How M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split changed my life

Someone has to talk about abuse…

There is a hidden, unspoken world of abuse that coexists beneath the day-to-day. It can sometimes be discovered in the peculiar behaviours of the recluse. The subtle actions of someone stuck in a victim state tell a story; a blank stare, a permanent frown, a flinch to a gentle, innocent touch. These are little clues that few recognize and which are often disguised as introversion.

When you have not been loved appropriately, when you have been shown that your innocence can be extracted and leveraged for personal exploits, when the people who should love you do not, cannot or will not, then you know of the world of abuse and trauma.

I know these all too well and that’s why it didn’t take long for me to recognize this in Casey. No, not Casey as in me, Casey as in the main character of the movie, Casey Cooke. Weird huh? I know. Anyhoo… We first learn that Casey doesn’t fit in with her peers, as the birthday girl, Claire Benoit, describes it. Claire, a snobby yet sincere teen mocks Casey behind her back, unable to recognize that her oddities stem from years of abuse. Claire and her best friend Marica represent the average person and how they look at and respond to the world with a normal sense of action/reaction.

In my experience, victims often respond differently to stress, using their past experiences as a guide. The most intriguing part of the film is its grotesque delivery of a strong and powerful message – those who experience real pain, often come out stronger than the rest.

 

The film positions this cleverly; one abuse victim, Kevin or Barry becomes the sinister perpetrator, developing multiple personalities such as Dennis/Jade/The Beast, in reaction to a demonizing mother and other abuses from women.

On the other hand, the other abuse victim, Casey Cooke has a developed a submissive survivalist behavior that seems antagonistic to normal stress reactions experienced by the other two captures, Clair and Marcia. She doesn’t fight back, even in the moments where the odds are in her favour. Instead, she digs into the mind of her capture, almost as if she’s searching for a reason, an answer, or understanding.

Abuse can be so incarcerating that it feels as though you remain caged and victimized mentally. When the idea of rebelling scares you more than the actual abuse, your cage no longer needs to be physically present. As Clair and Marcia run away and fight back, Casey watches, obeys and waits for the her opportunity to escape without confrontation.

Her opportunity for escape comes at the crux of Dennis’s transformation into The Beast. When the audience is meant to understand that Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can have psychological and physiological manifestations in patients – In other words, you truly become what you believe you are. As the cannibalistic beast is released on the girls and their chances of being saved are literally crushed, Casey finally meets the animal who has mauled her co-captures to death.

This is Casey’s triumphant rebellion, except the beast does not die, two shotgun rounds to the chest barely penetrates his veined body. The beast’s superior strength is no match for Casey’s courage. She doesn’t come out a heroine, in fact, the beast lets her go out of a sense of mutual pain and understanding. If that weren’t frustrating enough, the beast escapes unharmed, and Casey is discovered and released into the custody of her first abuser.

Sorry no happy endings here. Abuse is a cycle with real effects and I think that’s what the movie is trying to show us. We can’t always understand it, it can consume us and alter our behavior. It is not so easily discovered or fixed, the effects of abuse create a persistent problem. There is no cure for DID, doctors still don’t fully understand it, we need to do better at understanding trauma and how humans respond to it.

After watching Split, I realized that there is a need for trauma research and understanding how trauma affects people. I want to go back to school to become better qualified about speaking about trauma and helping real people heal and escape from a victim mentality. I want to offer you quality courses and content on the topic and be a support figure. Wish me luck!

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  • Listening

    I’m usually excited to read your posts Casey. I came here to read up on how the movie changed your life, unfortunately all you did was give spoilers (without warning) to a movie that I was really looking forward to seeing. Good luck with your future endeavors.