The acclaimed filmmaker opens up about his exciting new comeback vehicle Split, the liberal Hollywood bubble, and that shocking result no one saw coming. “>
With so much weighing on everyones minds, M. Night Shyamalans worlds are colliding. At the AFI Fest in Los Angeles to present his upcoming film Split, a thriller starring the wholly committed James McAvoy as a volatile kidnapper with 23 different personalities, the Sixth Sense filmmaker flashed back to last week when the results of the U.S. presidential election proved just how divided America really is.
Its very much a metaphor for our country right now, Shyamalan considered, rolling up his sleeves the morning after he held an audience of 1,100 Split moviegoers rapt into the wee hours of the night at Hollywoods historic Chinese Theatre. We definitely have multiple sides to us that have to co-exist in the same body, and were not going anywhere. Both sides have an entrenched point of view and arent really compatible right now.
He paused. Weneedto figure this out.
Dissociative personality disorder (DID) is unsurprisingly fertile ground for Shyamalan to work his magic in, being the filmmaker of his generation who upends expectations like no other. But any real-world political parallels are purely coincidental, or circumstantial. Hes been living with the seed of Split for over a decade, after all, which is when the complex and shockingly sympathetic character of Kevin first took root in his brain.
Hes known for his twists and has rarely made a movie without dropping in at least a few of them. But Shyamalan says what butters his toast are characters, nothowa film reveals itself to the audience. (Im trying to get better at seeing where my story structure errors are, he noted. Thatsmy Achilles heel.) And in McAvoys many characters,Splitallows Shyamalan to also dive into controversial philosophical debates over how society and modern psychiatry treat those who suffer from mental illness, abuse, and the invisibility of powerlessness.
A lot of people dont think it exists. Its not accepted yet and everyone doesnt believe this in the field. They dont believe the things I [wrote intoSplit] are true, but they actually arethat one personality can have diabetes, that the physical manifestations can be real, that [one personality] can be fluent in Russian, all of these things, he explained. We 100 percent believe an autistic savant can sit down and hear Beethoven once and then play Beethoven. That is about hyper-concentration: the ability to block everything out and hear it and replicate it in such specificity.
Our way into the story is Casey (The Witchs Anya-Taylor Joy), an angsty teenager who proves uniquely resourceful when she and two classmates are kidnapped and held prisoner by several personalities inhabiting the body of one man. The films riveting focus, however, is McAvoys gonzo performance as Kevinand Barry, and Dennis, and Patricia, and Hedwig, and many more identities of varying gender, sexuality, age, and temperament, who are all waging their own desperate civil war for power while the clock ticks for the poor souls theyve got locked away in a labyrinthine prison somewhere in Philadelphia.
Split is, of course, a twisty tale. Shyamalan is still Shyamalan, and the signature table-turning he perfected in his best-known filmsThe Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signsis still ingrained in his storytelling DNA. Its also the latest modestly scaled film Shyamalan has made in recent years after 2015s The Visit, a $5 million Universal-Blumhouse genre piece that took in $98.5 million, and brought him back into the game after a string of big-budget disappointments.
A lot has changed for movies sinceThe Sixth Sensewent viral the old-fashioned way, when analog word of mouth sent choruses of I see dead people rippling through the fabric of American pop culture. The two audiences that have seen Split, first in September at Austins Fantastic Fest and now this week in L.A., have so far helped Shyamalan and Universal pull off the near-impossible in the age of social media and quick-trigger spoiler culture: Theyre keepingSplits secrets secret.
Shyamalan smiles at the thought that those whove seen Split have agreed to preserve its surprises for everyone else ahead of its Jan. 20 release. Theres some relief, it seems, in letting go of the power, in sharing the responsibility for the reveal. What youre doing is empowering those individuals to be the stewards of the movie, he shrugged. Its just the reality now. They frame it in a good way, bad way, whateverits theirs to do that. You are really giving absolute trust to people to say, together were going to take the movie out to the world.
At 46, Shyamalan says that not much fazes him these days. But he was unexpectedly drawn into the election chaos last week when distraught strangers questioned if a Donald Trump win wasnt just an elaborate M. Night Shyamalan twist.