Posted on Sunday, January 22nd, 2017 by Jacob Hall
It should come as no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan‘s Split features a big twist. It’s kind of his thing. Everyone, even his fans, has poked fun at his penchant for Big Shocking Reveals, some of which work as stunning reversals and some of which fall flat on their face. The twist in Split is a weird one – for every person who sees it and loses their goddamn mind, there will be someone who has no idea what the hell just happened.
In other words, it’s the kind of thing that demands to be discussed. Huge spoilers ahead. Seriously. If you haven’t seen Split yet, I’d suggest not reading on.
Okay, so Split ends with James McAvoy‘s Kevin still very much alive and on the run, with three of his 23 separate personalities still running the show, forcing the other personalities into subservience (the film’s treatment of dissociative identity disorder is admittedly inelegant and will rightfully inspire some think pieces). While they failed to kill young Casey Cook, the dominant personalities accomplished their ultimate goal – they have unleashed the 24th personality, known as The Beast, a bloodthirsty monster capable of superhuman strength and endurance. It’s wild, silly, B-movie nuttiness and I got a kick out of it.
And if Split had ended there, it would have been a perfectly fine and perfectly entertaining thriller that I enjoyed very much. However, the film has one more trick up its sleeve, a quick epilogue that demands you view everything that came before in a new context.
The film cuts to a restaurant, where the Philadelphia citizenry are discussing the strange events of the past few days and the monstrous killer the press has dubbed “The Horde” (because there are many different personalities, you see). As the camera moves past a series of conversations, one diner notes that this whole thing sounds like another guy who stirred up some trouble back in the day. And then Bruce Willis‘ David Dunn appears on screen and notes that they called him Mr. Glass.
There it is. Split is the secret Unbreakable sequel that M. Night Shyamalan has been promising for years. Cut to credits.
What I love about this reveal is that it doesn’t rewrite everything we’ve just seen as much as it recontextualizes them. Split would still be a fun movie without this final scene, but knowing that it takes place in the same Philadelphia as Unbreakable, a Philadelphia that looks an awful lot like the real place while also being home to a security guard who cannot be hurt and his train-derailing nemesis, opens up the imagination. The ending of Split isn’t a period as much as it is an ellipsis – we’re looking at bigger world than we previously thought. Hell, we’re looking at the Unbreakable Cinematic Universe, for better or worse.
When I first watched Split at Fantastic Fest last year, Shyamalan participated in a lengthy post-film Q&A where he discussed the ending in detail (and made us promise to not spoil it, a promise that I believe was mostly kept). He revealed that the character of Kevin was originally one of the villains in an early draft of Unbreakable, but he was soon excised from the script entirely because there wasn’t enough room for him alongside David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass. Shyamalan recently elaborated on this in an interview with Collider:
Oh, it was always there. Always. This character, Kevin from Split, was in the original script of Unbreakable. The original draft of Unbreakable focused on David Dunn and Elijah as his mentor. Elijah tells him, “You’re a comic book character, go try it.” And instead of bumping into the Orange Suit Man, David bumps into one of Kevin’s personalities and goes to save the girls. So you’d have been watching the girls’ side of it the whole time. That was the outline.
And yes, Shyamalan is already thinking about a third movie that would further solidify the Unbreakable universe. We can talk about that later, maybe after we see Split‘s box office returns.
When I saw Split, I was in a theater filled with diehard movie fans, all of whom knew exactly what this reveal meant. I even spoke to a few people who caught on to the big twist about 30 seconds earlier than everyone else because they recognized Shyamalan recycling James Newton Howard’s Unbreakable score in the penultimate scene. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Bruce Willis popping up on that screen will go down as one of the most memorable moviegoing moments of my life. The audience went nuts. We ate it up. We got it. We were the target audience for Shyamalan’s shenanigans.
So here’s the big question: will ordinary folks, the vast majority of people who buy tickets to see Split this weekend, understand what’s going on? Will they care? Unbreakable came out 17 years and while it was a hit, it hasn’t remained on the forefront of the average moviegoer’s mind like it has with the nerds who fell in love with its low-key comic book world. I can’t help but imagine a lot of very confused people staring at the closing credits, wondering “Why did Bruce Willis randomly show up?”
So here’s what I want from you: go into the comments below and share your thoughts on this big reveal. Did it excite you to your core or fly right over your head? Did your audience get it or were they completely baffled? Let us know.Cool Posts From Around the Web: