HISTORY OF THE MENTALLY DISABLED IN CINEMA
Hollywood, and storymakers in general, have always been enamored by mental disorders.
From Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which delves into DID, to Black Swan, which covers an entire range of mental disorders, it seems like these mental health issues make for thrilling, fascinating stories, but that is simply not true.
While there are some great and accurate examples of mental illness in cinema, there is one director who constantly seems to use mental illness as a negative plot device.
INTRO TO M NIGHT SHYAMALAN
M Night Shyamalan is a renowned director, known for his works such as Split, Glass and The Sixth Sense, as well as the famous twists in his stories that little see coming. However, many have found a pattern in his twists - they all involve a disabled (mentally or physically) person.
Characters that are mentally ill who appear in his movies:
Kevin from the “Split” trilogy - has DID and performs some bad actions
Vincent Grey from The Sixth Sense - a disturbed former patient of a child psychologist
Mrs Collins from The Sixth Sense - has Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy
Although representation on screen is a positive thing, almost all of the characters in his works who have mental illnesses are violent and/or killers, an incredibly false depiction.
In this post, we will focus on two of his most recent depictions - Split and Old.
Shyamalan’s 2017 Movie, Split, followed the main character who has DID, spirals out of control and kidnaps a girl.
While DID, in some rare cases, can be very conflicting and exciting, that is not what happens in the majority of cases. However, since movies are made to be thrilling, that is almost the only portrayal of it on screen. Here are some of the correct and incorrect portrayals of DID:
Childhood trauma is a main trigger
All the alters are defining, different and distinct - not the same person with slightly different personalities
DID can be controlled
DID changes physical appearance/ability
Old is a movie full of characters wil mental and physical disabilities - due to the nature of the story.
One of the characters in the story - Rufus - is said to have a mental disorder which was later revealed to be schizophrenia. Shyamalan portrays him as violent and malevolent, which is another famous misconception about schizophrenia.
GOOD WAYS OF PORTRAYING DISABILITIES
It is okay to have one or two characters in a piece of work that is a murderer and has a mental illness. However, when there is a consistent pattern of mentally ill characters who are violent, it is unacceptable and stigmatising.
A good example of disability, though not mental, in cinema, is The Quiet Place, where the family’s daughter is deaf, but it does not hinder their survival - in fact, it helps them in the future.
"From Split to Psycho: why cinema fails dissociative identity disorder ...." https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jan/12/cinema-dissociative-personality-disorder-split-james-mcavoy.
"All the science-related plot holes from M Night Shyamalan's Old." 30 Jul. 2021, https://www.digitalspy.com/movies/a37178093/old-illness-plot-hole-reality-science/.
"Dissociative Identity Disorder in M. Night Shyamalan's Split - Psi Chi." 12 Jun. 2017, https://www.psichi.org/blogpost/987366/277421/Dissociative-Identity-Disorder-in-M-Night-Shyamalan-s-Split-Fact-vs-Fiction-Contains-Spoilers.