Bickering families are ugly, whether they’re blood kin, feuding gods and goddesses, or archetypes all scrambling for a place in the sun. In Split, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a man named Kevin (James McAvoy), who has dissociative identity disorder, is the vessel containing 23 personalities, a bit like someone wielding a multiple dog-walking leash with nearly two-dozen creatures pulling in opposite directions.
The story begins with one of these personas, the meticulous Dennis, kidnapping three teenage girls: Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose flashbacks clearly validate her penchant for getting into trouble at school. In their jail-like digs, the terrified teens get a sense of who and what their dealing with, as other personas (all portrayed by McAvoy) introduce themselves.
We also become acquainted with Barry, a fashion-designer type, mainly through sessions with a motherly therapist (Betty Buckley). An expert in multiple personality disorders, she believes that thoughts can change body chemistry and that Kevin’s personas might actually have the power to unlock the brain. “Is this where our sense of the supernatural comes from?” she asks.
The “thriller” part of Split focuses on whether the therapist – intent on unraveling the power games played by two of the personas, which has led to the marginalization, ridicule and diminished self-worth of the others – can learn more about a new personality, The Beast, in time to save the girls.
However, the depth of the movie is its jam-packed, Jungian sweep. Archetypes – those expressions of certain patterns known to all cultures – ideally co-exist, harmoniously, within the psyche. Kevin’s battling, archetypal alter-egos of child, scholar, artist, organizer and disciplinarian, among others – unique Saturnine identities – prove otherwise. In other words, what’s not embraced and integrated within the psyche turns into a figurative Beast, ripe for projection onto others.
Underground captivity is often a solid metaphor for Hell, a locale that works especially well here here. The film’s kidnapping scene evokes the Plutonic archetype of absolute power tied to the abduction of Persephone, the mythic teen who undergoes transformation of her identity in the pit. Although Casey’s flashbacks – Persephone is no stranger to her – suggest she might have the tools to make it through the ordeal, it’s the outcome of this deadly trap that will likely give her the tools to move forward. Hell, if you descend deeply enough, is where the treasures are. And Beasts who’ve made the descent to the Great Below are smart enough to realize that purifying fire makes even intended victims untouchable.
Archetype: Alter-egos. Persephone.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ ♇ (Saturn, Pluto)