Why The Twist Ending Of ‘Split’ Is Quietly Revolutionary
So, I thought I’d give it some time to make sure plenty of the readers have had a chance to see the movie “Split.”
It is a M. Night Shyamalan film and like most of his films there is a twist ending and I have A LOT to say about it. As such, if you have not seen the film “Split” yet then just keep right moving along in your trek across the internet. Though feel free to come back after you’ve seen it. Oh and if it somehow wasn’t obvious… *SPOILER ALERT!*
You sit there and are watching this pretty good thriller about a man named Kevin (James McAvoy) with Dissociative Identity Disorder kidnapping three teenage girls with the intent to sacrifice them to his new 24th personality, The Beast. It turns out The Beast and everything the other personalities have been saying about him is true. Now some may consider the question of is he or isn’t he real to be a twist, but as the film goes on you realize there’s more. Kevin is checking his shotgun wounds from the final battle with the main character and I began to notice the score. Now the score up until this point had been effective, but nothing amazing. Then, at this moment I noticed something awfully familiar about the sound of it. “Hey that kind of reminds me of the “Unbreakable” score. “Wow M. Night, way to reuse music from your older movies.” As the scene continued I realized this wasn’t just similar IT WAS THE “UNBREAKABLE” THEME. “Wait where are they going with this?” Then the last scene starts in a diner and the theme is playing full blast as the customers watch a news report. One mentions aloud “This is like that crazy guy in the wheelchair that they put away 15 years ago. And they gave him a funny name too. What was it?” “Mr Glass” answers you guessed it… Bruce Willis as David Dunn. IT’S A SEQUEL TO “UNBREAKABLE!”
Holy crap that was awesome! First the obvious reason. After all these years we finally have a sequel to “Unbreakable.” You see it was originally written as a more traditional superhero film, but M. Night said he really connected to the first act with the David character discovering his powers and deciding to become a superhero. However, the next two acts of the story just never captured him the way the other story did. Shyamalan said that Kevin was from an earlier draft, but he could never quite make him work in the overall story. So he decided to take that first act with David and make it the entire first film with the other two acts being the sequels if he ever chose to do them. The decision was made for him as “Unbreakable” didn’t do great business at the box office. Some say we weren’t ready for what it was trying to do, others say the marketing just really misled the public. Whatever the reason it didn’t connect with audiences at first.
I’ll admit “Unbreakable” is one of those films that took me a few viewings before I really appreciated it. It’s a slow burn film and at first I thought it was too slow. A few issues like that kept it from achieving greatness. Today I think it’s one of his best films and many of the issues I originally had either just don’t bother me anymore or are why I enjoy it. Like most people, home video is what really allowed it to become the classic it is. People have been asking for a sequel for a long time. At this point I had given up hope. Every now and then either Bruce or M. Night would mention the possibility of a sequel and film websites would get all excited. Though nothing would ever come of it. I will say something now does make sense. I keep tabs on my favorite directors and despite some of his recent films I still considered myself a fan. Before “The Visit” was even in production I remember looking up on Wikipedia under his future projects section and seeing two movies he was going to do. One was “The Visit” with a description that seemed to stay the same. The other was a film with no description or title, but that Bruce Willis would be re-uniting with him. After “The Visit” got closer to release I checked to see if there was any new developments. Instead, the whole project seemed to be deleted. Then, “Split” began appearing with its description and no mention of Bruce Willis. So, I assumed whatever that project with Bruce was had fallen apart or had been replaced with this “Split” film. If only I had known.
But that’s all basic stuff. You want to know about that bold statement of a title, here’s why. “Split” is a super-villain origin story. We’ve had tons of superhero origin films. Some have been great, others not so much. Some are all about the origin while others completely skip it. There are many who believe the origin film is played out and the sequels are where the characters and stories really get to shine. Personally I think it’s like most things where it’s more dependent on how well it’s told/executed. That being said this genre, like all genres, could use some diversity in its films not just in casting, but in how it is told. I’m trying to think if they have ever dedicated a film to the origin of a super villain? Not really. They’ve done parallel origins like in the original “Spider-Man” film with Spider-Man and the Green Goblin getting about equal screen time with their origins. We have the ’89 “Batman” where many say Jack Nicholson’s Joker origin (and plot-line in general) takes up more of the film’s running time than Batman’s.
The closest I can think is maybe “Chronicle.” Which admittedly was the most interesting aspect of the film, where our point-of-view character becomes the villain of the story. However, again we spend a fairly comparable amount of time with the origins of the other characters who are our heroes. I’m talking about a film where we see the creation of a super villain and the superhero does not play ANY significant part or impact the story in any way. Bruce Willis could have been cut out of the film without it affecting anything. Yeah, THAT’S never been done before and they told it in a completely different genre and style that matched its character better. It’s like if they made “Batman Begins” and then the next year a gangster film came out and was a typical gangster film about some guy named Jack Napier and just happened to end with him falling into a vat of chemicals and coming out with bleached skin. Then, the third film would be “Batman.” That’s just so nuts to me.
Now here’s the aspect that’s quietly revolutionary or at least brings it to the forefront. You see I’m sure you’ve had this conversation or thought before, film buff or not. “Man I’ve always wanted to see/make a movie where you think it’s one thing, then BAM at the finale you realize it was actually a sequel to something else. Like make a movie like “Silence of the Lambs” then at the very end you see um… Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry starting on the trail of Hannibal Lecter.” That idea of playing a complete trick on the entire audience and even the studios. Remember “Unbreakable” was made by Buena Vista (a division of Disney) and “Split” is made by Blumhouse Productions and distributed by Universal Pictures. The fact this film was even possible means either M. Night had the foresight to retain the rights himself or had to quietly buy the rights back some time before this.
And that’s a good lead in as to why you haven’t seen something like this, old Hollywood rules. It’s the same reason why it took “The Avengers” to really make interconnected comic book movies a thing. Conventional wisdom said that the average moviegoer would be confused and not have the patience to follow all the characters and their stories. Or different genres would make an audience feel somehow cheated. Now while I think the only true filmmaking rule is that there are no rules (everything has an exception), the way Hollywood works is that it only takes one successful movie to prove something can work before the rest of Hollywood follows pretending they always had faith in this stuff. So what does this mean for the future? Could we get an interconnected series of films that span across genres? Will Marvel and DC start making movies of characters that don’t quite fit into the basic superhero movie mold thus allowing more interesting stories and characters to come to screen? We wouldn’t have to settle for characters having to be changed and forced into a pre-approved superhero box whenever they get a movie? Only time will tell, but for me the future looks bright. But one thing is certain, he is the first person with the balls to follow through on this. Thank you M. Night Shyamalan.