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Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) It s time to review that Police album Ghost in the Machine.
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) Greg, it s pretty clear you re a Shell of your former self. Let s recap.
GREG: We re introduced to Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) - a woman who died but had her brain implanted in a new mechanical body - a shell. Unlike other mechanical objects (robots, for example), her brain allows her to keep her soul - her ghost. But having her ghost stored in a shell comes with a price. Mr Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) of the military organization Section 9 wants her to be a weapon - a soldier.
SCOTT: Major Killian is bothered by how little she knows about her past. She breaks up a terrorist attack and kills a robotic geisha in the process. In an attempt to hack the geisha, Killian finds herself hacked by the evil source of the terrorist attack, a dark entity known as Kuze (Michael Pitt). Killian s sidekick Batou (Pilou Asb k) is able to rescue her from the hack, but this only strengthens Killian s and Section 9 s resolve to defeat Kuze.
GREG: Scott, Ghost in the Shell is an amazing bit of cinematography and CGI - but aside from its name, it lacks any soul. Scarlett Johansson suffers from the same problem in this film as she has in the Avengers movies and her last film Lucy - she s emotionless. Johanson is in a strange place in this film. On the one hand, she has to act like a robot, but still have the emotions of a human. But she never finds the sweet spot between stoicism and emotion. We re left with a dull presentation and a passionless film.
SCOTT: Greg, Johanssson s emotionless portrayal worked for me here because of her backstory as a mostly cybernetic entity. For the most part, Ghost in the Shell works as a movie because it ambitiously attempts to cover a lot of philosophical and spiritual bases. The film delves into several thorny questions relating to artificial intelligence, such as (a) where one draws the line between biological and synthetic organisms; (b) when is our humanity lost once technologies operate most of our bodies; and (c) what rights do robots have in relation to biological entities. There are also numerous references to one s ghost or spirit the thing that truly makes us human and distinct. I find this to be an interesting issue. So I enjoyed this movie s effort to explore interesting ethical issues and for visually anticipating a futuristic urban landscape that is both daunting and jarring. Future humans are portrayed as death-averse to the extreme. People are transforming into machines, with our brains as the only thing separating us from pure robotic intelligence, and even those brains are implanted with memory chips. It s an eerie yet realistic view of the trajectory of our society.
GREG: This movie didn t deal with those thorny issues, though, Scott. It merely threw them on the screen as bait for the audience. Star Trek: The Next Generation actually did deal with these topics with Mr. Data - the android who was trying to be more human. But all Major really ever wrestled with was her own identity. In this way, Major is strongly reminiscent of Jason Bourne from the Bourne movies. Her past is erased, she s given a superbly strong body, and the skills to be the perfect soldier/weapon. If you take Bourne and drop him into the world of The Matrix - you pretty much have Ghost in the Shell.
SCOTT: That s a good comparison. Killian stars in the Bourntrix. And her hero s journey does indeed consists of her search for self identity. With regard to transformation, we see characters and society on a steady path of metamorphosis. Earlier I mentioned society s transformation toward losing its humanity, its soul or ghost as this movie puts it. I would call this a physical, mental, and spiritual transformation of society. We discuss the nature of transformations in the movies in our latest book Reel Heroes & Villains. At the individual level, we witness Killian discovering some basic truths about Section 9 and the morality of the people she works for. She also realizes that the enemy she is fighting is actually a test subject much like herself who is fighting an ethical battle to stop the exploitation of impoverished humans kidnapped for testing. Killian also uncovers the truth about herself and her past, suggesting a mental transformation. So we have a lot going on with regard to heroic self-discovery and transformation here.
GREG: I think the movie waters down its message by having so many goals at once. Major s main issue, from the start of the movie until its end, is belonging. She feels alienated from the world as she s the only one of her kind. Later she learns that she was part of an anarchist commune where she found a sense of family among other runaways in the lawless zone. Ultimately, she s reunited with her true mother and becomes a member of what s left of Section 9 (reminiscent of the fate of S.H.I.E.L.D from the Avengers movies). In the end she is transformed from a loner to a team player. Ghost in the Shell is a visual marvel. The futuristic dystopian world reminded me of Blade Runner, but with amazing CGI in place of practical effects. But the movie lacked a heart and didn t keep me interested. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels. Major as played by Scarlett Johansson is dull and emotionless. We re hardly concerned for her when she takes risks or comes close to death. It s hard to get excited about a character who never gets excited over anything. I give her just 3 Heroes out of 5. Ghost has too many messages to make for a coherent movie: loss of soul, need for family, need for togetherness, need for humanity, need for authentic experiences. The ultimate transformation for Major gets watered down. We hardly care that she s found her way among her Section 9 counterparts at the film s end. I give her transformation 3 out of 5 Deltas. Movie: Transformation: Heroes:
SCOTT: Ghost in the Shell is a highly creative and disturbing look at the future of humanity, a future in which humans are obsessed with cybernetic implants and governments corruptly use advanced human-technology hybrids to do their dirty spy work. It s a grisly extrapolation of our current societal trends and it doesn t bode well for the future of our human race. The story is a by-the-numbers spy thriller that is enjoyable but doesn t quite live up to the exemplary CGI effects. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5. The hero s journey is packed full of the classic elements of the hero s quest in myth and literature. Our hero Killian is sent on a journey that dramatically transforms her physical body. Her work in Section 9 leads to the illumination of her true identity, and she discovers who her true friends and enemies are. As befitting a good hero, Killian is transformed mentally and emotionally as she uncovers the truth about her past and the people around her. I give her heroism a total of 4 Hero points out of 5. I ve mentioned the many ways that Killian is transformed and how these transformations operate in parallel with the disturbing ways that our future society is transformed in this film. While these transformations are interesting and abundant, they don t pack as much punch as they should. Perhaps the impotence of these transformation is due to their predictability and also to the understated performance of Johansson. I award these transformations a total of 3 transformation deltas out of 5. Movie: Transformation: Heroes:
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) Hey, I ll race you to the end of this review, Scott.
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) Let s take our time and do it right. This film deserves it. Let s recap.
GREG: We re introduced to young Jesse Owens (Stephan James). He s rushing to the bus stop to take him to Ohio State University where he will be on the track and field team. His mother has made him a new jacket. He leaves his father with two dollars. He stops at the beauty shop where his girlfriend works. He kisses his two-year-old daughter goodbye. And then he s on his way to the world of higher education, low wages, and collegiate athletics.
SCOTT: Jesse arrives at Ohio State University where he meets the track coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Snyder is a good coach but hasn t had much luck fielding a successful team yet. He sees Jessie running some practice heats and is blown away by Owens speed. Snyder tells Jessie that with hard work an Olympic gold medal at the 1936 Berlin games is within reach. Meanwhile Jessie meets another woman Ruth (Shanice Banton) who seduces him after reminding him that it s best to love the one you re with.
GREG: Race is a movie title with a double meaning. Not only are we witness to the emergence of perhaps the finest athlete who ever lived. But also an examination of one of the most significant events in race relations in world history. Jesse Owens was under great pressure to boycott the 1936 Olympic games because Hitler and the Nazi party were victimizing Jews and people of color. At the same time, he had the opportunity to show that Hitler s racist ideology was false. This film builds to that moment and plays it to its fullest. Race is a very satisfying depiction of the events that made Jesse Owens a hero.
SCOTT: Greg, I d say not just very satisfying but extremely so. Race is far from perfect -- it s a bit bloated, with several scenes needing to have been left on the cutting room floor. Still, the movie is an effective biopic about one of the greatest athletes in American history. Owens exposed Germany s brutal regime of hypocrisy, racism, and hate. His journey was gritty, complex, and courageous. In many ways, this film is reminiscent of the 2013 film 42 which told the story of Jackie Robinson. Just as Robinson needed help from Branch Rickey, Jesse Owens needed help from Larry Snyder. Greg, I know that nothing drives you crazy more than seeing a movie about a Black man who needs help from a White man. But the historical context of Race and 42 positioned Blacks in a state of powerlessness over the rampant institution of bigotry all around them. Our heroes needed a hand from someone with the power to give it to them.
GREG: It s true, Scott. I would like to see more stories of Black empowerment without a side dish of White altruism. However, in the case of Race I was happy to see that Snyder wasn t working out of White guilt or charity. Rather, he simply wanted to acquire the best athletes he could find. As Owens himself states in the film - Snyder only saw fast or slow. And there is a poignant scene in the film where Snyder tries to convince Owens that race doesn t matter. And Owens shouts back: You re White Larry! A reminder both to Snyder and the audience that it s easy to be colorblind when you don t have to live with the effects of racism every day. Owens stacks up very well on the Hero scale. When we first meet Owens, we re witness to his strength of character when he slips his father money as he leaves. He is good to his daughter and his girlfriend. He wears the ridiculous jacket his mother made for him. And he demonstrates that he is a superior athlete, although rough around the edges. He won t look Snyder in the eye. He won t stand up to the white men who hassle him in the locker room. And he keeps very much to himself. So he has room to grow.
SCOTT: Snyder walks a fine line here between being the co-hero of this story in addition to being the mentor to our main hero in Jesse Owens. While we do sense bits and pieces of Snyder s own hero s journey, he is first and foremost a mentor figure to Owens. The most impressive quality of his heroism resides in the fact that he walks the walk as much as he talks the talk. Snyder has been world-class runner himself and has made many of the sacrifices that Owens has made -- minus the huge racial burden, of course. There is is also a very telling scene in the locker room involving the Black members of the track team being confronted by the bullying White members of the Ohio State football team. The White bullies assert their White privilege, demanding that the track athletes leave the locker room. Snyder steps in to remind Owens and his teammates that to succeed they must ignore all distractions. The football players and coach are screaming in the ear of Snyder, who blocks out their racial rants completely to make his point to the tracksters. It s show-not-tell -- the most powerful way to mentor people.
GREG: A good mentor gives advice and gifts so that the hero can survive in the special world. As you already mentioned, Scott, Snyder gives advice. But when Owens is missing practices due to his after hours part-time job, Snyder swings a cushy job where Owens basically collects a paycheck without having to work. This allows Owens to focus on his athletics. As we ve noticed in other films (like last year s Creed), there is a Mentor s Journey. It usually focuses on a character who is a former hero. Having completing his Hero s Journey, the former hero now takes what he s learned and delivers it to an up-and-coming hero. Snyder is a willing mentor in that he looks to support the hero. In movies such as Creed and even The Karate Kid the mentor must be convinced to aid the hero. But Snyder is actively seeking young mentees.
SCOTT: Race is an entertaining and informative portrayal of the life of Jesse Owens, one of America s greatest athletes of the 20th century. Stephan James delivers a terrific performance as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis does more than hold his own playing Owens track coach. This movie accurately exposes America s racist and intolerant Jim Crow laws, and it also depicts the even greater horrors of Nazi Germany s growing implementation of its Final Solution. I enjoyed seeing this slice of American history and heroism. This film deserves 4 Reels out of 5. Jesse Owens follows the hero s journey to the letter. He enters a dangerous world and encounters innocuous villains on the track and nefarious ones outside the track. He is mentored by Snyder and is loved by a woman (or two). One could argue that he undergoes two different transformations. He is humbled in his mishandling of his romantic life, and he gains self-confidence and maturity in his great handling of his athletic life. Owens also upgrades his mission in midstream -- he competes in the Olympics, not just to excel personally, but also to puncture Hitlers prized Aryan race. Owens deserves 5 Heroes out of 5. The mentor of the story, Larry Snyder, is a terrific character whose own hero s journey is told in a much more skeletal way than that of Jesse Owens. Snyder is the coach and ally that Owens needs to triumph on his journey. In a very large sense, Owens helps Snyder transform as much or more than Owens himself transforms. Thanks to Owens, Snyder gains stature as a coaching force in the world of track and field. I give Snyder 4 Mentors out of 5. Movie: Mentor: Hero:
GREG: Race is a good movie worthy of a better time slot than the February doldrums of the Hollywood release schedule, although just in time for Black History Month. The period costumes, especially the recreation of the Berlin Olympics, were spot on. I felt transported back in time. As with many biopics, sometimes the story seemed hemmed-in by the actual events. But overall, it was an entertaining movie, if not exceptional. I give Race 3 out of 5 Reels. Jesse Owens is a true historical hero. He was the best athlete of his time. This movie did a good job of depicting the struggles Jesse had to overcome to race at the top of his game. The apex of his challenges comes when he wrestles with the decision to boycott the Olympics in solidarity with the NAACP. Instead he chooses to represent not only America, but Black Americans and brings home four gold medals. I did think that his transformation from an inexperienced, though talented, runner into an Olympian was delivered a bit too easily. So, I am awarding this presentation of Jesse Owens 4 out of 5 Heroes. Larry Snyder, as played by Jason Sudeikis, is a classic sports mentor. He was once a great athletic hero who must channel his experience and knowledge into an up-and-coming new hero. I liked Sudeikis in this role. He s better known for his comedic roles, but he played this dramatic character very well. Snyder comes off a little too stereotypical of sports coaches. I prefer a bit more backstory and imperfection to my mentors. So I give Snyder 3 out of 5 Mentors. Movie: Mentor: Hero:
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) Watching Side Effects had the unusual side effect of making me sleepy.
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) Sounds to me like you watched Sighed Effects.
GREG: Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) welcomes her husband (Channing Tatum) home from a 4-year stint in a federal prison. She s trying to be a good wife, but she suffers from depression. She attempts suicide and finds herself in a hospital where resident psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes some medication for her and asks her to visit him in his offices. After consulting with her old doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he prescribes a new drug, Ablixa. Things are dicey on this drug - Emily has strange bouts of sleep-walking and one night murders her husband while in a drug-induced haze.
SCOTT: Emily is brought to trial and Banks testifies on her behalf, arguing to the court that she killed her husband while she was under the influence of Ablixa. Emily is found not guilty by reason of insanity. But meanwhile, Banks career and his personal life are in ruins. He is criticized for not anticipating the side effect, for getting paid to dispense Ablixa to patients, and for developing inappropriately close relationships with Emily and a previous female client. The remainder of the movie is spent watching Banks try to piece his life back together.
GREG: Scott, this movie confused me. It starts out like a typical cause film, leading us down the path of a woman who has used little-tested psychiatric drugs and something terrible has happened. What I expected was a lesson in how important it is to be cautious with mood-altering drugs. But the story took a hard turn, switching heroes from Emily and her challenges, to Jonathan and his problems now that he s associated with a bad case. Later, the story takes yet another turn that leads us down a third path. I m not sure if I should be impressed with the movie-makers cleverness at keeping me off-balance, or annoyed that I didn t get one movie with a strong message. Instead, I get three movies for the price of one. I cannot decide if this is a watered-down story or a bargain.
SCOTT: There is indeed a twist, Greg, and I m thankful for it. I would have been disappointed if the movie had only been about the side effects of medication and the legal implications of these unexpected effects. Maybe I enjoyed this movie because I m a psychologist who appreciates the rare portrayal of a good therapist in the movies. Our hero Jonathan is a competent, compassionate doctor who makes a couple of minor mistakes and pays dearly for them. Side Effects is intriguing, deceptive, and intelligently made. Rooney Mara deserves credit for masterfully playing us, our hero Jonathan, and the entire legal system to the hilt. In our recent review of The Fifth Estate, I mentioned how much I enjoy seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play dark loose cannon characters. Rooney Mara is the female equivalent of Cumberbatch. Her slightly off-kilter nonverbal mannerisms are alarmingly alluring. She is essentially reprising her role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here.
GREG: You re right about the performances. Our three leads handle the twists with ease. Jude Law, in particular plays Banks at first as a competent psychiatrist, then an obsessive bent in proving his innocence, and finally as a man redeemed. It s a great arc for a hero. The problem I have is that the movie flips our heroes and it s a little hard to know who we re rooting for. But that definitely added to the suspense. I enjoyed Side Effects and recommend it. I give it 3 Reels out of 5 for an off-kilter presentation and 3 Heroes out of 5 for switching our affections and our attention from one hero to another. Movie: Heroes:
SCOTT: Side Effects is an effective psychological thriller that owes its success to outstanding performances by Law, Mara, and Zeta-Jones and some slick direction from Steven Soderbergh. The movie raises several interesting issues about the dispensation of mood-enhancing drugs and the legal liabilities associated with prescribing medications. Side Effects made me think, and it made me feel, too. That s high praise for any movie these days. I m impressed enough to award it 4 Reels out of 5. The hero story was interesting. Certainly Banks is thrown into an unfamiliar world and has to claw his way out of it. He doesn t get much help, as the cops, his wife, and his fellow psychologists all turn against him. Nor is there a mentor, a father figure, a sidekick, or a love interest (other than his wife). Does Banks emerge a changed man? As with many movies, we cannot say. I suspect he will now lead a more professionally cautious life and will attend to his family more. Because of all the gaps in the classic hero journey, I can only give Banks 3 Heroes out of 5. Movie: Heroes:
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) Is there a ghost of a chance we ll review Spectre, Scott?
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) If the spirit is willing, Greg. Let s recap.
GREG: In the opening scene, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is chasing after some bad guys. After a thrilling chase, Bond finds a ring with an octopus on it. When Bond returns to London, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) reports that C (Andrew Scott) is shutting down MI6 and the double-0 program. So, Bond travels to Rome and has sex with the widow of the man he just killed, and she whispers sweet nothings about Spectre into his ear.
SCOTT: Bond then secretly infiltrates a SPECTRE meeting, where he encounters the leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). When Bond is recognized, he escapes and is pursued by a SPECTRE assassin. Bond soon realizes that the octopus symbol is showing up at terrorist attacks all over the world. He convinces Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (L a Seydoux), who has crucial information needed to dismantle SPECTRE.
GREG: Scott, Skyfall was the culmination of a trilogy of excellent films which laid the backstory of James Bond. Spectre is a lumbering, undirected, nearly random series of action-events that has only the barest semblance of a plot. Needless to say, I thought this film was lacking. Just the second scene where Bond seduces the wife of a man he just killed lacked any intelligence. The woman is in mourning for her husband and a total stranger breaks into her home so the first thing she thinks to do is undress and share herself with him. It makes no sense.
SCOTT: Spectre is indeed disappointing, Greg. I m a fan of the Jame Bond franchise but it s pretty clear that this series is overdue for an overhaul. The same tired old formula doesn t work any longer, especially since other movie franchises have appeared on the scene that meet or surpass the standards set by previous Bond films. I m thinking of the Mission Impossible series and the Jason Bourne franchise, for example. Spectre isn t a bad movie; Daniel Craig is terrific, in fact. It s just same old, same old. I often judge a movie by how much it sticks with me the day or two after viewing it. After watching Spectre on Sunday, I couldn t tell you anything about the movie on Monday. To write this review, I had to rely on Wikipedia s summary of the film s plot. The two hours I spent in the theater were highly forgettable.
GREG: Well that brings up the question of whether Bond is a great hero. In Skyfall we get a deep look at what makes Bond tick, and why M invested in him. He was an orphan and ripe for molding into an agent. Bond needed a mother image and MI6 in general and M in particular gave him a home. That movie really gave us a hero s journey. This one, however, is an episode in the series. As we ve mentioned before, episodic heroes can be really boring. They lack a missing inner quality that gives the character an arc. And I think that s one reason Spectre falls flat. It s just a roller coaster ride. We aren t interested in seeing Bond become a better man. We re supposed to be drawn in by the mystery of Spectre and how he ll solve it. But it s the same tired plot we ve seen all year. The overarching organization is in danger and it s up to Bond to solve the mystery and prove the value in the 00-program. We saw this in Avengers and Mission Impossible this year. It s a tired plotline and it didn t help Spectre.
SCOTT: This movie s disappointment can also be traced to its clich d supporting characters. Bond s women are uninteresting and sadly rely on Bond to save them. In addition, as you point out, Greg, the women lack emotional believability. In any James Bond film, the villain should occupy a pivotal role. Alas, what we have here is a villain who is utterly lacking in charisma. It turns out that Oberhauser is a sad and inferior re-tread of past Bond villains. For example, on not one but two occasions Oberhauser could have easily killed Bond and thus ensured the success of his evil plan. Instead, our villain devolves into a stereotype or caricature of villains in this genre by, in the words of Austin Powers, placing him [Bond] in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.
GREG: So true. The good guys are the new M who represents a sort of mastermind character. He s the one giving Bond his henchman orders (many of which Bond ignores). And there s Q who is a youngster in this incarnation who gives Bond few toys this time around. And then there s Moneypenny who is Bond s inside man . Devoted and brilliant. It s a nice little crowd of supporters.
SCOTT: There s not much else worth saying. Let s hope they get it right next time. I can only recommend Spectre for the most diehard James Bond fans, or for fans of the very talented Daniel Craig. There s not a speck of the spectacular in Spectre. I can only award this film a measly 2 Reels out of 5. The hero s journey is by-the-numbers plain and ordinary. There are some fun parts but by and large there s nothing original to be seen here. James Bond films aren t supposed to follow the classic hero s journey and Spectre is no exception in this regard. I give Bond a rating of 2 Heroes out of 5. As for the supporting characters, there isn t a whole lot to say other than they are as unmemorable as the rest of the film. The villain put me to sleep and most of the rest of the characters left no real impression. Again, I give this group 2 rating points out of 5. Movie: Cast: Hero:
GREG: The only Spectre here is the ghost of Bonds gone by. The story is pretty dull and is merely a patchwork of set up situations. There s hardly any plot and the finale is forced such that we get the origin story of Bond s nemesis. I ve heard that Daniel Craig is not returning as Bond. In my humble opinion he should have quit with Skyfall. I also give Spectre just 2 out of 5 Reels. As a main character, Bond is the classic episodic hero. He doesn t have a missing inner quality to overcome. So, there s no arc to the character. He s going to be the same character in each episode. For me, that makes Bond a dull boy. Still he s the rugged, independent, competent, super spy we all expect him to be. So I give him 3 out of 5 Heroes. Sadly, this is really the origin story of Bond s super nemesis. I say sadly because we get more of an insight into the pain that created the villain. As you ve often pointed out, Scott, the difference between the villain and hero origin story is how the villain deals with pain. Heroes overcome their hurt and villains succumb to them. The other characters are pretty forgettable so I won t rate them this time around. For that reason I give 3 points out of 5 to the villain. Movie: Cast: Hero:
SCOTT: (Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond) Greg, we re often split in our opinions about a movie.
GREG: (Greg Smith, Founder of Agile Writers of Richmond, VA) I m of two minds on this film. Let s recap...
SCOTT: We meet three teenage girls, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy). Claire and Marcia and the cool girls and Casey is a loner who frequently gets into trouble at school. The girls are in a car, ready to be driven home by one of their fathers, when a man named Kevin (James McAvoy ) commandeers the vehicle, kidnapping the girls and locking them in a subterranean room.
GREG: Meanwhile, Kevin is meeting with his therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) who has been receiving frantic emails from Kevin s alter ego Barry. Dr. Fletcher s suspicions are raised when Kevin denies sending the messages. In a later session Kevin describes a new personality called The Beast which has the powers of many powerful animals. Fletcher thinks The Beast is a metaphorical character, but we know better.
SCOTT: Greg, how interesting that we are devoting our 2017 movie reviews to the importance of character transformation in storytelling, and lo and behold we are presented with a movie about a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin routinely transforms among two dozen different personal identities. We ll get to that later. First, let me say how surprisingly pleased I was with this movie. Based on the trailer, I didn t expect much. The film turns out to be far more than a formulaic teenage screamer/thriller movie with the usual false scares and predictable slasher villain. Split is a psychologically fascinating film that serves as a sequel to M. Night Shyamalans very underrated Unbreakable. We re treated to a movie that makes us think about the very purpose of the hero s journey, which is to take us on a path that will bring us great pain yet make us better, stronger people in the end.
GREG: I agree. Split was an uncommon thriller. The photography and direction seemed stilted, almost amateurish. But the performance by James McAvoy switching between multiple personalities, often in the same scene, really sold the story. The three girls represent three different types of victims. Claire is the natural leader and believes that her Tai Kwon Do lessons will be enough to overpower Kevin. Marcia is the follower who looks to the other girls to decide how to proceed. And Casey wants to wait and see what Kevin is all about. Casey has experience with predators since her uncle ritually molested her as a child. It s an interesting comparison of personalities.
SCOTT: I see this film as a tale of two heroes, Kevin and Casey. They re both emotionally broken from abuse, outsiders doing their best to deal with their pain. Dr. Fletcher almost serves as the narrator of the story, telling us how the broken among us have a head start in becoming their best, superhuman selves. Kevin is slowly transforming into the beast , an indescribably strong, powerful mutant who needs people to eat. Casey s transformation is brought about by her ordeal as Kevin s captive. The entire story is based (loosely) on the true and inspiring theory of post-traumatic growth in the field of psychology. The idea behind PTG is that the horrid experiences that traumatize us can serve as grist for the transformative mill. That which does not kill us may indeed make us stronger, better people. Research studies are confirming this phenomenon, giving many abuse victims great hope for a better future.
GREG: While Kevin undergoes a physical transformation, Casey undergoes an emotional one. Kevin, as The Beast, kills the other two girls. But when Kevin realizes that Casey is also a victim of abuse, he lets her go. He s only interested in the impure girls, not the pure Casey. Frantly, I m confused by Kevin s definition of pure or impure. But, at any rate, after Casey has survived The Beast, she finds a new resolve to stand up to her abusive uncle. She is no longer a victim.
SCOTT: Split is a surprisingly cerebral thriller that takes the message of the hero s journey to a superheroic extreme. We learn that emotionally broken people are more highly evolved than the non-broken among us. It s a theme with biblical origins ( the last shall go first ) and it has psychological validity in theories of post traumatic growth. We are what we believe we are, our hero Kevin proclaims, summing up the film s message of mind over matter and mind transforming matter. James McAvoy turns in an astounding performance and M. Night Shyamalan has produced a winner of a movie. I award Split 4 Reels out of 5. Our two heroes, Kevin and Casey, go on remarkable heroes journeys. Many of the most searingly painful stages of their journeys occur earlier in their lives and are shown in brief flashbacks. We are thus treated to the final stages of the journey during which our heroes are on the precipice of great change. Our heroes are complex, almost anti-hero in the case of Kevin and tortured in the case of both of them. Their journey of growth is unconventional yet inspiring. I give them 5 Hero points out of 5. The transformation of our two heroes is the true star of this film. Kevin s transformative journey has been ongoing for years, whereas Casey s is brought to fruition via her captivity. Our two heroes transformations are physical, mental, and emotional in nature. We describe these types of transformations in our book, Reel Heroes & Villains. The transformations in this film are dramatic, surprising, and inspiring. I give them 5 Transformative points out of 5. Movie: Transformation: Heroes:
GREG: I agree, Scott. Split is an exciting thriller and a nice addition to M. Night Shyamalan s catalog. Aside from some stylistic choices in cinematography, it was a well-conceived and executed film. However, I was unhappy with the epilog which brought back Bruce Willis as David Dunn from Unbroken. There wasn t anything that tied the two films together except one line at the tail. It smacks of commercialism and an attempt to revive interest in the older film. I give Split 3 Reels out of 5. I agree again that we have a strong pairing here, but I wouldn t call Kevin a hero. Surely Casey is the hero and Kevin is that antagonist. Casey wants to escape and Kevin opposes that goal. Casey is stronger than her two counterparts. And it is her past experience with abuse that makes her more likely to survive her ordeal than her unlucky friends. I give Casey 4 out of 5 Heroes. The transformations in this film are on the one hand physical, for Kevin, and emotional for Casey. We watch Kevin transform from a splintered personality to a terrible horde who eats flesh for delight. It s a gruesome change. Casey starts out already stronger than her peers. But we learn that she wasn t strong enough to fend off her molesting uncle. But by the end of the film, her experience with Kevin made her strong enough to stand up for herself. If she could face Kevin, then she surely could face her uncle. I give these transformations 4 out of 5 points. Movie: Transformation: Heroes: