kevin had a super demanding, sadistic mother, capable of the greatest atrocities, if he did not behave according to her demands. The father has abandoned them, and the film does not make it clear what role Kevin’s father played in Kevin's education, but abandonment also characterizes abuse, further exacerbated by the abandonment of a defenseless child being at the mercy of someone who is clearly abusive.

Every abuser has an accomplice, either by action, or by omission.

Patricia is the only female personality that appears in the film, she is a religious fanatic, who prepares a purification ritual. Dennis is a pervert, who kidnaps girls to see them dancing naked. Patricia controls him, but for fanatical moral and religious issues. It transforms an adolescent perversion into a ritual of primitive religious purification. The abducted teenagers would be the ones who never suffered or were never abused those who were well treated, so they should suffer to purify themselves.

The ritual shows an attempt to elaborate suffering and abuse through a rite of purification that would not only justify Kevin's abuse but would turn the abuser into an emissary of a superior justice, in religious sense. The ritual is a quest for meaning for the heartbreaking suffering Kevin has endured in his life.

The search for meaning is a fundamental factor in Jung's work, and a necessary condition for the process of individuation.

Dr. Fletcher missed a key incident for the treatment, the abuse that Barry suffered from two female teenage students, who visited his workplace. Barry, who appears to be homosexual, is sensitive and delicate, and was disrespected by the two girls, who placed his hands on their breasts. Dr. Fletcher did not give the necessary importance to the case, but the incident re-activated the trauma, bringing "The Beast" to the forefront, since Dennis cannot protect the identities of this aggression.

When a trauma is reactivated, it can arise with more energy and fury than before, as if every attempt to elaborate the trauma, all resilience efforts would have ended, as when a limit is exceeded for the millionth time, and we say: that is enough!

What might have been regarded as a silly joke on the part of the teenager girls was the trigger of a primitive, irrational, uncontrolled rage.

"The Beast" is the darkest personality left with the role of hatred and revenge, but orchestrated by the religious delirium of Patricia, who controls Dennis and Hedwig.

According to Jung, anima is the part of the structure of the male personality responsible for loving relationships and for religiosity. Patricia prepares the girls for the purification ritual, combing their hair and sprucing them with flowers, while Dennis takes care of the captivity, planning the ritual of purification for the Beast.

Dr. Fletcher did not see that Kevin was having a psychotic episode, or saw it too late, already in the zoo.

Hedwig brings a slightly more playful character to the film, and almost makes us believe that he is innocent. He portrays Kevin in his pre-adolescence, trying to get close to the opposite sex, but totally dominated by Dennis and Patricia, just like an abused child so often identifies with the abuser, perpetuating the abuse.

During pre-adolescence and adolescence, the personality undergoes important transformations, re-reading the received education and relativizing the importance of the parents or adults to the adolescent. Probably the abuses continued to this stage of development, and Hedwig exists as a certainty that this phase has not been overcome, but fixed. The scene in which Hedwig takes Casey to his room, and dances for her, seems like something playful in the beginning, but what Casey sees in this dance scene clearly shows Hedwig's ambiguous nature, showing he also has a dark side, as the dark side of Patricia, Dennis and the Beast appeared in him.

The character of Anya Taylor-Joy, Casey, also suffered abuse in childhood, but at a slightly later age, and with a drastic difference to the formation of her personality, because her father appears in the film not only as a kind, protective father , but also a great companion and reliable, encouraging her capacity of observation and self-confidence. Abuse begins during a camp, by her uncle, who had already been ridiculed by her father at the diner scene. Casey was trained to be a hunter not hunt. She realizes the abuse soon after, and tries to shoot the abuser, her uncle, missing the target. Casey falls into the clutches of the abuser after her father's death, having perpetrated abuse in her life until the time of the kidnapping. She was kidnapped because her uncle did not pick her up at the party, where she was invited 'for education'.

Casey spent her life dealing with an abuser, and I disagree with the movie's criticism when it says the film emphasizes that abused women become stronger, almost saying that being abused could be good for a woman…

Casey is strengthened by the relationship with her father, who teaches her how to protect herself, and attributes her the role of the hunter, not the hunt.

She has learned to deal with the hostage situation, from being subjugated, and observes all the personalities as predators. She does not accept the condition of chase, and begins to try to establish a relation with the unique personality that seems possible for her to establish a relationship, Hedwig.

This behavior is fundamental because towards that she has access to the computer, and the testimony of several personalities, discovering the weapon and the ammunition. Her ability to deal with the situation of captivity and with the multiple personalities comes not only from the fact that she was abused, but also mainly from the structuring of her personality, arising from her relationship with her father.

Casey has her whole body cut, with many scars. Cutting is a common phenomenon in teenagers, rather than having the personality dissociated, she learned to disassociate herself from the pain, as well as to bear the pain.

Casey saw Kevin requesting for someone to kill him, in case he or one of the personalities become dangerous. The plan for Kevin’s assassination has been meticulously articulated, but Casey has no success in killing him. Many reasons could be raised for this, including a reason for the movie to have continuity, as usual for blockbusters movies, or the paranormal exploration of the "Beast" personality, that tries to be evoked during the movie. However, by carefully observing each personality presented in the film, there is no indication of suicidal tendency, quite the contrary, the survival instinct is getting more and more exacerbated, and the mechanisms of protection, increasingly well elaborated.

The kidnapping scene, the captivity itself, is in the zoo, where Dennis is responsible for the maintenance. I was asked about why the main scene of the movie takes place in a zoo. It seems to me that the symbolism of the animal beast mingles with the symbolism of personality number 24, "The Beast." All previous personalities were attempts of adaptation that did not take into account the hatred, the revolt, the vengeful thirst, which was repressed in Kevin's shadow, and repressed in the transference relationship with the psychiatrist, for Dr. Fletcher also repressed her own shadow.

Dr. Fletcher affirms to her neighbor that she fully believed in her patients. This is an indication that the psychiatrist is ‘inflated’, believing to have complete control of the situation.

The film is criticized for the sexualization of adolescents, but we cannot fail to consider that mistreatment and abuses of any kind, not just those of a sexual nature, affect the development of sexuality as a whole. Nor can we forget that Dennis had a perversion to see naked girls dancing, which was repressed by Patricia’s warning and the religious ritual of purification. All repression ends up escaping through the fingers, and the film is brilliant in showing that one personality has no control over the others. Only by the strengthening of the ego and trough the integration of the various aspects of Kevin's personality, including, and especially the more somber ones, as “The Beast”, could avoid the tragic end of the film. The integration of the shadow, and of all aspects of the individual personality is the analytical process per se.

Every analytic process deals with dissociations, although most of the time these dissociations have a lesser impact on people's lives, sometimes feeling toned complexes are activated, releasing a great load of energy or aggressiveness.

Every time we lose our heads in the traffic, or exploding for futile reasons, it is a sign that we have been taken over by some complex.

Jung says that we do not have complexes, the complexes have us, because they are autonomous and invade our consciousness when we least expect it.

The unprocessed shadow is loaded with complexes ready to present themselves at the slightest sign of annoyance or stress. "The Beast" can live in any of us, and I believe that the poetic license of the movie, where "The Beast" literally climbs the walls, corresponds to an expression well known to all, as synonymous with uncontrollable hatred. It is also known that emotionally uncontrolled people have a strength that looks superhuman, and that patients under psychotic outbreak need a large team to be restrained, usually relieved by drugs or psychological shock.

The scene in which Casey hits "The Beast" with the shotgun could be interpreted in many ways, among them, under the assumption that the ammunition was treated not to kill, but to frighten or alienate the aggressor, since the death of “The Beast” would imply the death of all personalities. Let us not forget that Kevin works in a zoo. The weapon could contain some element to contain fierce animals, because in a zoo, the specimens are very precious, and there is no intention of killing them, but of containing and preserving them and the persons’ lives.

We cannot forget one of the dialogues, where Dr. Fletcher does not know exactly which one of the personalities she is talking to. The personalities present in the session, among them Dennis and Barry are reassured by the psychiatrist saying she loves all personalities. This is signaling how much Kevin needs the other characteristics, the integration of other personalities, not their exclusion or negation, and the death of the Beast could not have been planned or desired by any of the personalities.

The Beast is believed to be immortal or endowed with super powers, but is unaware that the attack may have been just a "makeup", another survival trick.

It is important to say that all the personalities have a name; the only one who does not have a proper name is “The Beast”. It means the instinctive aspects of the personality assumed a new personality, but at this time, it was not human, as “The Beast” was the one who attacks the victims, the tool of aggressiveness and destruction, under the domain of Patricia and Dennis.

Dissociation aims at the preservation of the subject, in the most serious cases, as well as in the small dissociations to which we are subject in day-to-day life.

Bibliographic references

Freud, Sygmund - "Psychopathology of Daily Life", 1901

Jung, Carl Gustav Jung - CW VII "Two Essays of Analytical Psychology"

CW VIII "The Structure and Dynamic of Psyche"

CW IX "The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious"

The analysis of the first movie of the trilogy, Unbreakable is available here:


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