Split, Part II: The fine print of M. Night Shyamalan

The author is also behind an analysis project about M. Night Shyamalan‘s five films from 1999 to 2006. There are several articles on each film: The Sixth Sense (1999, here, here and here), Unbreakable (2000, here, here and here), Signs (2002, here, here, here and here), The Village (2004, here, here and here) and Lady in the Water (2006, here and here). All the articles can also be accessed through this overview. There are two articles on After Earth (2013), here and here, and two articles about The Last Airbender (2010), here and here. This is the second of four articles about Split (2010). The first one is here. The third is here. The last one is upcoming.

*

The first article on Split was written at the time of its release, based on theatrical viewings. It offered a general appreciation of M. Night Shyamalan‘s film, discussed the group dynamics between the three abducted girls, and went into detail about the revelation at the end. These new articles, very much screenshot-oriented, are the fruit of analysis using the Blu-ray edition.

This piece is in three parts. The first part will look at some early scenes and how they manifest both physical and mental isolation. The second part contains a shot-by-shot analysis of the abduction scene. The third part examines major motifs, mainly corridor shots, animals and flowers.

Just a word about naming: Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) has 24 personalities inside, and I will generally use the name of whatever character has “the light” at any time. This means that Kevin, in the scope of the incidents covered in this article, will be called Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig (sometimes these three “rogue” personalities will be referred to as The Horde) or Barry. Since Dennis is posing as Barry during the three sessions with Dr. Fletcher, his real name will be used.

For readers unfamiliar with the story of Split, here is a brief outline of the plot.

*

Part I: Isolation

The opening of Split is particularly inspired. We see Casey in splendid isolation from the other girls frolicking at Claire’s birthday party (in the up-market King of Prussia mall just outside Philadelphia). Visually it exerts an enduring fascination, through a device that it feels innovative to utilise as early as in an opening shot: a judicious use of a Vertigo shot, so discretely applied as to be almost invisible, but also a bit hard to get a grip on. It seems to be tracking out while zooming in, but in a hesitant, arhythmic, “impure” fashion, and there also appears to be some panning going on. The icky-looking plants in the foreground basically stay constant.

This is the start and end point of the 21-second shot, which is book-ended, very tidily, by Casey looking into the camera. The below slide show breaks the shot down into 8 separate stages (the ones with red and green borders mark the start and end, respectively, but the show can be restarted from the beginning by clicking on the current image to enlarge it and then return to the article):

Casey’s gaze into the camera is of particular interest. Soon, Dennis will follow Casey and the three others to their car, and could well have been inside the mall, observing the birthday party. If we entertain the thought experiment that the shot represents Dennis’s gaze at the party, this means that the interaction between Casey and the villain will both start and end with them looking into each other’s eyes, the end being their climactic meeting of minds between the bars of the cage. There are also some metaphoric possibilities here: if the shot is his gaze, the fact that it contains two simultaneous devices at odds with each other, the track-out and zoom-in, perfectly fits the situation with all the competing personalities who share the space of Kevin Wendell Crumb’s body.

(the prominent plants of the opening shot can be seen behind Marcia)

The sense of internal contradiction is subtly carried forward into the second scene, where the two other girls don’t really want Casey, the social misfit, to get a ride in the car. Claire says: “You won’t be able to hear my dad tell jokes that only he thinks are funny for an entire car ride unless you come. You don’t really wanna miss that.” Like the technicalities did for the opening shot, her irony splits the situation in two conflicting parts: it is an invitation but also a suggestion that she really ought not to come.

The remark is also, of course, a punishment of her father for inviting Casey along. (Some further contradiction can be traced in the dialogue just before, as Claire explains why she invited Casey in the first place: “Dad, I can’t invite everyone in my art class except for one person without social networking evidence inflicting more pain on that person than was intended. And I’m not a monster.” He father answers: “I’m proud of you. I think.” There is no real empathy and even a hint that a little pain was intended – and her father is of two minds about her.)

The first article already discussed how the three girls fighting for domination in the cell can be a metaphor of the film’s split personality issues, and also how this could be extended to other characters and situations (see here.) There is more, however, to be said about this. The cell itself has three split personalities:

(the Casey shot is from Patricia’s introduction scene, and after she has entered, the girls are split into two entirely separate zones, like here)

From these “pure” screenshots, this could be three different rooms. One wall is made of very solid-looking wood, with the door in the middle – as a background, this wall is often associated with Kevin’s various personalities, as the prison guard. Another wall is smooth and bright (with the bathroom as an additional light source) – often associated with Casey, since she turns out to be “pure”. The two remaining walls are made of rough stone – associated with Claire and Marcia, because they are “impure”, and two in number since they operate and are treated as a pair.

Since Split spends a lot of time in that room, it is understandable that Shyamalan felt a general need for visual variety, but the nature of the walls is also emitting a faint murmur about the film’s central issue. One should not make too much of it, because the correspondence between character and background is by no means applied with iron-clad consequence, but if ignored we would miss out on the film’s richness. In some cases the demarcation lines split shots roughly down the middle:

Continuing further along this avenue, Split is also a film of textures. Virtually every room has its own identity, both through wall material and decoration:

Hedwig’s room, the anteroom outside the cell, Kevin’s small living room. (There is also the kitchen.)
The inside of the cage where Casey finally locks herself in.
Some other split states: Hedwig’s window that is either open or closed – its fakeness might allude to the artificiality of Kevin’s personalities and their inability to escape and live full lives on their own – and the corridor leading to the basement, where only every other light is on.

Back to the film’s second scene again: in a shot-reverse shot constellation, alternating with the camera position above, there are three shots of Casey. She is placed in a peculiar variation of the ultra-common over-the-shoulder shot, where her face is split down the middle, half-hidden behind Claire’s father:

The first, second, and two stages of the third shot.

Even though she puts a brave, friendly face on it, she is squirming inside with frustration that she cannot slip out of the invitation. Visually it is as if she is hiding in plain sight, getting progressively more obscured the more her hope of getting away is diminished. (Her explanation “the car broke down” might be a ruse to hide that she could possibly live in poor circumstances and would have to have taken the bus anyway. Or her uncle might have refused to pick her up.)

That “half-look” of her face returns in the aftermath of the prisoners’ first encounter with Hedwig, when Casey storms towards the camera to peek through the crack between the door and the frame:

Here it almost looks like the edge of the frame represents the crack: she is peering past “the shot” to see Hedwig unlocking the outer door.

Maintaining her position as outsider, in virtually every situation in the cell Casey is visually isolated from the two other girls. In the second cell scene, where they discuss what to do after having managed to short-circuit Dennis’s sexual assault on Marcia, the apartness is especially prominent:

Not only is Casey hiding in plain sight again, behind her hair, for a considerable part of the situation…
…but particularly in this scene the textural contrast between the walls is used to good effect to discretely reinforce the lack of common ground.
She is also isolated by the positioning of the actors, and the focus contrives to put her on a separate “plane of existence”.

In the above shot the focus also signals Casey turning introspective, leading to the second flashback. It comes in response to Claire’s exasperated line: “Why do you act like you’re not one of us?” It is not an act, however, a core issue that Split sets out to gradually and convincingly demonstrate. After the astounding climactic unveiling in the cage, where the documentation of Casey’s apartness is carved into her scarred body for The Beast to see, his exclamation “You are different from the rest” echoes Claire’s question.

We are now going to walk through the first cell scene, with a special look at the (lack of) interaction between Casey and the others, but also point out other pertinent items. The tone of the scene is a curious mix of being wholly from Casey’s point-of-view while she is also completely out of the loop, as if here too occupying her own plane of existence. We almost never see all of the captives in the same shot, and when it happens they are always separated by different depth levels or other means. All double-column montages in this chapter are to be parsed row-by-row, left-to-right.

Six shots, where Casey takes in the surroundings, including the mysterious flowers (one on the girls’ bed, one in the bathroom), and as part of that process all three surfaces of the room. (When she is coming to, there seems to be a faint humming and/or music on the soundtrack, as if she is dreaming.)
Six more shots. First they hear a noise from outside, and then react to the door being opened.
In the only two shots of the scene where they are all seen on the same level, there is a pipe separating them, neatly splitting the image in two equal halves.

Now the set-up from the abduction scene in the car is repeated. It is as if Casey does not exist, everything is about Dennis and the other girls. It is reasonable, however, to assign the shots of Dennis to Casey’s point-of-view. In the below montage we see how Marcia is visually “primed” to be the victim of Dennis’s abusive attack. First, perhaps a reflex reaction to Dennis wiping off the chair, she wipes her face with her hand. Then a closer shot emphasises that she is closest to Dennis. Finally, when Dennis starts to look in their direction, she moves her hand to pull down her short skirt, an act that serves as a signal for Dennis, who immediately says: “I choose you first”. It is almost as if he is punishing Marcia for being, in his eyes, provocatively dressed, or he takes Marcia’s movement as a weakness to be pounced on, like a predator picking out the most vulnerable herd member as its prey.

Eight shots in a rhythmically alternating pattern.
Is it just coincidence that when Claire takes hold of Marcia, the flower behind them is revealed (Marcia is “ripe for picking”)?
Four new shots (the last three frame grabs are from the same shot). Note the meaningful emphasis on his crotch as he walks towards Marcia.

Claire cannot maintain her hold of Marcia, but she manages to wriggle free from Dennis. Perhaps it is just momentum, maybe Marcia felt, on some level, that Claire let go of her a bit too easily. Claire might have been afraid of becoming a victim herself. She is the dominant one: in the film’s second scene, at the restaurant, Marcia uttered just one short sentence, while Claire spoke in elegantly phrased, convoluted sentences. (Later in the film, as they try to break out of the closets, Marcia is typically doing the hard work of picking the lock with the hanger, while Claire is contributing a steady stream of pep talk.)

Anyway, in a device that wholly breaks with the rest of the scene, there is a subjective camera rushing towards Casey, who suddenly gets involved (but, notably, she is alone in the shot):

Almost as if governed by instinct, she intensely gives Marcia the advice of passive resistance (from her own experience, of course, tricks unthinkable for the other girls with their protected lives, and she has also observed Dennis’s cleanliness in the car, clearing away rubbish ): “Pee on yourself!”
Continuing this sudden burst of “otherness”, we are treated to this perverse angle, with Marcia’s medallion swinging wildly, a chaotic moment of intimate interaction.
Now the strategy shifts to long takes (this is 19 seconds), its start marking it as Casey’s POV. After Dennis has thrown Marcia out of the cell, the camera ominously tracks towards the door, behind which we can only imagine what goes on, until Claire finally starts hammering on it.
First a POV-establishing shot, which also shows that Casey is beside herself, before a 17-second take. Casey’s idea worked: Dennis is roaring like an animal, as if evoking the still hidden Beast, and his OCD cleanliness makes him almost collapse, while he is shaking his wet hand.
The same pattern, before the last, particularly long take (32 seconds). It seems like Claire would like to comfort Marcia, but she is not too keen on touching Marcia’s urine-stained hands and body herself. After Marcia has disappeared into the bathroom, Claire tries to calm down, while maintaining her role as leader, by the mantra: “Everything’s okay. We’re okay. We’re okay.”

The camera pans to the right with Claire as she enters the bathroom, and continues in an arc that ends up capturing Casey. This device will be repeated twice: when she realises where the keys are so she can escape from the anteroom, and in the police car, her last scene in the film. (More about this in the fourth article.) The movement is also adding to the unreality of the situation: what we assumed to be a POV shot either was not, or turns into something else during the pan. Furthermore, the gradual change in background texture, due to the new wall, plus the extreme soft focus bestowed on Claire, indicate that Casey has retreated into a zone of her own.

For she sits shaking with a panic attack, tears breaking out exactly when a disembodied voice says: “I hear the tiniest little splash [an allusion to her tears?] and here it comes.” This kicks off the film’s first flashback. Like Split itself it starts in a restaurant, and emphasises a tragic contrast between ruined teenager and innocent child. (Note how the angle on her face is replicated in her first flashback shot.)

After all of Casey’s POV shots so far, it is only fitting that the shot of her uncle is immediately revealed to be from the POV of the 5-year-old Casey (plus her older self, staring into the past), and also since the abusive uncle is a parallel figure to Dennis. Furthermore, the bright opening forming the backdrop for all her 5 shots might be meaningfully linked to the bright wall and even brighter bathroom door we often see behind the older Casey, not to speak of the cell door itself. In a film obsessed with doors and escape, the opening behind the child beckons like an escape route.
When the flashback ends, we see Casey from a low angle, the vantage point suggesting the 5-year-old looking up at her older, miserable self. It is also noteworthy that every shot of her in the flashback is from her proud father’s POV, excluding her uncle from that particular equation.
Actually, the fact that Claire’s father and Casey’s (now deceased) father bear some resemblance – head shape, size and angle of nose, cleft in chin, distance eye/eyebrow – could have played a role in persuading Casey to accept the car ride.
It is also interesting to re-examine the enveloping shots of the flashback. We see that the camera movement actually (and almost certainly intentionally) overshot Casey’s face, before an adjustment perfectly frames her between columns of light and dark background, another nice use of the cell’s differing textures. When she returns, there is also some adjustment – to split the shot more evenly between the two types of walls? (What follows is a cut to the staircase shot that introduces Dr. Fletcher.)
Casey sits down on the floor to get “on the level” with Hedwig, and even though she is play-acting, she is closer to Hedwig than ever with the others.
This is the only time the constellation is broken, with Casey here being grouped with one of the other girls, except when Casey and Marcia help each other block the door for Hedwig in the next cell scene. This is during a shorter period where the girls are co-operating more, but it culminates in Claire unilaterally deciding to break out through the roof, against Casey’s protests. She is partly hidden in this image, which could be telling, but not in some other shots from inside the bathroom.
After Claire is captured, however, the scene where Marcia and Casey are left behind alone in the cell is marked by distance. Their co-operation failed and the captives are split more than ever, with Claire on her own in a closet, and the others artificially positioned under each their light, Marcia against the thin pipe, and Casey right at the edge where the wood starts. (Marcia will be the next to leave.)

*

Part II: The Abduction

Like so often in Shyamalan, Split is concerned with confined spaces. There are three strata, all locked: the cell, the anteroom and the basement itself. In addition we have the cage in which Casey locks herself in the climax, the wardrobe closet in which Claire hides during her escape attempt, the closets that will eventually imprison Claire and Marcia, and many other narrow rooms and corridors.

Claire crawling through the corridor-shaped ventilation duct.

The car of the abduction scene is a harbinger of these spaces, a tiny cell, its locked doors controlled by Dennis. In her last scene Casey is again sitting in a car, but upon news that her uncle has arrived, this time she is reluctant to leave. Another paradox: after all her efforts to escape, to avoid being consumed by The Beast she ends up locking herself inside the cage, even though its spring-loaded latch traps her, potentially for a long time.

This serves as a physical metaphor for a mental state typical of how Shyamalan characters deal with past trauma: to survive extreme psychological duress they withdraw from society. The Beast bending the bars of the cage also cries out for metaphor: he strives for the breakthrough of entering the cage, but also for breaking out of the boundaries of human limitations, very much exemplified by his various weak co-personalities.

The car is also an arena for another Shyamalan concern: the home invasion, unfolding in film after film. This interview describes the director’s fear of a disruption of normal life (and how his children at various ages have influenced him). In Split, however, most of the invasion has already happened: the evil mother tormenting Kevin, the guardian/uncle abusing Casey. In the car invasion, history repeats itself for Casey in a parallel version: Claire’s father is replaced by a tormentor – literally speaking, by taking the father’s place behind the wheel – who proceeds to claim dictatorial control over their lives.

The first article described the abduction scene as “an outstanding example of Shyamalan’s ultra-precise ability to cautiously portion out just enough information to create a feeling of almost inexplicable underlying dread.” Its use of off-screen space is also exemplary. In a film with an ubiquitous score music is banned here. It comes an overture, a 32-second steadicam shot following them to the car. After a while, as Claire’s father is acknowledging someone coming up, it is revealed as a POV shot from an unseen Dennis. This reinforces the theory that also the opening shot might be a Dennis POV shot. In this chapter all double-column montages are to be parsed column by column.

Note that Casey keeps her distance, and when near the car, she walks briskly past the others, in order to claim the front seat, to avoid sitting with the other girls.
The first shot starts above the side mirror, sidles over to look through the front window, and then returns to the side mirror. She looks in that mirror but it is almost as if the camera itself made her do it. The whole manoeuvre is very elegant. (Through the back window we see somebody moving, but it is impossible to make out what happens. There is a bump a little later, probably the reason she looks in the mirror.)
Now the same device is replicated, down to the duration of the (13-second) shot. Finally she hears the driver seat door being opened. Assuming it is Claire’s father, she turns to fasten the seat belt, so she does not notice that the person is not whom she expects. (We can see Dennis at the very edge of the shot in the last frame.)

The new visual information is very unsettling: why is left-over food from the restaurant now spilled on the tarmac?! At the same time the utter mundanity of the items is disarming. The red colour, however, might signal danger. Also, there are three boxes, two close together and one further away, the number and placement corresponding to the girls and their position in the car. The untidiness is in ironic contrast to Dennis’s soon-to-be-revealed obsessive neatness.

During the mirror shot the car is started and with that, bland music in the loudspeakers. (“Wonderful World” from this album.) For some reason Casey is now overwhelmed by a sense of danger. Later we will realise it is the reaction of an abuse victim, forced to cope with brutality as part of everyday life:

We are inside the car for the first time. Like in the opening and parking lot shots there is an invisible presence nearby. A petrified Casey slowly turns (the shot takes 10 seconds) to face her persecutor. Repeating her act in the opening shot – where she might have, at least metaphorically, looked at Dennis – she looks directly into the camera…
… and this is our first look at the film’s antagonist. It is as if he does not exist before she looks at him, an eternal tormentor figure materialising out of thin air. (Note how his clothes, for some reason, are blending perfectly with the interior of the car.)
Something has caught his attention. Continuing the strategy of withholding information, the camera movement is so slow that it is only gradually unveiled that he is clearing away some rubbish. He picks up one piece at a time, possibly one of his OCD procedures, or perhaps the best way to ensure that his fingers are not directly exposed to the objects.

All the time, Claire and Marcia have been giggling over fun postings on social media (our modern obsession with smartphones making us oblivious to real-life dangers). But now Claire has woken up and says: “Pardon me, sir. I think you have the wrong car.”

During her line the camera swings to take her in, then returns to Dennis who, very methodically, (1) puts on a face mask, (2) locks all the doors, and (3) produces a spray bottle of chloroform…
…and both girls are overcome. When he turns and extends his arm this happens very fast: possibly the footage is speeded up, but it is also possible that the Dennis personality is in possession of superhuman speed – later in the film, we see him rise abnormally fast from the table when about to leave for the railway station.
When Dennis turns around again, slow motion momentarily kicks in and the sound of the easy-listening tune gets distorted…

Like in the first scene in the cell, there is the odd feeling that Casey is not present at all, as if an invisible barrier has sprung up between her and the world. Dennis does not seem to have noticed her at all, and now there are more important things on his mind:

He produces the yellow cloth again…
…while he is continuing putting away the rubbish, she is pressing the door handle. But since the motor is on, an alarm goes off, signalling someone trying to open the door. This brings the atmosphere back to reality, and the distortion of sound disappears.
With Casey’s “camera gaze” shaking slightly, his eerily unblinking, piercing eyes never leaving her, the metronomic “ping” of the alarm acting as a countdown, he is preparing the execution…
…this is the scene’s closest shot of her, sitting patiently waiting for the blow, lamb to the slaughter, one single tear falling…
…this is the last thing she, and the audience, see before the screen goes black and the title sequence starts.

*

Comparing the first and last time they see each other: in the car one tear, in the cage during the climax two tears are falling – a finalisation or completion. The fact that the tears first fall from one eye and then the other indicates reasoned contemplation, in strong contrast to another scene with prominent crying where she was lost in a trance of anxiety.
There has been some development in Kevin Wendell Crumb as well.

Their meeting of minds in the climax feels paradoxical since they seemed to occupy separate planes of existence in the car. They never appear in the same shot: all frames are clean and pure, without the intrusion of a shadow or half-glimpsed body part of the other. It is notable, however, that the resolution happens through the bars of the cage, with a certain apartness being maintained. In the car she must be wondering why he has not gassed her. Is she so passive that he is pondering whether it is needed? Or is he planning to kill her, since she has seen his face? We must remember that he was only planning to take the other girls. Despite his inhuman stare, there is nevertheless a sense of a connection. Is he on some level recognising a kindred spirit, a fellow victim of abuse?

Why is Casey so paralysed in the car? Her mild panic attack is a harbinger of later behaviour: her shaking before the first flashback, and the total breakdown after the fifth flashback, which reveals the child abuse by her uncle. In that flashback, after her uncle has snatched the weapon away from the 5-year-old Casey, who was pointing it at him, the child stands shaking with fear. Her uncle says: “Could have killed me.” Possibly he has managed to drill a terrible sense of guilt over this incident into the child, enabling him to maintain a hold over her as her later guardian. Anyway, there is a clear parallel between the abusers on these two time planes, and also between her frozen behaviour in these two incarnations…

…and, finally, between Casey and the dead deer in the third flashback.
Just before her uncle took the weapon, Split was obsessed with Casey’s eyes, showing one of them twice, and then both her eyes. Each time there is a reflection of her uncle…
…like there was a reflection in the deer’s eye of the family of hunters standing over it, and it seems there is also a reflection in the older Casey’s eye in that last shot of her in the car. Could it be Dennis, the hunter, in the right part of her pupil? Are the two bright spots a reflection of his glasses and the area above them his shaven head?
Like the transition to the first flashback, there is a connection between the third flashback and the next scene. The family look down at the dead deer, and when Casey wakes from the dream, Patricia is in the same position vis-à-vis Casey.

The deer scene contains one of Split‘s few instances of non-diegetic music from an external source, the mournful “Tribunale” by Ennio Morricone, originally composed for The Murri Affair (Mauro Bolognini, 1974). Within a paradoxical framework of a beautiful autumnal landscape it drives home a bleak world view of predators and death. Her father says: “The thrill, Casey, is about whether you can or can’t outsmart this animal.” The scene illuminates Casey’s two conflicting tendencies: using her intelligence to outwit The Horde, or just give in to a feeling of inevitable doom, made emblematic by the fallen animal. (It is telling that Marcia’s “we can win” is immediately parried, as if an automatic response, by Casey’s “he’ll hurt us”.)

There is an entire network of interconnectivity and interchangeability between hunter and hunted in Split. On their trip, the family hunt animals, but the uncle is also hunting Casey. The Horde are hunting for girls – Hedwig says Dennis “followed those two girls for four days” – and literally regard them as food. The name of the 24th identity, The Beast, alludes to the animal world and humans are prey for his cannibalism. To lure Casey into an abusive situation, her uncle says “let’s pretend we’re animals again.” And his “animals don’t wear clothes” and lack of clothes not only connect to the half-naked The Beast, as that identity eventually appears with his bare torso, but also to how the three girls are gradually stripped in captivity. In the climax Casey is back to hunting again, brandishing a shotgun, in a situation where the status of hunter and hunted is again confused, since The Beast is at the same time trying to kill her.

Furthermore, in the second flashback, her father teaches Casey to hunt – “Females … always remember they’re trying to stay alive” becomes Casey’s cautious strategy in captivity – while looking out at the terrain from the tent…
…and in the fourth, very brief and impressionist flashback, basically with an identical set-up, it is not the hunted but the hunter that appears outside…
…even clearer if we look at the very start of the flashback, where the uncle loomed over her like they were looming over the dead deer in the previous flashback.
The transition to this flashback is also interesting, from Hedwig’s drawing of The Beast to its parallel figure, the bear-like uncle. The toy snake in the room’s foreground mirrors the uncle’s insidious behaviour. The tent opening forms a framing, which faintly echoes that of the drawing.
After the abuse, in the second part of the fifth flashback, the roles are reversed – hunter has become hunted, in an ironic twist on her uncle’s let’s-pretend-we’re-animals ploy: as a continuation of the game, she might just shoot this animal.
The red flowers (berries?) in front of the uncle are only seen here during the flashbacks. Although very discrete, it is inconceivable that Shyamalan haven’t thought of the connection to the “bad colour” of The Village, with its heroine in peril in a forest, the monsters that lurk there mirrored by the monstrous Beast, and by the parallel character of the uncle.
It is also tempting to link the second flashback to the scene of a rescued Casey outside in the zoo. There is an echo of open spaces covered by leaves and the revelation that the world outside the basement is in autumn, like the flashbacks dominated by Casey’s predatory uncle, who is now her guardian and waiting for her outside.
Finally, a look at that eye again: the reflection of Casey’s uncle appears only as a black silhouette, very much like Hedwig’s drawing of The Beast, a tormentor like her uncle.

*

Part III: Motifs

It is not shocking that doors are exceedingly important in a film revolving around imprisonment and escape, with its action even to a large extent confined to the environment of the captives. Still, in Split doors are visually obsessed upon to an unusual degree, and from every conceivable angle:

There might also be a small motif around the number three. Split features three prisoners, three psychiatric sessions, three murdered characters, three member of The Horde (Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig), three strata of enclosed spaces (cell, anteroom, entire basement), and (as we shall soon see) three corridors.

Dr. Fletcher’s office is on the third floor.

Corridor shots

Most of the doors in Split are infuriatingly, despairingly closed. Its second-most prevalent motif is corridors, captured in a way that conjures up a world of limited options, lines of perspective receding, inexorably narrowing, as if a metaphor of the point-of-no-return consequences of The Horde’s actions. The main corridor is the tight, yellow passage that links most of the important locations: the anteroom leading to the cell, the kitchen, Hedwig’s room, the two closets that will hold Claire and Marcia. There is another corridor, more like a tunnel, which will engulf Split, as it grows darker and murkier, more id-like, towards the end. Leading into the basement itself, there is an outer, broader corridor…

…the same one through which the girls are transported in the drugged-out shots stitched into the title sequence (top). The bottom row shows the main corridor and the tunnel.
General layout and sizes of the various units are inaccurate. The tunnels are longer and the cage much further away. Claire crawls out through the air duct and ends up in the same tunnel that Casey entered after she managed to open the door from the living room. It is impossible to determine from the film how the outer corridor fits in.
This is one of the few instances (Patricia jailing Marcia in a closet) where a character in these corridors is not in long shot, although the receding lines of the space is maintained…
These are moving point-of-view shots down the fateful corridor, respectively from the eyes of Dr. Fletcher and Casey.

In the above cases, character identification is an overriding concern. So when Dr. Fletcher walks down the corridor looking for the prisoners, and Casey is in the same passage after having finally managed to get out of the anteroom, they appear in close shots. Their POV shots, however, play into the greater scheme of empty, restricted space. (The film’s large assortment of inventive POV shots will be discussed in the fourth article.)

The only other scene in the main corridor with close shots is the brief but intense confrontation after Dennis has discovered that Dr. Fletcher has found the prisoners.

A special feature of the Split landscape is an enormous arsenal of pipes. They can be found in the tunnel and the outer corridor, adding visual complexity and metaphoric associations to co-existing identities and parallel trajectories, but like the corridors themselves they all run in the same direction along similar lines of perspective. The top shot below depicts the outer corridor – with Dr. Fletcher and Dennis on the way to their impromptu session – keeping up the strategy of cavernous long shots. It is an image of utter simplicity, but the pipes provide dissonance, a restrained wildness and surrealism:

…and the two other shots are from the tunnel, overwhelmed by a jungle of disorganised pipe tendons. In the bottom shot look for the tiny figure of Casey running…
…but in these escape scenes the long shot strategy is not strictly adhered to, like here and in Claire’s frantic run through the same passage. (These runs are covered by virtuosic travelling shots, see the fourth article.)
Pipes are also piercing Hedwig’s room, adding visual personality.
The air duct through which Claire is crawling during her escape from the cell is another variation on the corridor motif.

The duct is another of the film’s many cramped spaces. A key part of the scene where Marcia attempts to escape from the kitchen is shot in a way that makes space seem even more constricted by using only a fraction of the image. (There is some “screenplay irony” here, because just before Marcia said to Casey: “We need to get to a window or a door, or something,” and when the door from the kitchen also has a window in it, escape is of course irresistible to Marcia.)

As punishment for their escape attempts, Claire and Marcia are imprisoned in each their closet, cramped spaces marked by a small labyrinth of lines and angles.
Returning to the corridor motif and moving out of the basement, these stylised shots penetrating Dr. Fletcher’s staircase from above and below are clearly variations of the motif.
The motif can be extended to include “corridors” of terrain receding into the distance. Except when she is waiting in the park, every shot of the sequence where Dr. Fletcher is leaving the office to meet Joe, a fellow psychiatrist, seems composed to contain this feature, including the staircase.
Afterwards she visits an art gallery. Again, there is a “corridor” of open space piercing the composition, which contains three geometrical figures inside each other. The shape of the doorway in the foreground is replicated in the painting, which forms a portal to another world, yet another escape, this time into the work of an artistic genius. The painting contains its own lines of perspective, continuing further inwards. (This scene is examined in detail in the third article.)
The same shape returns in other shots. The reason for the high angle on Dr. Fletcher and Dennis seems to be to capture the corridor shape, receding in two parallel bands. At the railway station we find it on the platform itself, in the yellow stripe, and in several versions on the train.
Inside the train, where Dennis will transform into The Beast, the car forms another corridor. In a way, Dennis is still in the basement.
After the transformation, The Beast leaps up on the roof. As he starts running on it, the camera is following him inside the car, maintaining the corridor motif, and captures him after he has jumped down to run away inside the track, another corridor shape.
The motif is still governing the composition, just afterwards, where the watchmen’s dogs are sensing the presence of The Beast.
Jumping ahead to the epilogue, it is also present in the approach shot to The Horde’s hide-out, and in both shots inside the diner, in the last one via the counter.
After the climax, a zoo employee comes along to discover Casey inside the locked cage. For once, a corridor character is shown in a close shot. This straightforwardness of presentation seems to signal a return to normalcy for the heroine.
When Casey is finally out in the open, there is a resonant irony in the revelation that this time plane takes place in autumn, just like the hunting trip of the flashbacks, a season strongly connected to her abusive uncle. This foreshadows the fact that the uncle, now her guardian, is waiting for her, the extraordinary nightmare of The Beast about to be substituted with her ongoing domestic predicament. (The choice of long shot here might be to emphasise the season. There are signs of autumn in the distance in the parking lot scene and during Dr. Fletcher’s rendezvous with Joe, but here we meet it full on for the first time.)
Imprisonment issues refuse to let go: the zoo animals have a corridor of their own.
There is also an uncanny resemblance between her uncle and the tiger: both are predators and his jacket’s pattern and colour are reminiscent of the animal.

Animals

When Casey has nicked Hedwig’s walkie-talkie, calling frantically for help, a great many shots have precisely a tiger in the background, as if a harbinger of the one that will mark her freedom.

It is merely hinted at, but as Casey is rescued, there is a resonant interplay between various thematic strands of imprisonment, for example in the contrast between Casey’s freedom and the eternally trapped zoo animals, like The Beast too will be if the authorities can catch him. Kevin’s life as a zoo employee has inspired the emergence of The Beast, whose goal is recognition and respect, as well as transcendence of the limitations of being human. The Beast acts like lions and tiger will if they get out, they will kill on instinct. The Beast wants to eat the girls, like humans do with animals. Finally, a zoo is a collection of cages, like the cell with the girls and the cage of the climax, and there is also a similarity with the folders on Kevin’s computer: one compartment for each personality.

Kevin’s personalities, neatly compartmentalised. The numbering is the same for Dennis (8), Hedwig (9) and Patricia (11) here as on the folders in Dr. Fletcher’s archive.

It is not surprising, then, that Split is rife with animal imagery and references. Patricia (in the kitchen scene): “Do you know, a family of lions can eat 35 pounds a day?” Casey: “A buck can lose 30% of its weight during mating season, chasing does around.” Patricia: “I don’t know if you know, but tigers have only 30 teeth. That’s 12 less than a dog. I thought that was a fun fact.” Dennis describes The Beast thus: “He’s much bigger than I am and I’m the biggest of all of us. He’s tall. He’s very muscular. And he’s got a long mane of hair and his fingers are twice the length of ours.” (The long mane of hair is a description that also fits Casey very well.) Dr. Fletcher concludes: “He is formed because of your time in this place.” The connections between the The Beast and the zoo, and thus animals, is clear.

Even after The Beast has let her go, Casey sits in the cage with the shotgun ready, as if she is on a hunt. (It is empty now, however.)

This animal connection and The Horde’s lair under the zoo nicely dovetail with Casey’s background as a hunter, her father who is teaching it to her, and also with the dead deer that produces resonance in the third flashback. There are also stuffed animals on the walls of the restaurant in the first flashback, where the uncle in addition brags about the “freak of nature” of a buck he almost nailed. The uncle himself is extremely large and reminiscent of a bear. He is also luring Casey into an abuse situation with: “Let’s pretend we’re animals again.”

This goat statue is lingered on as Dr. Fletcher waits for Joe in Rittenhouse Park. The walls of Hedwig’s room are peppered with drawings, virtually exclusively of animals, and he has a large collection of animal figurines and toys. Like Patricia’s fountain of trivia about lions and tigers, all this is of course inspired by Kevin’s time working at the zoo. (Hedwig is thus sharing Barry’s artistic inclinations; the latter is doing fashion sketches).
Late images: (top) a cut-away before the police enter The Horde’s lair; (bottom) a bridging shot between the Casey police car scene and the epilogue (the piece from the Unbreakable score starts here).

These are well-known statues at the Philadelphia Zoo: an elephant and a cub and “The Dying Lioness“. The Fairmount Park Art Association’s Annual Report (1876) says of the latter: “the maternal instinct, stronger than death, [which] has caused the dying lioness to give her last strength to the nourishment of her young; over the mother and the whelps stands the lion, the prominent figure of the group, who roars defiance, grief and rage.” The elephant and the lion statues, and their protection of weaker family members, can surely be connected to The Beast and his gang of weaker personalities (The Horde), and to Kevin and Casey’s absent/dead fathers.

Two of Hedwig’s drawings of The Beast: the first one in Dr. Fletcher’s Hedwig folder – a virtually identical one is in his room just above the elephant on the chair – the other drawing hangs in his room and serves as transition to the fourth flashback.

Flowers

The child-like stick figures being taken by The Beast in the drawing also resemble stylised flowers, for example the ones in the cell: in the bathroom and on the cots. These are pincushion proteas, named after Proteus of Greek mythology, who had the ability to change shape, which fits well with the body-altering properties of Kevin’s personalities.

Patricia buys lilies, a flower often used in funerals, for Dennis to lay down on the train platform in honour of Kevin’s absent father. She also puts a “pretty flower” in Casey and Marcia’s hair before marching them out to the kitchen. It is hard to determine which kind, but it might be a type often used for decorating flower bouquets. It is Patricia who is dealing with flowers – Dennis gives her the light for a moment at the station to go buy some – so it is probably not coincidence that as soon as she has entered the cell in her introduction scene…

…the flowers are visible in every shot of the captives.
It is also interesting that in the second and third psychiatry session with Dennis-masquerading-as-Barry, he is always associated with plants and flowerpots. (He also sits in a green chair and the chocolate dish that he cannot help touch in every session has the precisely same colour.) This is logical since Dennis is taking orders from Patricia, who is the leader of The Horde. But there is another angle to all this…
…while he is associated with nature, Dr. Fletcher is linked to art, science and civilisation. Except for the top shot from session 2, which is expressive of this division in its own right, all shots of her in session 2 and 3 are locked against the background of her library.
In session 1, during which he is constantly on the move, for an extended part of it there is a strong pattern. He touches a plant, stands by the window while being suffused by a shimmering, greenish light, and then is positioned by the door, in every shot there against another plant…
…even though Dennis’s sexual predator proclivity is rather mild, he will eventually turn into The Beast. His plant connection provides a chilling link to another predator, who is always connected with the outdoors. Furthermore, The Beast must be said to be strongly linked to animals and thus nature, so it makes perfect sense for Dennis to be connected to all this greenery.
Surprisingly, there is also a connection to nature in the early part of session 1, where Dennis is not linked to plants at all.

Here Dennis is pacing around in the library section of the office, like an animal trying to hide in the landscape – pretending to be Barry, he keeps his distance to the psychiatrist – and he is far into the depth of the shot, corresponding to the level where an animal might turn up in the forest outside the tent in the second flashback.

The connection is strengthened by that flashback being positioned just prior to the session. (In between there is just a brief return to the cell, where Casey’s line “I’ll let you know when I hear something that makes sense” is an approach shared by the psychiatrist too.) Dr. Fletcher, the “hunter”, is looking for signs of her patient’s mental state, trying to “outsmart” him. Although they are staged in a wholly stationary fashion, the psychiatrist will adopt this hunter approach in the other sessions as well.

Returning to those disgusting plants in the opening shot, we find they are called snake plants (which feature prominently in Isabella Rossellini‘s not exactly joyful apartment in David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet from 1986). Not only are they neatly fusing the animal and flower/plant motifs, but with such a powerful connection to The Horde, their presence strengthens the theory that this shot is from the abductor’s point-of-view. At the very least, the greenery represents the looming threat, their tentacles even specifically surrounding the heroine.

We shall revisit Dr. Fletcher in the third article, which collects everything to do with the psychiatrist and her patient, in addition to rounding up lots of references to M. Night Shyamalan‘s earlier films. Even though Split is not as formally audacious as his early works, its apparent simplicity, as we have already seen, conceals a surprising amount of ideas, refinement and subtlety.

Read next: