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SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains absolutely massive spoilers for the end of M. Night Shyamalan's Split. If you have not yet seen the film, and don't wish to know any details about the movie, please bookmark this link and return to this feature after your screening!
Since breaking out in 1999 with The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan has become notorious (if not somewhat infamous) for his use of big twists. Whether it's Bruce Willis being dead the whole time or water being the cure for alien invasions, the writer/director has repeatedly found ways to upend expectations and surprise audiences. His latest movie, Split, is yet another excellent example of this, and actually one of the best orchestrated of his career to date.
In this feature, we are going to dive deep into the details of Split's ending; explain what's actually going on; dive into what it means; and then use what we know to speculate about possibilities for the future. There's a lot to discuss, so dig in!
What Happens At The End Of The Film
The beginning of the end of Split can be marked by the moment when things start really and truly spinning out of control. With all of his kidnapping victims -- Casey (Anya-Taylor Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) -- locked away in separate rooms, Kevin (James McAvoy) makes his way to the train station. As we learned earlier in the film, this is where the personalities Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig believe The Beast lives, and Patricia purchases a bouquet of flowers to place on the platform as a welcoming present for the 24th identity. Dennis "takes The Light" again and boards an empty train... which is where his transformation begins. Covered in dark veins and appearing much more physically imposing than in any other sequence in the film, The Beast climbs to the top of the carriage, leaps off, and makes his way back to his home base.
While The Beast runs through the streets of Philadelphia, Casey, Claire and Marcia all try and individually escape. In adjoining rooms, Claire and Marcia look for items that can help them get out -- and Marcia winds up trying to catch the slide lock on the outside of her door with a wire coat hanger. Casey has the most success of the girls, breaking out of her room with the help of a nail she discovers, but she still finds herself behind another locked exit. Looking for a solution, she accesses Kevin's computer, and finds video files featuring all of her captor's individual personalities.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fletcher wakes up and begins writing something on a piece of paper with a pencil. This effort doesn't wind up saving her life, unfortunately, as it's at this time that The Beast appears in the doorway. The therapist is shocked into silence, unable to say Kevin's full name and save herself -- and she instead grabs a knife off of the table. The Beast thanks Dr. Fletcher for all of her help and wraps his arms around her chest. She tries to stab the monster with her acquired blade, but it turns out Dennis wasn't lying about The Beast's rhinoceros-like skin, and the knife shatters in her hand. The Beast tightens his grip harder and harder until Dr. Fletcher's spine audibly snaps, and then she crumples to the floor.
While watching a video of Kevin as the fashion-obsessed personality Barry, Casey discovers the keys to the room are on the coat rack, and she manages to get out. Her first instinct is to go after the other girls, but it's too late. Casey finds Marcia dead, her stomach ripped open and intestines hanging out, and while Claire looks like she's still alive in her closet, The Beast is actually right in the midst of killing her. Casey tries to trap Kevin in with the slide lock (which doesn't work at all) and winds up running to the room where Dr. Fletcher's body lies on the floor. She finds the piece of paper with scrawled handwriting, which reads "Say His Name. Kevin Wendell Crumb." As The Beast climbs on the walls, our heroine repeatedly calls the moniker, and it not only successfully slows the monster down, but it allows us to meet Kevin for the first time.
It turns out that Kevin is completely horrified by what Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig have done, and begs Casey to do the humane thing: kill him. He tells her where she can find a shotgun and ammunition, but before she can really act, Kevin disappears. Jade, Orwell and Barry all start fighting for The Light, but get trounced by Hedwig -- who we know has the ability to take The Light whenever he wants. He lets Dennis and Patricia get back into control, and they subsequently bring back The Beast, who gleefully notes that this is all just the start of his monstrous existence.
Thanks to the handkerchief that Dr. Fletcher stuffed in the door's latch hole, Casey is able to escape the room with Kevin's shotgun, and races to his locker to get the shells. This is a successful mission, but The Beast catches up with Casey, tears at her clothes, and slices her leg badly. She is able to get away and into a locked cage -- which triggers a flashback of her father dying and guardianship being transferred over to her sexually abusive uncle (Brad William Henke). The Beast smashes lights in the hallway until he is totally hidden in the dark, preaching loudly how greatness can only be achieved through pain. As he gets closer to the cage, Casey is still able to hit him with a couple shotgun blasts, but these don't prove as effective as they do on normal humans. Before long, she is out of ammo, and knowing Casey is helpless, The Beast approaches the bars and begins to bend them with his extreme strength. It's at this moment, though, that he notices Casey's many scars from years of abusive, and rejoices that her heart is pure. It's for this reason that he ceases his attack, and disappears.
Some time later, Casey is discovered, and it's revealed that Dennis/Patricia/Hedwig have been hiding out at Kevin's place of work: the Philadelphia Zoo. The police show up and investigate the scene, but sadly, it's hardly a happy ending, as Casey is notified that her uncle has arrived to pick her up. Meanwhile, Kevin is across town in an abandoned house, where Dennis, Patricia and Hedwig investigate the damage done by the shotgun blasts during The Beast's rampage. The young Hedwig is stunned that the shots didn't penetrate his skin, and Dennis and Patricia formulate a plan for the future: to follow The Beast and let him show the world how powerful they can be.
ANOTHER SPOILER WARNING: Seriously, folks. If you don't want to know the big reveal at the end of Split, this is where you need to stop reading!
After Split's title card, the movie cuts to a diner where the television news is discussing the kidnapping case. The reporter notes that the suspect in the case has Dissociative Identity Disorder, and that sources close to the case are referring to him as The Horde. Speaking to a friend, a woman at the counter notes that the situation reminds her of the case from 15 years ago with a guy in a wheelchair -- a man who the media also gave a special name. It's at this time we see David Dunn (Bruce Willis) -- the hero of Unbreakable -- also sitting at the counter, and he finishes the woman's thought, saying "Mr. Glass."
Even for M. Night Shyamalan, this twist was a big shocker. But what does it mean? Read on, because we're digging deep into the details!
How Split Ties To Unbreakable
If you're not super familiar with M. Night Shyamalan's early work, and had no idea why people in your theater were going so nuts for a Bruce Willis cameo, this is hopefully where the picture starts to become just a bit clearer. More than just being a special appearance from the star of Shyamalan's first two movies, Willis is actually full-on reprising his role as Unbreakable protagonist David Dunn -- confirming that Split actually takes place within the same universe as the writer/director's second big screen effort.
Released the same year as director Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie, Unbreakable was a feature that pre-dated the explosive popularity of superhero films in the 21st century, but it's also very familiar as part of the legacy of origin stories. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is an average guy -- a security guard watching his marriage/home life fall apart -- but finds his life change when he not only walks away as the only survivor of a deadly train crash, but does so without even a single scratch on him. Discovered by a fragile, wheelchair-bound man named Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David begins to accept who he is and what he can do as a hero... but it comes at a serious cost. He discovers that Price was not only responsible for the aforementioned train crash, but also many other fatal disasters caused in the hopes of finding someone like David -- someone who exists as his universal opposite and is as strong as he is weak. Price gives himself the supervillain moniker "Mr. Glass," and while pre-credit text confirms that the character is committed to a mental institution, the world will never forget the chaos he caused.
Case in point, when the news about Kevin Wendell Crumb and "The Horde" makes the news at the end of Split, it immediately triggers memories of what happened about 15 years within the same world. Hearing about the terrifying new supervillain specifically reminds the woman sitting near David Dunn in a diner about the existence of Mr. Glass, and the growing population of outrageous characters in the subtle sci-fi/fantasy world.
Of course, it's also worth noting that Unbreakable and Split are also connected even beyond just being in the same world, as they are essentially the same kind of story told in completely different ways. Specifically, they're comic book-esque origin stories that sidestep the traditional protagonist vs. antagonist set-up, allowing for greater focus on central characters and exploration. In the same way that Unbreakable is a movie without a villain for 95% of its running time, Split primarily functions as a narrative to get audiences to discover the emergence of a new kind of supervillain -- which is why there is a certain nihilism to the ending of the main story, where no savior comes in to save the day, and rights all of the wrongs.
To get the more traditional superhero vs. supervillain story, we'll have to wait until we get an "Unbreakable 3," where audiences will get to see the powerful David Dunn go head to head with Kevin Wendell Crumb, The Beast and The Horde. But that just brings us to our third section...
What Should Happen Next?
So, it's official: after years and years and years and years of audience clamoring and filmmaker teasing, we finally have the Unbreakable 2 for which we've been not-so-patiently waiting. Sure, it was packaged in a way that nobody expected, and Split feels more like an extension of an Unbreakable Cinematic Universe rather than a direct sequel, but what really counts is that the fictional world has been expanded. Given the way the connection between the two movies is revealed, however, it very much seems like this will not be the last story we see from the budding franchise.
The good news is that M. Night Shyamalan has no intention of just leaving Split's twist ending hanging in the air... but what we don't know is exactly when it will happen or what form it will wind up taking. Following the film's Los Angeles premiere at AFI Fest in November 2016, I had the opportunity to ask the writer/director about his future plans for David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb, and while he couldn't give me any specifics regarding what we can expect, he did confirm that he has every intention of making a crossover movie (that we will, for now, simply refer to as Unbreakable 3. Said Shyamalan:
As with any movie sequel, box office numbers will wind up having a significant impact on the future of the series... and following the statistics for Split should prove fascinating. While it's gotten positive buzz from reviews, the film has in no way been sold as Unbreakable 2 -- which would have certainly been an easier sell to audience in today's movie marketplace than a brand new thriller about Dissociative Identity Disorder. This means that the movie's grosses may start to shift in a unique way as time passes and details about the ending begin to leak out, potentially generating new interest in the feature. If Split can manage to rake in the standard 150% of its production cost by the time it's removed from theaters, there's a very strong possibility that we could see Unbreakable 3 sooner rather than later.
Given that the movie is entirely theoretical at the time of this article's publication, there is no way we can say what an Unbreakable/Split sequel would be about, but given the way the 2017 film concludes, there is a pretty clear path. It's notable that The Horde commits some heinous acts in his "solo movie," but he ultimately doesn't actually pay any comeuppance -- escaping his lair after sparing Casey's life. As such, he is very much on the lamb by the time the story ends, and that is very clearly a dangerous threat. Being a man who has both the capacity and the hunger to eliminate dangerous threats, David Dunn is in a prime position to be the hero who can track Kevin Wendell Crumb and take him down before Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig and The Beast have the opportunity to hurt more people.
It is worth noting that this idea for an Unbreakable 3 comes with an interesting hitch, as David Dunn and Kevin Wendell Crumb don't exactly make the ideal superhero/supervillain pair. As directly referenced in Unbreakable, the prime showdowns are typically between characters that mirror each other and have strengths that directly correlate to their opponent's greatest weakness. In David's case, that weakness is water (he can't swim and has a traumatic history with the wet stuff), but H20 isn't any part of Kevin's whole deal. All that being said, there isn't exactly a correlation between bats and clowns, and the history between Batman and The Joker is pretty damn strong.
Certainly another benefit of a David Dunn/Kevin Wendell Crumb movie would be the further exploration of The Horde's many, many different personalities -- most of which were not featured on-screen in Split. In fact, of the 24 individuals fighting for the light within Kevin, we only ever get to meet eight of them: Kevin, Dennis, Barry, Patricia, Hedwig, Orwell, Jade and The Beast. When Claire is digging through videos on the computer, there are visible files for "Luke," "Rakel," "Bernice," "Ansel," "Polly," "Norma," "Mr. Pritchard" and more, but they don't get the opportunity to emerge on screen in the film. When I spoke with M. Night Shyamalan, he specifically told me that he held on to these personalities with the intention of having them be featured in the next chapter of the character's story. Discussing his work with James McAvoy on the many different aspects of Kevin, the writer/director said,
Given that M. Night Shyamalan seems to have started getting his groove back, with Split being one of his top-tier works, the prospect of seeing more Unbreakable movies is more exciting than ever -- and also a very real possibility. As fans, you can be sure that we here at CinemaBlend will be keeping a very close eye on the developments of another sequel, so be sure to check in for more details and updates!