Even though Split does not feature the overtly inventive formal choices that make M. Night Shyamalan‘s early work so stimulating and enigmatic, it nevertheless manages to be creative within its low-budget strictures and more conventional storytelling approach.
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.
The article contains a number of slide shows: they can be restarted from the beginning by clicking on the current image to enlarge it and then return to the article. It also contains quite a few montages of screenshots in double columns: in cases of doubt, it will always be stated whether they are to be parsed row-by-row or column-by-column.
One highly distinctive Split feature is some extensive trickery with space and perspective. We have already briefly touched upon this. In the second article we discuss the subtly dizzying vertigo effect of the opening shot. In the third article there was the manipulation of space in the third psychiatric session, where although no character moves they are nevertheless closer to each other at the end.
(column by colum) In their fourth “session”, in the basement, the general feeling of unreality is increased by the camera not moving towards him, but zooming in, which makes the background grow disproportionally larger (just look at the kitchen light in the far distance). This also explains the strange fact that Dr. Fletcher can remain in the foreground – at the end just as a blob in the corner – even though the camera ought to have overtaken her if it was moving forwards. (Like in the opening shot, as if to increase disorientation, the camera is moving, but to the right.)
Another device that undermines viewer expectation comes a little later, as Dr. Fletcher is in the corridor looking for the prisoners. First she moves along the corridor (top row below), then there is a cut to a point-of-view shot (covered by the rest of the frame grabs) that looks at the closet door, then down to realise the light is on in there (second row)…
…then (third row) she looks up to see if Dennis is coming, then back at the door. The camera is homing in on the lock, and since this definitely looks like her POV shot, we expect her arm to appear from below the frame, but instead it comes from the side, throwing us off slightly.
Slide show: here the small living room seems enormously large, with Dennis dwarfed in the distance. This is already odd but a curious effect happens as the focus is shifted to the foreground, when Dennis grows even smaller.
For comparison: here Casey is struggling with the same door, with Patricia about to change into The Beast in the background, where the proportions seem more normal.
As The Beast comes home after his “birth” at the train station, he flits past in the background. Again, the distance seems enormous.
When Casey meets Kevin Wendell Crumb for the first time, after some cutting back and forth, the distance between them has suddenly decreased considerably (after he has asked about the current date), even though there is no indication that he has moved, neither by image or sound. This might simply be a continuity error – splicing together material but leaving out shots of him moving – but the effect is slightly unsettling, subconsciously, for the viewer.
And this is really strange: from one shot to another Casey has shrunk considerably, as if to underline her helplessness confronting the enemy. (Her shotgun is empty.) Either Patricia is placed on top of something to loom over Casey, or some kind of pit has been made in front of the door for Casey to step down into, or some lensing sleight of hand is used. Patricia might be a bit further away in the bottom shot, but can that really account for the size difference? (The door knob seems to be in line with Casey’s elbow in both shots, so it is likely that Patricia is elevated.)
Just afterwards, while preparing to change into The Beast, she is towering over Casey even more.
Slide show of nine moments: after Casey has finally managed to open the door, there is an exhilarating shot as she is running away along the tunnel with the camera in brisk pursuit. The two simultaneous movements have the curious effect of her seeming to stand still even while running at full speed, invoking a common feeling in nightmares.
In addition to the opening scene, there is one more vertigo shot. It conveys the physically transformative moment when The Beast is entering the picture. While Dennis is undressing with his back to the camera, it pulls away, but later also starts to zoom in…
…as documented in this slide show. (The dim lighting makes it a bit difficult to see exactly what is going on – Dennis sinks to the floor during the last moments – but there is clearly something odd with the space.)
Here is a play on perspective: when Casey visits Hedwig’s room, the scene is shot with lensing that makes his body seem “too small” when moving away from the camera, as if he is shrinking into to a nine-year-old.
Here it is especially telling: as he is moving away from the camera to manipulate the drawing of the window, he grows disproportionally smaller. The effect is probably produced by a space-stretching wide-angle lens. Look how his arm looks strange, receding into the distance, as he is pointing away. The set is possibly built in a compressed way, so the wide-angle lens will not make the room look unnatural when stretched out.
Another space-telling moment, as he storms towards Casey with a baseball bat to stop her from calling for help on the walkie-talkie.
One might think there is a mistake in the last scene of the film. It consists of two shots. The first one travels along the length of the diner, and the second one moves in the opposite direction, along the counter, where finally Bruce Willis, as David Dunn, is revealed. So why did we not see him on the way up?
(row by row) The camera starts on the TV, turns around and tilts down, and then glides along the diner until the other end, where there is another TV. (Here is an example of the film’s many precision cuts: exactly as the TV news presenter reveals the perpetrator’s nickname to be “The Horde”.) In the bottom row, Willis is revealed. (The three ladies in the top right frame grab are seen again in the background of the bottom left frame.)
This writer initially thought this to be another instance of hanky-panky, David Dunn appearing out of nowhere. But the answer is simple: the return movement does not start where we would expect, at the end of the counter where the first shot left us. It is covering the part that were hidden from view, off-screen in the top right frame grab.
There are 15 shots in Split of a duration of 30 seconds or more – see general shot statistics here and a list of long takes here – with the longest one being the first stretch of the zoom-in on Dennis in his basement conversation with Dr. Fletcher, lasting 126 seconds. This is few, however, compared to the 61 thirty-second-or-more takes of its companion film Unbreakable, where the longest one covers 229 seconds (the train seduction scene). The average shot length of Split is a paltry 5.96 compared to 18.90 for Unbreakable. And there are as many as 21 shots in the earlier film longer than the second-longest in Split (The Horde’s internal discussion in the mirror during the epilogue). In this regard Split belongs firmly in the same bracket as the formally less adventurous works of Shyamalan’s middle period: The Happening (7.16), The Last Airbender (6.80) and After Earth (4.99).
Split is simpler, more direct and more immediately immersive than the mood pieces of his golden period of 1999 to 2004. It is more eventful and less lyrical, and while still elaborate, features a narrower set of recurring motifs (discussed here in the second article). Split is doubtless marked by impeccable and precise craftsmanship, but formally one would not call it as inspired and challenging as the early films, where the camera was a character in itself, almost of equal weight to the human ones, creating eternally stimulating, formal enigmas in parallel to the story. The formal choices of Split tends to be expeditious instruments in telling a story efficiently. It is far from inelegant, however, especially seen within the film’s restricted budgetary framework.
An example: there are few protracted camera movements in Split. This scene, the second flashback, lasts almost a minute, with the camera creeping in, but it is broken by two reverse shots of the forest before them. Are they really necessary or a (half-)concession to a more accessible, more (pseudo-)dynamic style? Compare this to various single-take dialogue scenes in for example The Village or Unbreakable. As a whole, Split has only two scenes that (virtually) consists of one shot, while The Village and Unbreakable have 25 and 22.
(clockwise) Here are the two reverse shots, the first one (top row) after the line “when you’re aiming, Casey, always keep both eyes open”, and while the camera is panning to the right, Casey’s father says: “cover your target with the barrel then move with it to get its pace”. The second shot comes after the line “females use their nose to stay alive – they make sure they have cover”, showing us this potential cover, while panning in the opposite direction. These shots are of course justified storytelling-wise, but they are breaking the hypnosis of the track-in, instead telling us what to look at rather than letting us use our imagination. It is not necessarily worse as art, but a different approach to cinema compared to his early work.
Split features a curious mix of very basic, rather static set-ups and odd, intriguing ideas, often within these ostensibly conventional structures, as the earlier articles have shown and the current one will. (The third article examines some static scenes featuring Dr. Fletcher, for example in the skype scene, and the second and third session.) Since there is a lot more cutting than in the early films, it stands to reason that this is a quite different, more fragmented formal world to grapple with. For the filmmaker too, because there are an unusual amount of continuity mistakes and other minor problems compared to earlier works.
Over the shoulder
One of the most basic ways of filming dialogue scenes is alternating between shots of the speaking actor from over the shoulder (OTS) of the listener. It is also perhaps the bluntest and laziest instrument in a director’s tool kit, often referred to as part of a “TV style”, a fast but mechanical way of shooting. Shyamalan is aware of this and generally shies away from it, even in the less ambitious middle period films. It is only in Split he is using it to any great extent – but still sparingly and often with a twist – so it seems prudent to have a good look at how he handles this so-common device.
In the second article we briefly discussed a conversation between Casey and Claire’s father, where it was employed in an unusual constellation. He also employs it in some Dr. Fletcher scenes, the third session and the basement conversation, but it is part of a broader scheme and combined with camera movement over a series of shots. It is also one-sided: we never see Dr. Fletcher over Dennis’s shoulder – he is invariably an object for the psychiatrist’s curiosity so we shall always see him from her perspective, nudged along in this by her physical presence in the shot.
But here this is switched around, when Dr. Fletcher stops him from going to the railway station by intercepting him at the gate. This is his domain and she is an intruder, so now we see her from his perspective.
(To be ultra-precise, in his last shot she is ever so slightly present in the edge of the frame. This is partly because of increased physical proximity – he has taken a step forward – but also because he is moved by her saying he is “extraordinary”.)
Here the pattern holds: having discovered his prisoners she has simply become a nuisance. (The stark background amplifies the finality and nakedness of the confrontation, all pretense dropped. Next she is chloroformed.)
As regards Dennis and Casey there is no OTS dialogue whatsoever. This is also the case here when Dennis is admonishing all three girls: part of this is filmed over his shoulder, but this is more to emphasise his towering, dominant presence. When it comes to mutual OTS, this does happen between Casey and the various personalities before the climax, but this too is during monologues:
(column by column) When Kevin Wendell Crumb has emerged for the first time (left column) we see the situation only over his shoulder – we are meant to identify with him (“who is this stranger in my basement?”). When his other personalities emerge (right column) there is mutual OTS, but still a lack of balance: we see his back clearly but she is intimately close to us. We are siding with her, startled as she is by all the new identities.
After the hostile personalities, Hedwig and then Patricia, have emerged, monologuing, constellations get less intimate – distance is increased between characters, and Casey is further away from us.
The most intimate dialogue constellations between Casey and the various identities are with Hedwig. But here too, like between her and the other girls, there is a careful disconnect. In their first scene, they are only intermittently sharing the shots (left column), for example when she whispers the lie that The Beast is coming for him, or in order to include the other girls in the frame. The rest of their extensive interaction is very cleanly shot, in separate frames. After all, there is no real intimacy here – she is trying to trick him.
(column by column) The only real mutual OTS business between them occurs during the first part of this scene. In his most grown-up moments of the film Hedwig calmly informs her about his “special powers” to “wish myself into the light anytime I want”. After they have kissed, however, for the rest of the scene (in the right column) they never intrude on their frames, since she is trying to trick him again, feigning interest in his music to get out of the cell. (More about this scene here.)
(column by column) During the dance scene they are scrupulously kept in separate shots, except for two intermittent occasions when he is moving towards and away from her, meant to reinforce our sense of his energetic movements.
(column by column) No OTS afterwards either, since she is thoroughly insincere, just looking for a way out. (Note that in the early stages of the scene, she is filmed against the blank background of the doorway, as befits someone not belonging, in contrast with the homely clutter behind Hedwig.)
(column by column) Later, when she has grabbed the walkie-talkie, there is only mutual OTS in the moments in the right column, when the situation is balancing on a knife’s edge: she has not yet taken the plunge calling for help, while he is urging her not to. (Note Hedwig’s drawing of The Beast on the wall, we only see it as she is standing with the walkie-talkie, as if it is trying to frighten her from using it.)
The following situations manifest virtually the exact opposite of OTS constellations: sideways confrontations with each character having equal weight. They occur in all three Casey-Hedwig scenes:
(1) After she has told the lie (and repeated just before he declines to believe it); (2) after they have kissed; (3) as she pleads with him not to send her back to the cell although he has realised she is only looking for a way to escape (part of a 45-second long take, the film’s fifth longest, ending with him showing her the walkie-talkie).
The isolation chapter of the second article extensively mapped out how Casey was separated from the others even though sharing a cell, and also how the various rooms and even walls (of the cell) seemed to possess separate identities. The many cases, definitely including the Casey-Hedwig interactions, where characters almost never intrude on each other’s frames can be said to be part of this larger Split pattern of isolation, compartmentalisation and disconnect. (It is notable that Casey’s traumatic flashbacks contain no OTS at all.)
There is another pattern that plays with these notions. Quite a few scenes are shot with two characters opposing each other, face front to the camera which is placed between them, capturing them in exactly opposing 180 degrees angles, with cutting back and forth. (They could almost be called mutual point-of-view shots.) A prime example is the scene after Casey has been led back to the cell following the walkie-talkie altercation with Hedwig. First she confronts Patricia, and the latter then changes into Dennis:
(row by row) Here it is also notable that the camera helps express personality: it is closing in on the insidious Patricia (with an accompanying, but smaller, movement towards Casey). The first two rows show the start and end positions. But when the solid Dennis is present, the camera remains static (for both). Also, the distance is greater between them when Dennis is there. The split-identity backgrounds are playing a part too. (Dennis’s shirt button makes one think of the collar of a catholic priest – indeed it is as if he performs the last rites before her imminent death – he even says: “I hope this makes you feel calm.”)
This slide show collects frontality constellations, also in situations when the camera is merely gazing at objects or landscapes at the opposite end.
Also the stand-off in the tunnel, Casey with the shotgun against The Beast edging closer, follows the same pattern, while also being mutual point-of-view shots. (Look how Shyamalan is embracing minimalism in these shots, not only in composition but also in the static framings, refusing to go for artificial excitement with pseudo-immersive, aggressive, unsteady camera movements.)
Split is quite point-of-view-shot-driven but distinguished by many unusual instances. The second article already discussed that the unsettling opening shot could be from Dennis’s POV. It also pointed out to which degree the first cell scene is marked by Casey’s POV, but this already starts with the seven brief drug-state shots that punctuate the title sequence:
We get two shots of the corridor which are followed by two shots of Casey, revealing the previous ones as her likely POV shots.
Then there are three shots of Claire being placed on a cot, probably from Casey’s cot in the foreground. The black overhang is a simulation of her eyelid, blocking part of the vision. (This must be what Casey refers to when they discuss jumping Dennis and she vetoes the idea: “I saw him carry one of you and lay you on the bed like you weighed nothing. One punch from him would knock one of us out.”)
Many of the oddest POV shots come after Casey has woken up, here of the other girls calling her…
…and after a new shot of Casey, who shifts her gaze, the camera pans in the same angled plane, revealing Hedwig in the doorway.
One particularly striking shot is this close-up of Claire cowering with fear, surrounded by menacing blackness in the wardrobe closet after having escaped the cell. Soon its dreaded counterpart turns up, a creepy POV shot of Dennis and his eyes looking in. The initial close-up of Claire lasts for 12 excruciating seconds, while we are doomed to stay and wait with her, for disaster.
Not that unusual perhaps, but nevertheless memorable: Casey is again waking up, now from the third flashback, looks straight up at Patricia, who greets her as “sleepyhead”.
Waking up yet again, now from the fourth flashback, gazing at the otherworldly lit open door. (She has been roused because Hedwig is lying behind her, spooning.)
Here she is possibly waking up too, at least lying exhausted on the floor, perhaps from an anxiety attack (the film is inconsistent about this point), looking at Hedwig beckoning her to come to his room.
During Hedwig’s dance routine we see him almost consistently from Casey’s POV. (The music for this very funny scene is called Frogbass, by Snails.)
A weird POV eliminating The Beast’s head during the semi-drugged Dr. Fletcher’s last stand.
The nightmarish, inferred POV from a 3-year-old Kevin hiding under the bed from his mother’s wrath.
The second article also discussed how most of the shots inside the car during the abduction scene are probably from Casey’s POV, and most definitely its last shot where Dennis chloroforms her. It is interesting, in a playful manner, to juxtapose this with a visually similar POV shot, but this time using camera movement, where Marcia storms towards Casey in the first cell scene. (See here for another juxtaposition.)
We will return at the end with the film’s most important and momentous point-of-view shot.
Door crack shots
Getting a crack at Patricia (top) and Hedwig, or (bottom right) mapping out the anteroom.
This is primarily another type of point-of-view shot since the girls are using a crack between the cell door and its frame to peer out into the anteroom. It is connected to the door motif, obviously, and in its drastic narrowing of the view it can be said to be an extreme variant of the corridor motif. It occurs in the Patricia introduction scene, then heavily after the first Hedwig scene and in one shot just before Casey manages to pry open the cell door. In the latter case the camera is looking into the cell, which also happens in the aftermath of the Hedwig scene:
In one shot there is even a tiny narrative unfolding through the crack. Here we look in and are allowed a good view of Claire making a hole in the ceiling – an escape route being the whole crux of the scene – and then the focus is shifted closer to the door to yield a sharp view of Casey’s eye as she peers out. (More about this shot here.)
Here there is micro-level consistency as regards continuity: just a few brief shots earlier, Casey moved away from the crack to avoid blocking the camera’s later view of Claire. This is precisely the kind of carefulness one expects from a Shyamalan film.
The device is closely related to the tight framings of Unbreakable, perhaps most notably the ingenious long-take scene where a curtain is blowing in wind, revealing a small narrative inside, through a series of arising cracks. In all of these scenes most of the image is dead space. (For more such space, see here.)
Subjectivity and moving point-of-view shots
To round off the material on point-of-view, the discussion of Split camera movement shall start with moving POV shots. In the second article we saw a couple of such subjective POV shots from Dr. Fletcher and Casey down the main corridor, one of the situations being elaborated on here. It is also applied, in a very classical, Hitchcockian fashion, in Casey’s fifth flashback, as she is approaching the spot where her uncle is pretending to be animal. The parking lot shot before the abduction is from Dennis’s POV and another memorable instance is Marcia storming towards Casey in the first cell scene.
There is a curious intermezzo in Split, a brief stretch devoted to the subjective point-of-view of Kevin’s personalities. First we shall look at how this sequence is kicked off. During this period there are a small cluster of extreme close-ups meant to emulate what it feels like when an identity is getting the light. They are also often accompanied by a peculiar use of a very shallow focus field:
Here Dennis wakes up at the kitchen table. He was meant to go to the train station to activate The Beast, but someone else stole the light and sent a slew of e-mails to Dr. Fletcher, which she received in the previous scene. This shot is thus of narrative importance, although never overtly explained.
Slide show: after Dennis has drugged Dr. Fletcher and deposited her on the sofa, there is a cut and this time the transformation is even more elaborate, a complex combination of fade from black, focus and facial expression.
Strangely, why this particular transformation occurs is never fully explained. Why should Dennis have been out of the light now after having disposed of the psychiatrist, just a moment ago? Patricia might have decided to take over for a while, to secure control of the situation, although Dennis seemed unwavering towards Dr. Fletcher. (There is a deleted scene, however, depicting Dennis entering Casey’s cell suddenly plagued by doubt and remorse, so the transformation could be a remnant of that thread, with Patricia having taken over to get him out of the building.) But that would explain how someone has locked the door – the one Casey will struggle with later – without noticing the handkerchief that Dr. Fletcher put into the locking mechanism. The meticulous Dennis would have noticed (although if the door is locked from the outside it might not be that easy to see the handkerchief).
Furthermore, Shyamalan might have intended to include a miniature sequence conveying how it feels to be an identity flitting in and out of “the light”, and lock us into that point of view. After the above close-up, we get a disembodied, moving POV shot of Dennis opening the gate and leaving:
We have seen a very similar city view before, in the shot ending his scene with Dr. Fletcher at the gate. The rest of Philadelphia is depicted as a distant, different dimension, at a far remove from the fateful drama in the basement world of The Horde. (We see Center City, including Liberty Place, two buildings on view in many Shyamalan films.) The shot is ended by a fade to black, nicely rounding off this two-shot scene since it started with a fade from black.
(column by column) Next shot: Patricia is the flower expert so she briefly takes over to buy the bouquet to be laid on the platform. (She is always so polite: “Thank you, Dennis”, and she also thanks Hedwig when she gets the light before the climax.) Soon, Dennis gets the light back, with the same focus apparatus, which was not applied to Patricia, possibly because as the leader of The Horde she is less disoriented.
There are few handheld shots in Split. Within the context of this article such shots are defined as having a distinctly wobbly and shaky execution. This type is used to emulate Dr. Fletcher’s dizziness as she moves to the table to get the knife as defence against The Beast, and also to denote Kevin’s highly disoriented and subjective view as his identity gets the light for the first time in the film…
…which ends with him grabbing a towel, with blood-spattered hands, to cover his naked torso.
There are two notable non-subjective handheld shots. The device is applied to considerable effect when the camera is approaching Kevin as he decides that Casey must kill him with the shotgun. The other one – with a duration of 39 seconds the sixth longest of the film – comes when Marcia is trying to open the door of the living room, rummaging around until she is caught by Patricia.
After Casey has found herself at a dead end when chased by The Beast, she experiences her sixth and last flashback. Contrary to the others (described in various places in the second article) this is split into fragments, while the camera is approaching Casey, handheld-style, inbetween them. Mirroring the camera movement, the diabolical uncle is closing in on the 5-year-old Casey, having become her guardian after her father has died. In both cases she is cornered. The memory seems to break her hysteria, however, because she lifts the shotgun into a defensive position, like she pointed the rifle at her uncle after the abuse in the fifth flashback. (See also here.)
The most expansive stylistic figure of Split is the camera moving in a half-circle to end up on Casey, three times at important moments, in some of the longest takes of the film.
(row by row) A 32-second take that is not a full half-circle but forms an arc. Along the way of what we have assumed to be a Casey POV shot, it is revealed that she in fact sits shaking, totally lost in her bad memories. Her first flashback will now start. (More about the shot here.)
(row by row) A 48-second take that is literally a key moment: the camera first approaches the screen while already starting on the half-circle. The slowness of the movement heightens tension, mirrors the increasing breakthrough of the idea in Casey’s mind, and turns this moment into a transcendent event. She has so far been busy with the locked door, but now she has either happened to see what Barry did in the recording, or she is alerted by the sound of him picking up the keys from a peg, or the clatter handling them afterwards. (The sound of Barry’s keys is echoed in the creaking of the swinging keys on the peg in the next shot.) When the camera reaches Casey, it is as if the lamp is beckoning her, and as she turns, focus is shifted to the clothes rack.
(row by row) A 35-second shot as we observe various police activities, with each window representing cutting in the camera. The person that starts towards the car in the left column, second row seems to be the policewoman that will open the off-screen door at the end of the shot, announcing that Casey’s uncle, her abusive guardian, has arrived to pick her up.
This is Casey’s last scene and what she will actually do is open. Will she notify the police about the abuse – the policewoman is clearly startled by her hesitation at the news – or will she keep quiet and exact revenge by other means? Her last shot is difficult to read, a combination of defiance and tearfulness. It is notable though that the musical theme accompanying Dennis railway transformation into The Beast has been playing since the police started searching the basement and then carried over into the car scene. This seems a pretty good indication that this is a transformational moment for Casey too. (Glass revealed that Casey indeed reported the abuse.)
(row by row) A 26-second virtuoso travelling shot keeping in front of Claire as she runs at full throttle – with the pipes like a surreal halo – before the camera pans to capture her hiding in the wardrobe closet. This is a milder sister shot of nightmare and panic of Casey’s own flight through the same tunnel.
Slide show of another corridor-related moving shot: after Dennis’s transformation inside the train, The Beast leaps up on the roof. As he starts running along it, the camera is following him inside the car, captures him as he jumps down and remains gazing after him while he is running down the track. (Look here for a montage of stills for the same scene.)
There are few stylised, “geometrical” tracking shots in Split but this lateral one, just before, expresses well the momentous transformation-to-come, its ritualistic nature, and how he is crossing a line of no return.
Two shots echoing each other – consequently filmed with rhyming lateral camera movements from roughly the same position, just in opposite directions – both involving Patricia, the anteroom and escape attempts. Marcia will try to escape from the kitchen; Casey has tried the same from Hedwig’s room. The left shot is our first look at the anteroom other than through the door crack, and Patricia represents an expansion of the prisoners’ universe, introducing them to the corridor, kitchen and (for Marcia) the living room.
The brief fourth flashback, where Casey is looking out of the tent at the ominous uncle, is enveloped by two languorous, rhyming camera movements, breathing in and out. Before, there is a 23-second creep-in on an elated Dennis announcing the coming of The Beast, just to have a near-breakdown at the sight of a crumb on Casey’s shirt. (There is an in-between shot of a drawing of The Beast.) Afterwards, following these two shots, a 35-second retreat, revealing that Hedwig is spooning her.
A quietly magical moment: a retreat shot just after Hedwig has kissed Casey, quite tender, but also indicating that their intimacy is false and there is a gulf between them. The lighting makes Casey’s face even more withdrawn, melancholy and resigned.
A dramatic reveal! The camera pulls back, showing us, or rather hinting, that The Beast has started to devour Claire.
Camera movement as foreshadowing: while Casey is desperately banging at the door, the camera, together with the focus shift, hints that it is Barry who has agency here – he has the key, literally speaking, to open the door.
A track-in during two consecutive shots, on two of Kevin’s identities, one marking a start since we see The Beast’s face here for the first time, the other an ending since Barry concludes his recording. Barry is indirectly eulogising Dr. Fletcher (“she’s such a sweet woman”), who has just been killed by The Beast. He too is grateful in his own way: “thank you for helping us till now,” he said before the murder.
The Beast is bending the cage bars to get at Casey. This is a brilliant blend of camera movement, focus – he is hazy for a while just after beginning and when he gets sharp again it is as if he has broken through to a new physical plane – and superhuman acting (plus maybe a little CGI help). The effect is so assertive that this writer is always compelled to physically participate in the effort.
A track-in, paradoxically gentle considering the superhuman exertion, elegantly reveals a dwarfed Casey.
Slide show: remarkably, except for the above, tiny glimpse over The Beast’s shoulder, Casey only shares the same frame as the 24th personality in three other shots: (1) half-glimpsed as he is devouring Claire; (2) only as a shadowy being as he almost defeats Casey in the tunnel before she can get at the shotgun, eating at her leg and tearing at her shirt (possibly he wants to eat her stomach like with the other girls); and (3) as he flits past her cage and she shoots at him. This is a curious echo of how Casey was visually kept apart from the two other prisoners.
Casey’s rescue is marked by soft camera movements. After we have left her in the cell, a zoo employee comes sauntering along. The camera movement follows his awakened attention…
…in the next shot the camera continues the same leftward direction before it follows him in, as he discovers the mystery prisoner…
…and in a new shot, the camera continues closing in. Casey has found her window at last – and she has been given the light, in a poetic reminder of Kevin’s identities taking their turn in “the light”.
Below is the last shot before the diner epilogue, and suitably for the now nearly overt Unbreakable connection, through the score, many of the earlier film’s characteristics are breaking through. It is captured in a long, 61-second take (the second longest of the film), elaborate camera movement is involved, and reflections play a most promiment role. (The two diner takes are also long: 33 and 30 seconds – look here for a list of connections to Unbreakable in the dying minutes of Split.)
The haziness of the reflections and the dirty mirrors, as well as the lack of clothes, are erasing individual differences, making the three of them look like a solid unit. While the camera is gliding back and forth, we see Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig…
…and Dennis, Hedwig and Patricia. (And McAvoy gets a chance to transform live in the camera in the penultimate reflection.)
(row by row) Summing up the shot there are many pleasing patterns: all of them appear in both mirrors, the shot starts and ends with the two most important members of The Horde (Dennis and Patricia), and at these start-end points they suitably appear in the biggest, most imposing mirror.
One of the least noticed cinematic devices is what I will call stealth movements, or micro-movements: so discreet camera movements in such brief shots, let us say 3-6 seconds of duration, for no apparent narrative reason, that they cannot register consciously at all in the viewer. This must be some kind of “cinematographer’s secret” because I suspect they are ubiquitous in many modern films, and filmmakers seem fond of applying them to create a subconscious feeling of intensification.
This is not the “push-in” often used in static, often dialogue scenes to create intensification, which is kind of easy to perceive, because one is fixated on something that grows a bit larger. Neither is it the camera slowly creeping forward in long takes in Tarkovsky works like Stalker (1979) or The Sacrifice (1986), which too are rather overt devices. In images with a much less defined attention target it is much harder to notice, and I tend only to discover them when making highly extensive screenshot galleries that always include the start and end point of every shot.
Finally, it is not the same as Shyamalan’s exceedingly subtle manoeuvres in his earliest films, described here about Unbreakable, where “one gets the feeling that Shyamalan’s camera is able to react emotionally on its own, deciding to start moving”, or in this shot during the porch scene between Lucius and Ivy in The Village, which I called “an intensification of the gentlest possible magnitude”. Those movements were flourishes incorporated in much longer takes.
Let us start with Marcia trying to pick the lock of her closet prison while Dennis is away to change into The Beast. We see the outside of the door at four different times in the narrative. The first “instalment” contains four shots of the lock, interspersed with shots of Marcia inside and Claire urging her on.
Slide show: first the focus is on the straightened-out coat hanger appearing, but when it is near the goal, the focus is shifted to the lock itself. At the same time, however, there is a very small forward camera movement – it does not feel like a zoom – and, as seen in the third screenshot of the show, the movement does not go on after the focus shift. The purpose of the camera movement seems to be to give Marcia’s effort a helping push from the viewer’s own subconscious, and also by enlarging her goal, to visualise her mental concentration and possibly growing hope.
As regards the use of cinematic devices to “help” characters, it is tempting to compare the effect with this late scene in The Village: as Ivy climbs the hedge the camera is lowered towards her, as if stretching out a helping hand.
(column by column) The second time we see the door, there is no movement, as if Marcia is unable to make progress. But later, as the situation gets increasingly critical since The Beast could arrive at any time, things happen. The left column shows the third time, and the right column the fourth time. The camera starts creeping up, from a lower point than before to have more distance to go on. Note that a portion of the movement has been cut between these two snapshots, probably to simulate that time has been consumed showing us other plot developments inbetween. This is totally unnecessary, but a mark of Shyamalan’s obsessive attention to detail.
Slide show: there is something similar in this door crack scene, where a focus shift is combined with movement (although here it might be a zoom).
This is another kind of stealth: over four shots of Dr. Fletcher, the camera is closer to the gate every time, but there is no discernible forward movement within these shots…! Is this really four different set-ups? (If the scene was shot with two cameras, the camera on her could have been creeping closer during the reverse shots of Dennis, but this sounds odd.)
Slide show: after Dennis has centered himself, however, there is a very small push-in on Dr. Fletcher, but only in the start of the shot, before she raises her hand.
Slide show: this is also very odd: after we have seen the shadowy figure of The Beast climbing over the gate, there is a five-second shot outside, with the camera sinking very slowly. Is the presence of this shot just to slow the pace thereby building tension, or to give us a subconscious “sinking feeling” of dreadful things in store? (Afterwards, there is a cut to the last time we see Marcia’s struggle with the lock.)
Slide show: when the zoo employee helps Casey along outside, there is a five-second shot with the camera creeping slowly in on the figures in the far distance.
The lamp post shot is also part of this regime with discreet camera movement, although a little more overt. In the abduction scene described in the second article, the camera pulling slightly away from Casey as Dennis is chloroforming the other girls is more discreet, and the first push-in on the car mirror is for subconscious consumption only.
Overhead shots have been prominent in the Shyamalan method and survive in the more conventionally shot Split, in a milder form, dictated by the cramped quarters, but often to striking effect.
Here Dennis is forcing himself into the room during Claire’s escape attempt, the angle emphasising his implacable force…
…when Hedwig left the room before the attempt, the unusual angle seems to signal the soon-to-be prominence of the door…
…and it used twice when Casey and Marcia are blocking Hedwig from getting in again.
(column by column) Here the angle forcefully illuminates the holy grail of the ceiling air duct and Claire’s exertions to reach it.
These are too close to be called overhead shots and are rather Dr. Fletcher’s POV shots. There is a curious connection, however, between the kitchen shot kicking off her fateful involvement that night and the last moments before she dies, both via the angle and the use of innocent kitchen utensils. (The knife in the bottom shot has just been broken against The Beast’s rhinoceros-thick skin.)
The Beast is on the move…! This slide show records a memorable visual moment as the camera is slowly descending towards the street.
Perhaps this is to underline the cramped quarters – the camera has to find odd solutions to get a good view – but this writer is hard pressed to remember any other Shyamalan film with shots from such a low vantage point as to look directly up at people or objects.
Here is a chaotic micro-moment of sudden, intimate interaction between Marcia and the otherwise stand-offish Casey, who advises Marcia to pee on herself to avoid being sexually molested by Dennis, with Marcia’s medallion swinging wildly.
Below we have just returned from the fifth flashback. In addition to reliving a horrific moment of sexual abuse, Casey is here as powerless as her 5-year-old incarnation after her uncle took away the rifle. The little girl must also have been afraid that he would kill her, so Casey is also re-experiencing that fear of death, something that seems inevitable in her current position. The scene has no diegetic sound, but the quiet music causes a paradoxical collision in mood, its mournful tone speaking for the screaming girl:
Casey’s hair obscuring the lens adds to the emotional chaos.
Later she has come to her senses and tries to pick the cell door lock with the loose screw she found earlier.
The swinging keys, beckoning to Casey after she has removed Barry’s hat, are filmed from an angle not fitting her physical position, but for dramatic effect.
Keys, doors: here we have low vantage points again, with a high angle thrown in, as if to accentuate the cramped quarters as Marcia tries to pick the closet door lock, also mirroring Casey’s endeavours.
What is it with this film and doors? Casey tries to escape before Patricia transforms into The Beast, and her struggle could have been filmed straightforwardly, but here (in two shots) the door looms as a formidable obstacle and the unnatural angle emphasises the nightmarish unreality of the situation.
Another door oddity: as things are getting desperate with The Beast about to arrive, Casey has started banging on the door of the anteroom with a heavy object. The shot is totally unfocused, perhaps in reflection of her panic and despair. It is as if she is hitting the lens instead of the door. (Out-of-focus shots are also used to depict Dr. Fletcher’s haziness and tunnel vision as she is confronting The Beast.)
There is also an expressive, jarring cut from Casey’s breakdown to the serenity of Dr. Fletcher’s cup of tea, made even more acute by the contrasting vantage points.
Curiously, the angle collision is reversed later on, signifying a diametral switch of fortune between Casey and the psychiatrist. The shot of the tea starts Dr. Fletcher’s involvement with Dennis this evening, and another from-above shot ends it. There is an immediate cut to yet another Casey underhead shot, working at the lock. (The shot sequence has been switched in the right column for better clarity. Also see here for another connection.)
While we are on the subject of odd angles, after Casey has been attacked by The Beast but manages to load the shotgun, the camera keels over with her as she falls to the floor:
Moving on from single-shot considerations – although there have been exceptions, this for example has also to do with editing – to more complex constructions, here are some situations where specific meanings are created by editing.
First it has to be mentioned that the dramatic build-up to the climax contains something Shyamalan has never attempted before, not only an elaborate cross-cutting scheme but as much as a six-way one: Casey, Claire, Marcia in each their prison (although the latter two are co-operating there is constant cutting between their compartments), The Beast arriving home at lightning speed, Dr. Fletcher gradually reviving, and, not least, the computer screen in the anteroom with diaries for various identities, and Barry in the driver’s seat during the cross-cutting.
(row by row) Patricia leaves her introduction scene, closing the door. There is a cut to Dr. Fletcher closing the door of her archive drawer. Another cut: she leaves the room but the camera enters the archive room again, to linger on a drawer and the number (300-400).
Kevin Wendell Crumb is literally a wandering archive of identities. It is with the introduction of Patricia that the girls realise they are in the hands of a villain with multiple personalities. This is also the point where the viewer understands that Dr. Fletcher is not treating sex offenders – something that Dennis’s behaviour towards the girls would indicate – but DID patients. Everything in her first session with Dennis-masquerading-as-Barry and the subsequent chat with her neighbour is carefully worded so we will not learn her patients’ exact problem. Barry could be Dennis’s twin brother, or Dennis a fake identity Barry assumed carrying out the kidnapping.
Some black humour is derived from the juxtaposition of the below scenes. Dennis has chased down the escaping Claire and ordered her to remove her dirty sweater. Either he is surprised by her not wearing much underneath, or he is deliberately stripping her in a sexual manner and is then overwhelmed with desire by seeing her in her bra. Having promised Patricia not to sexually harass the girls any more, he pulls himself together, saying “I’m trying to be good” (and looking hypocritically directly into the camera). Possibly this is victim-blaming: after having stripped her, he blames her for being sexually desirable, thus exonerating himself as an abuser (a common rationalisation for sex offenders).
Then there is an abrupt cut to him installing a lock on a closet door. This will be Claire’s prison, but the blunt cut and the insistent sound of the drill make it look like he is imprisoning, quashing or repressing his own desire, locking it away.
This is outright hilarious, however: the hamster was earlier happily running along in its wheel, but when Hedwig has turned off the music after his over-the-top exuberant dance, the silence is accompanied by a shot of it frozen into immobility, as if it too is stunned by Hedwig’s number.
A cut from Dr. Fletcher to Casey, both asleep. (Casey has got a flower of her own now, probably delivered by Hedwig.)
Cutting on the same activity (sleep) is normal, but here there is a chain of added foreshadowing. Just before the shot of the psychiatrist we see Hedwig’s file, containing his drawing of The Beast, and when Casey wakes up, we will meet Hedwig for the first time in the film, and very soon he will indirectly introduce the concept of The Beast to the story: “He’s on the move.”
(While we are dealing with the archive: we also learn that Kevin Wendell Crumb is her patient no. 617, and each personality is assigned a subnumber. She evidently does not take The Beast seriously, to her there are only 23 identities!)
There is also a very nice clash of close-ups between two people soon to become adversaries: a worried Dr. Fletcher after she has received the e-mails crying for help and Dennis getting the light at the kitchen table, with him ominously looming larger. They are even lit from the same side. (If you wonder why she seems more heavily made-up than usual here, the reason is a deleted sub-plot: she has just come home from visiting a much younger man in the same building with whom she is infatuated and entertains the idea it is mutual. She has now been indirectly rejected, however – a bad start to a fatal evening.)
Both the second and third flashback end with the menacingly echoing sound of Casey’s father opening a can of beer, the uncle plying his big brother with alcohol to have better access to Casey. (Look at his gaze down at the child.) In the second flashback Casey seems to give the can an annoyed look and back in the cell it looks like she is wincing at the memory.
Why is Casey lying on the floor when Hedwig comes to take her to his room? One suspects that the fifth flashback – where Casey was abused and later threatened by her uncle – has been shifted around in the narrative during editing. That flashback ended with Casey in hysteria and later, as Dennis is leaving and will be intercepted by Dr. Fletcher outside, we look in on Casey (bottom right), who has calmed down a bit. She is in the same area of the cell as when Hedwig comes calling (see the black power outlet with the white circles, at the right edges). Probably the flashback was originally meant to appear before the Hedwig scene.
If you wonder about the small bright object on the floor by the door (just beside the dark vertical beam in the top row images), visible after Casey has managed to pick the cell door lock with the screw, this is a remnant from Dennis’s deleted scene. Here he drops his chloroform canister on the floor (bottom, left). Casey manages to kick it (bottom, right) into the crack so the door does not close properly, making it easier for Casey to deal with the lock. (This is a parallel to Dr. Fletcher’s handkerchief but in the official film Casey’s screw did the job without this help.)
This chapter will deal with particularly interesting ideas that have not been covered by earlier articles and chapters. The isolation and abduction chapters of the second article and all the non-reference parts of the third article, about Dr. Fletcher and Kevin, are especially important in this respect.
Let us start with something exceedingly subtle but totally brilliant. The second article established a number of parallels between the abusers of the two time planes, but there is one more, which is certain to be intentional. Before Dennis sits down he draws up his trousers – a usual routine for well-endowed men to make more room in the crotch – and when the uncle sits down he is doing the same, in an almost invisible, practised movement close to the upper frame edge.
Looking more closely at the shot, the playground in the background seems to indicate a lost childhood for Casey, and the uncle’s hands hint at sexual penetration, while the two fingers that are “embraced” might represent these two family members held in an unbreakable bond.
This is very likely just a happy accident, but after the uncle has taken the rifle from Casey, the scene has become darker, like her future. It is not easily perceptible from the screenshots but look at the gleaming that has faded on the leaves to his left.
Slide show: there is a short period of sudden harmony and renewed purpose in Split, beginning with Dr. Fletcher’s arrival at the zoo. Dennis starts this shot slightly uncentered against the gate in the background, but when he gets very much taken by something she just said, that all of Kevin’s alters are “extraordinary”, he takes one step forward so he is perfectly aligned with the gate.
In the next scene, we see the same, this time too with a vertical bar: Casey has recovered from her anxiety attack, and after taking some small uncertain steps back and forth, she ends the shot in alignment with the pipe behind her. The next time we see her she has started to work on the door.
The pipe was earlier denoting disorder and disunity, splitting the girls into two factions. Dennis’s scene outside ends with him and the psychiatrist framed together in a field stretching out into the distance, a visual figure repeated in their next shot, following immediately after Casey’s own moment of alignment. (“We are very similar, you and I”, Dennis says in the corridor shot.)
Here a lamp is very helpfully, almost teasingly, pointing out the place where the keys will turn up to be. (It is Orwell speaking, an identity obsessed with Indian history, who has also given The Horde its name, which fits well with his expertise since “urdu” means “language of the Horde”, a word that originally was used for Central Asian clans or tribes. It also fits well with Shyamalan’s Indian background.)
The pen is mightier than the knife here, as Casey discovers the body of Dr. Fletcher with the useless knife beside her, but the note with Kevin’s full name will save her.
It is unclear whether Casey understands the purpose of the handkerchief that Dr. Fletcher had stuck in the door but she manages to force it open. It is marvellous how the all-important handkerchief keeps floating in the air afterwards (in possible slow-motion), Dr. Fletcher once again having agency after her death.
Life with Patricia and Hedwig
“Do you know, a family of lions can eat 35 pounds a day?”
Even when Patricia has the light the obsessive-compulsive Dennis seems to have some influence, because there is a minor scandal, and great fury, over this crookedly cut sandwich.
Patricia on some level feels great compassion for her sacrificial lambs and soothes Marcia when her escape attempt reaches a dead end.
Patricia’s knife is against the very area that The Beast seems to favour. Another foreshadowing: after Dennis in the bathroom scene has informed his prisoners that they are “sacred food”, Marcia wonders, “Maybe he has a dog or something. You think he’s gonna feed us to his dogs?”, in a hesistant, unbelieving voice. Jessica Sula has not that much to work with – her character is meant to be quite ordinary – but I love her thin and vulnerable voice, like in the dog remark, and when she girlishly asks Patricia: “Can Claire come eat with us?”
(row by row) Later, in Hedwig’s room, during Casey’s fight with him over the walkie-talkie, the lamp by the hamster cage has been knocked over. This seems like a staging decision, so that Patricia’s entrance becomes more dramatic, as she emerges from the shadows after having taken over from Hedwig.
There is a marked difference between the playful journey to Hedwig’s room and the ritualistic return to the cell. Casey must hold her “hands together in contrition”, while Patricia adds to the solemn atmosphere by reciting, “in the sun, we will find our passion; in the sun, we will find our purpose,” in her narcissistic manner and uniquely cultured, quiet megalomania. Part of the corridor is intentionally darkened so we can see the light from under the doors of the closet prisons of Claire and Marcia. (The door on the left in the bottom shot goes to the kitchen. Here is a map of this basement lair.)
Patricia loves processions: on the way to the kitchen, they had to hold hands and wore “pretty flowers” in their hair. The score has given Patricia a theme of a dark, slow, dry funeral march – called “Last Rites” on the track listing (from 1:24 here) – that plays here and when Casey is led back to her cell above.
A technical point: Patricia’s line – “I understand. This must all seem so unsatisfactory for you. But we are doing the best we can.” – has been transferred from a deleted part of the previous scene inside the cell. Careful observation reveals that Patricia’s lips are not moving in the scene we see here. Just before, when Patricia walked away after having put a flower in Marcia’s hair, comparison with the deleted scene indicates that another line has been added: “Come Along. We’ll have a proper meal.” Originally, it was meant that Casey would persuade Patricia to let them leave the cell, but Shyamalan changed this so that Patricia would be in full control.
Before they left, Patricia took it upon herself to brush Casey’s hair. It is unclear what purpose Casey has with feigning that Patricia is pulling her hair – to see if this will elicit genuine sympathy? Or is the pain real? It looks strange since Patricia’s attention is on Marcia here.
A great moment: Patricia blows out the candle in exquisitely refined fashion and when she leaves she is enveloped by its smoke, giving her departure a magical air.
Finally, a “fun fact”: all four times where either Patricia or Dennis are seen in other people’s background have to do with doors. Dr. Fletcher has opened the door to Claire’s closet prison; Marcia tries to open the living room door after having fled the kitchen. (Here are the two other times.)
In the first Hedwig scene, Casey immediately understands that she may play him to her advantage. First she sits down on the floor to get “on the level” with him and teases him with having a secret. He cannot resist…
…and in one of the highlights of the film, he surprises us by walking to her physically as a child…
…while Anya Taylor-Joy suddenly shows a charismatic, hypnotic, almost witch-like intensity, with her dark eyes and voice, radiating intelligence but also a lot of pain. She tries to fool him into believing that the bad guys are after a little boy this time….
…but she also knows how to play on his yearning, understanding that this is a very lonely nine-year-old, with the wonderful line: “Look at me. We’re like your babysitters. We’ll let you watch TV and make you a fun dinner.” She sounds extra persuasive since she is also channelling her own yearning for a normal family life. Note that Hedwig is always decentered in these close-ups, showing his insecurity, while she is more balanced. McAvoy does a marvellous job portraying a child, crying with utter conviction.
The second Hedwig scene is one of the very best in Shyamalan’s filmography, typical for him stripped down, intimate and quiet. It is on the same level as the porch scene between Ivy and Lucius in The Village or the situation between Edward and Alice in the same film, where he tells her that his daughter Ivy has gone to the towns for medicine for her son.
The Split scene is dimly lit as if enveloped in an interior dusk, and with an atmospheric echo around their voices that has not existed in the cell before. Both of these Hedwig scenes start with distinctive point-of-view shots towards an open door, lopsided in the first and ethereal in the second one. While Hedwig previously sat in the doorway, he is nowhere to be seen now, but…
…this elegant camera movement reveals that Hedwig, who in the previous scene said he liked to watch the girls sleeping, has now climbed into Casey’s bed and is spooning her.
When he gets up there is a nice detail: he puts his hand on her lower back for support, as nine-year-old with a small body would, which makes her wince.
After having quietly gloated about his special powers to decide which of the alters shall have the light, he asks to kiss her. She meets the request with a resigned look. She ought to have said no – after all he is a nine-year-old, a minor! – but she is used to be abused by others and can see his emotional longing. She is resigned to exploit it, to become a sort-of-abuser herself to try to win back his favour after her lies had been found out.
Hedwig gives her a pricelessly mechanical, passionless kiss.
After this magical track-out, Casey has an exquisitely melancholy look as she lies about him being a good kisser, but perks up when Hedwig starts talking about music and a CD player in his room. A quiet, tender, hesitant piano music starts when he makes some dance moves – and the creaking from the bed sounds like quick drumsticks.
From now on Anya Taylor-Joy‘s performance is a marvel of nuanced phrasings, pregnant pauses, subtly shifting tones of voice and facial expressions, immensely aided by the lighting: “Maybe I could watch you dance and listen to music with you.”
When Hedwig protests that his music is in his room, she suggests conspiratorially: “Oh. Right. Maybe you could sneak me there.”
He is very suspicious but she has a plan: “I’ll tell you something. And you can tell me if I’m lying or not, okay? Like a test, okay?”
“I get into trouble at school, on purpose. So I can get sent to detention. To get away from everyone. So that I can be alone.” This is a 37-second long take, and since the piano has kept on playing, it sounds as if she is reciting a small poem to it with her musical voice. And because it started when Hedwig did his Kanye West moves, the music belongs to them both, helping produce the feeling that they are united in a meeting of minds, involving them as co-creators and co-conspirators.
In a way, she has become the babysitter she talked about in the previous scene. Here she is absolutely truthful, and her demeanour wins him over, but nevertheless she is tricking him. Exactly like her uncle did to get the upper hand in the flashback – «I’ll tell your dad you’re not being nice» – she is exploiting his weaknesses. She employs the manipulative behaviour learned from her own abuser, and the knowledge of how people’s psyche can be used against them, something that helps make this scene and her predicament so bittersweet.
There is also a parallel to Dennis’s meeting of minds with Dr. Fletcher in the third sesson. In the end he achieves a trusting relationship with the psychiatrist, which is similar to Hedwig wanting to be friends with the older Casey. Also, Dennis says that The Horde have been “ridiculed” by the other alters, but it is even worse for Hedwig, who is in turn ridiculed by Patricia and Dennis for his “silly mistakes” and dominated by them.
(column by column) The scene has also a formal plan within its apparent simplicity. The door is always visible behind Hedwig, beckoning with its light and opportunity for escape. The only exception is the two-shot, which is also violating the axis. This is here a neat visualisation of a turning point, for on this side of the axis it is Casey who gains the initiative. And as soon as he starts dancing (right column, middle image) – music is after all the avenue that may lead Casey to freedom – the door frame goes from partly to entirely visible, and stays that way for the rest of the scene, in reflection of the fact that escape has now become more attainable for Casey.
(row by row) There is also a contrast between the light from the door and the darkness of the closed door, as well as between the dark secret of The Beast and the sudden, piercing light of the psychiatrist’s session in the next shot, represented by the gleaming diploma.
The final, common point-of-view
The Rolls Royce of point-of-view shots in Split comes during the final moments between Casey and her tormentor. She has shot The Beast twice with the shotgun but to no avail. At first he is completely given to his own megalomania, bending the bars of the cage to get at her, but then something catches his attention…
…together with him, we see strange markings on Casey’s shoulders, while at the same time the immensely sad, slowly pulsating musical theme when Casey first met Kevin returns very powerfully, as if reverberating within the cavities of the cellar – it is the music of truth and real selves. Like when Kevin emerged this is the first time the real Casey appears to us…
…she is totally confused about what is happening, while both are heaving for breath…
…Casey’s self-abuse, to redirect the pain of being abused by her uncle – for surely it cannot be him who has done this? – is revealed in its full horrific extent…
…laughing with equal joy and pain, The Beast says: “You are different from the rest.” The camera recedes, embracing the full extent of Casey’s being, and the fact that the scars are an integral part of her identity.
The scars have not just been applied to Anya Taylor-Joy for this scene. They are visible when she is looking for the shotgun cartridges in the wardrobe, and fleetingly as she is reaching for them when attacked by The Beast. The “rhinoceros” hide of The Beast – it is as if this personality is specifically designed to save Kevin from ever being hurt again – contrasts meaningfully with Casey’s scars, and the network of lines on his body is reminiscent of them, but carried as a mark of strength.
“Your heart is pure! Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved.” And very softly: “Rejoice.” Casey is shaken by the fact that this madman has connected with her soul and accepted her as the troubled person she is, but still overwhelmed by this meeting of minds. First one tear falls, then one more from the other eye.
This has all the time been a mutual point-of-view situation, and now he walks away into a sea of soft focus, which could be her tears:
The scene ends with the below 18-second shot of Casey looking down at her marks…
…and contemplating the poetic irony and paradox of the situation, that the twisted logic of The Beast saved her life.
When her third layer of clothes has been peeled away, The Beast realises there was only a superficial similarity between Casey and the other girls. They were all looking healthy and vital, but in heart-rending contrast to Casey’s perfect facial skin, there is a whole landscape of scars hidden on her torso.
Like there was a keyword for returning Kevin to a saner state, his full name scribbled on a piece of paper, Casey’s pain is written on her body in a language of scars, forming another keyword that can still the Beast’s brutality.
When the girls are transported to their cell, we see first the ceiling in a shot that moves from right to left, but when we see Casey the trolley travels in the other direction. The ceiling and pipes (and the fact that only every second light is on) look identical to the later shot of Dennis and Dr. Fletcher, so it seems the same corridor. Since there are only lights on one side of the wall, however, the directions of the first shots contradict each other.
After Barry has changed into Hedwig (and later Patricia) blood has appeared around Hedwig’s mouth. This is probably meant to be remnants after The Beast has feasted on Claire but it is inconsistent.
How likely is it that the psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher also has an education as a psychologist? Anyway, “sciences” is misspelled.
This is what one can get into when long takes are left behind for edited scenes. Marcia’s boxes of leftovers (which we will see again here) have disappeared in the scene’s last shot, and with the way she is carrying them, it is unlikely she is still holding them further below. There has been an in-between shot of Casey so she could have put them down, but still it is untidy, and likely a consequence of different, not entirely matching takes.
This is really curious: whose finger is it at the left edge? Patricia is supposed to be standing over her and Marcia is on the other cot. Possibly with the frame masking of theatrical projections this would not be visible, which could be why it is left in.
There is also something strange with the sound when Dr. Fletcher discovers Claire in her cell. We also hear Marcia’s voice but very close; it does not sound like coming from the other closet.