M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Split,’ released in 2016, brought the director back to what he did best: psychological thrillers. ‘Split’ is about a man dealing with a dissociative identity disorder and how he grapples with all the different personalities inside him. Starring the brilliant James McAvoy and the talented Anya Taylor-Joy, the thriller combines great acting with signature M. Night Shyamalan’s scriptwriting. ‘Split’ was a runaway success, garnering more than $270 million worldwide. The film’s subject has also drawn comparison to Billy Milligan, who is the focus of Netflix’s true-crime docuseries, ‘Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan.’ So, let’s find out if ‘Split’ is based on Billy then, shall we?
Is Split Based On Billy Milligan?
Split is partly based on Billy Milligan. Having said that, however, while M. Night Shyamalan took inspiration from a book based on Billy, he was not the only real-life person from whom the story took cues. In an interview from 2017, Shyamalan said regarding his research into the disorder that the main character deals with in the film, “There are obviously some wonderful famous cases that have been documented in major books, like iconic ones like ‘Sybil’ and ‘The Minds of Billy Milligan.’ However, they are all similar in their architectures of the characters, with how the therapists worked with them. You start to see some pathways on how to talk about the character.”
The film has James McAvoy playing Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, undergoing therapy for his dissociative identity disorder and living with 24 different personalities. One of them, “Dennis,” kidnaps three teenage girls and holds them in an underground facility. Through the film, the audience is introduced to the different personalities ranging from a protective “Patricia” to a nine-year-old boy and ultimately, “The Beast.” James puts in a masterful performance, seamlessly shifting between these different characters.
James talked about why he picked the role in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “It was the opportunity. Getting to play one of the characters would have been a fun and interesting thing for me to do as an actor, but to get to do that nine times, with nine different, interesting, and dynamic characters, seemed like a great opportunity. I thought it was really well-written, and it kept doing that thing of, every time a question was answered, it was answered with another question, so there was constant reveals all the way along.”
Billy Milligan does share certain similarities with James’ character. Like Kevin, Billy was also diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder back in the 1970s. He claimed to have about 24 different personalities within him after his arrest for multiple sexual assaults in Ohio. He was later found not guilty by reason of insanity for the rapes and spent a considerable amount of time in psychiatric facilities. As for ‘Split,’ the movie served as the unofficial sequel to Shyamalan’s 2000 hit ‘Unbreakable‘ and led to another film, ‘Glass‘ in 2019, that brought the characters in both the movies together, making it a trilogy.
Read More: Split’s Ending, Explained