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This a detailed description of the film. We will continue to to refine it but feel confident in our descriptions and commentary. Given the limited time between the film premiere and the opening, we wanted to get this up soon. If someone else would like to write it sequentially, like a screenplay, that’s welcome, but not necessary. Currently it is a hybrid between what we believe are the most pressing issues, and a sequential description of the movie.
FULL DESCRIPTION OF FILM’S MOST INTENSE CONTENT plus some other details
CONTAINS PLOT INFORMATION AKA SPOILERS so that people who will not subject themselves to the film can know what is going on. We claim no responsibility for anyone “leaking” this content beyond the page, as there have been hundreds of premieres of the film.
PLEASE TAKE YOUR TIME READING AS IT IS A LOT TO DIGEST. BREAKS, or just STOP.
The film is set in a city.
The opening scene is shown heavily in the trailer – a man mysteriously assaults a father and kidnaps his daughter and two of her friends
The three teenage girls awake in some kind of a bunker or sewer converted into a home and set of locked rooms. Sexual violence is brought up early on: One of the first interactions with their kidnapper is he “chooses” one of them and asks her to dance for him. she fights back and pees on herself to deter him from implied sexual violence. it works but she is traumatized by the threat.
The three girls are progressively separated as they are punished for escape attempts, and shown in states of exhaustion
Sexism critique: they are increasingly forced to take off their clothes as they get dirty because Dennis has OCD. Lots of scared women in underwear shots.
One of the identities, Dennis, has OCD – later explained as a habit picked up that the only way to “keep mother from attacking was to keep everything spotless”. This is a major feature of the character.
Dennis is also a “struggling to recover” pedophile. Other than the scene mentioned above, his pedophilia is referenced once by his therapist.
Dr. Fletcher is Betty Buckley’s character aka the therapist.
Anya Taylor’s character Casey is one of the girls abducted. Casey is shown as an outcast, and also smart and as the film blurb says “observant”. What is demonstrated is a form of hypervigilance, she also has repeated flashbacks that form a subplot of her as a little girl, both PTSD-like. Our viewers saw her story line as somewhat trite, but in some ways interesting, if it hadn’t been juxtaposed with her escaping a twisted villain whose entire character depends on a misleading portrayal of mental illness.
Casey’s flashbacks all take place when she looks about 6 years old, played by another actor. They are as follows – we see her hunting as a sweet young girl with her Dad. Her uncle is in every scene, and is eventually revealed to be a perpetrator of repeated child sexual abuse. she almost shoots him one time as a little girl, but then doesn’t. Her dad dies – she is further trapped in the situation as he becomes her guardian. The scenes also serve to foreshadow the fact that Casey will have to sort of “hunt” the “Beast” identity once he is “unleashed”.
The forms of violence committed by the Beast: all throughout the film, there are allusions to the girls as “food” but it almost seems silly or bizarre. Not a joke. There is a scene of Casey walking in on ritual cannibalism of one girl, another dead, and she gets a bite on her calf as she is running away.
Many of the identities are shown to have a positive relationship with the therapist. Nevertheless, the Beast still murders her in a drawn out scene where she is slowly crushed until her spine audibly snaps and she dies.
As she fought to survive, therapist left a note, alluding to an earlier scene about some special way to bring forward the “original” person, Kevin. Say his full name.
Casey finds the note and does so, triggering the one flashback we see of Kevin’s own child abuse
Kevin’s flashback – shows a POV shot of him hiding under a bed and his mother screaming out his name with a menacing coathanger in one hand. We don’t see anything happen, but an earlier scene has Dennis say “Kevin’s mother had” strange ways of torturing a small child.
After Casey’s prompting and this flashback, Kevin returns to the system. There is dialogue about how he has lost time – thinking it is 2014. He looks on ground and sees Dr. Fletcher and says “what happened who did this?” Casey says: “you did”.
Trope of better to kill me than let me live: He then tells her location of a shotgun and shells, and says kill me? please?.
Then the only onscreen rapid switching happens, eventually resulting in the Beast re-emerging, and the chase sequence ensues.
Note on supernaturalness and whether that excuses the portrayal of the system: short answer is, no. Some will argue that the supernatural features of the beast mean that this was never meant to be a true story anyway. However, even after the Beast’s emergence, switching still occurs, and the juxtaposition of research-based facts (presence of video journals, lost time, switching) continues. Some may argue this is a supervillain, but the supervillain is clearly multiple.
The supervillain AND multiple claim is underscored by the final scene – a reporter on a tv, portrayed in a diner, reports that there is a “controversial” DID case that has killed 3 people, and that one of the alters is a blend of different animals.
All of the challenging content above takes place, and then is capped off by a woman saying “hey, that reminds me of some other guy who was locked up 15 years ago… what was his name?”
– Bruce Willis as David Dunn from Unbreakable then replies and says “his name is Mr. Glass” – implying that all of this takes place in the Unbreakable universe. It is really though more of a non-sequitur and treat for fans than anything that undoes the harm of the portrayal of multiplicity, trauma, therapy, and dissociation.
nuances of portrayal of multiple system (eg all of the people living in the body named “Kevin”)
there are 23 people, we only see about 9 of them in the film, the rest are just alluded to. The movie starts with Dennis doing bad things, we don’t know why. Then a transfeminine (ie a woman) character with a British accent, Patricius comes and checks on the girls. Then Hedwig a 9 year old person in the body. Hedwig is shown as goofy or silly, with eeriness about it. He is variably being tricked to give information or access to other parts of the underground compound they are in by Casey, who usually appeals to his various insecurities. Dennis even comments on this “It’s not nice to trick children.”
One scene early on alludes to Patricius and Dennis talking to each other – and the captives are surprised to find that it is two people in the same body, or as one character says “he was talking to himself!”.
Later it’s clear that these three main people in the body are in service of an alliance between himself, Patricius, and Hedwig, to block all the others, and Unleash the Beast.They are able to do this because apparently Hedwig, a 9 year old, has a special power to “take the light”, ie the movies term for fronting, from any of the other people.
So Dennis and Patricia (backstory) coerced him into joining them, under the lure – in a wailing monologue from Hedwig – that he would not be bullied again, and that people would believe he is real. It’s almost compelling for littles, who can relate, but then the film takes this to the worst possible conclusion – Hedwig will then be an agent complicit in the release of the beast, excited about his powers, which include bulletproofness. The Beast goes on to kill 3 people, including their beloved therapist.
Before that happens however, there is a power struggle in the system, demonstrated by the fact that the therapist keeps getting emails that say “we need you”. These are later revealed to be attempts of the non evil alliance system members to get out. But every time Dennis pretends to be another person, Barry a vaguely feminine fashion designer type, who the therapist at one point tells “you are one of the highest functioning patients I’ve ever had.”
At a later session, the therapist lures out Dennis from behind his disguise as Barry. This is done by threatening to say the assigned-birth name, and then telling Dennis that he is special and important, and was necessary at some point to help Kevin survive. This type of power play – that alters need to be outsmarted and tricked in a patronizing way in order to give up control plays into a real life boundary issue that many real life people have with therapists and mental health professionals.
Dennis concedes it is he who is there. He says he and Patricia and Hedwig have taken charge. The others call that subgroup “the Horde”. They are portrayed as worshippers of the Beast, which the therapist denies exists, is just a fantasy. Her death is read as the comeuppance for doubting the super powers. One of the setups for this is that in her descriptions of DID she takes real stories, such as the real true story of a blind woman who had alters who could see, but puts in untrue facts that they could see “because their optical nerves regrew because they believed they could see”. (What actually happened was that this woman in real life had a brain-based, not eye, form of blindness that some of the other people could bypass.) That quote comes from a scene where Dr. Fletcher is giving a skype presentation to a psychology conference – further blurring the lines between whether she (and therefore any therapist who treats DID, as she is treated as rare) can be trusted.
Later, when she gets 30 emails at once from other people in the system, “we need you” . She is portrayed as violating all conventions of therapy boundaries and shows up at the mysterious location where everything is happening. Dennis is locking up the gate, but Dr. Fletcher tells her that he is very special, he is excited to hear that as he believes he is the summoner of the beast. She enters, and they are talking, but eventually, she goes in the hallway on a suspicion, and finds the girls trapped. So Dennis sprays her with the same aerosol that he uses to knock out the girls in the beginning.
The movie progresses and by the time she wakes up she is killed by the Beast after he rants about being superior, telling her “you were right” that being multiple had unlocked special potential – but to the extreme.
In line with stereotypes, the characters change clothes almost everytime someone else fronts/switches, and mostly always wear the same outfit. That happens less towards the end.
The film also contains a lot of struggle to escape. locks, cages, attempts to breakout. The young women repeatedly try to escape and are repeatedly punished, by isolation, taking off clothes (yep), and eventual death, except for Casey. Some audience members will hope that the twist is that Casey is a projection of the larger system. She is not at all. It’s more of a one survivor against the other thing.
SELF-HARM, CUTTING reference: towards the end, the Beast is coming for her, and she takes of her sweater, revealing a tank top and many many scars. The Beast sees this and stops, admiringly, “you have already been purified” and leaves her alone, as he goes off rambling essentially about how those with trauma are stronger for it. Shymalan again taking a survivor’s resilience concept and warping it for villainy.
She is then stuck in this cage, in a sewer like setting. Someone finds her days later, and helps her out. As she leaves another ‘reveal” is that the whole movie is set underneath a zoo, in the maintenance area. Apparently Kevin et al worked with the big cats. Thus the reference at the very end that the beast is some sponge-like consequence of the different animals at the zoo.
Some multiples really do identify as animals or non-human, and this is a further swipe/pathologization of that as dangerous, extreme. Not so.
Casey is then put in a cop car, in a typical “aftermath” scene. Off screen someone says “Casey’s guardian is here”. And then Casey is told by an officer “your uncle is here are you ready to go?”. Like much of the movie, Casey communicates with a long stare. The subtext is something like “wow after all that, no. no way am I going back to that abuser”. The police officer seems to “get it”, leaving it clear that there may be some hope for her to stay safe. This was a sort of hopeful moment, but again in absurdity and a mountain of stereotypes and objectifying portrayals.
There is also a scene of the whole situation being discovered/explored by the police. Including Hedwig’s room, which features children’s drawings, signed Hedwig. (many littles aka young members exist, and draw, play, dance etc, like referenced in film, but they are not accomplices to murder.)
Then there’s a final scene in some hideout where only “the Horde” – Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig – fronts. Hedwig is excited and asks the others “they’ll believe us now, right?” Patricius says “they’ll have to”.
Then there’s the above described diner scene, where Bruce Willis gives the one liner to tie it into the Unbreakable world.
That’s the end of film.
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3 thoughts on “Part 4 – Warning: Plot Description and spoilers”
Thank you very much for sharing this.
Interesting summary, which has given me a lot to think over. I couldn’t quite follow the part about whether the alters all appeared in different clothes after each switch – because it also said they were wearing the same clothes?
The woman with DID who was blind but had a sighted alter actually had a psychological disorder that caused it – the same that is also found in people without DID. It’s most recent name is Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder, sometimes called FND, and previously called Conversion Disorder in the DSM – these conditions are common after trauma, and far more common in people who have some physical damage to the same area. The ICD-10 manual’s psychiatric diagnosis section classes it as a Dissociative Disorder of Movement and Sensation, and waayyyyy before then it was called ‘hysterical blindness’ or ‘psychogenic blindness’ – basically a related disorder to pseudoseizures – physical symptoms linked to a psychological cause (or rather without a physical cause) – which are totally involuntary. ‘Hysteria’ was divided into Conversion Disorders and Dissociative Disorders, ‘hysterical dissociation’ included ‘multiple personality’ before it was a stand-alone diagnosis.
The understanding behind the variable blindness is that the mind gets overwhelmed – often unconsciously – and as a result the information from a part of the body (eyes, hands, feet, etc) gets disrupted and can’t be interpreted correctly by the brain. The result is essentially a physical symptom of ‘disconnection’ (dissociated from) the sense of vision. There’s a similar case prior to treatment from around the 1990s on youtube – you’ll find it under ‘Margo’, ‘blind’, ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’. The chances are that ‘Margo’ (who is blind) lost her vision after seeing something traumatic as a child, which the child alter who can see has no knowledge/memory of. Similar cases in non-DID people involve someone who witnesses a robbery with a gun man, who loses her vision when asked to recall what he looked like. A way for the mind to protect itself.
Thank you for pointing out to people that DID doesn’t involve super-human (or super-natural) qualities – this idea is stigmatizing because is it an example of attempting psychological distancing and seeing particular group as ‘other’. The same ‘super-human’ idea was used to refer to paralympians in Rio – but not Olympians!
I believe the point about the clothes was meant to show that, e.g. (having never seen the movie myself) Dennis always wore jeans and a tshirt, Patricia always wore a floral dress and Hedwig always wore a onesie, and whenever for example Dennis switched out to Patricia, he would change from the jeans and tshirt to the floral dress. There was never any depiction that Dennis wore any other outfit other than the specific jeans and tshirt he always wore when he was fronting, so every alter/system member wore the same One Outfit, which was changed between when fronters changed. Kind of like how the Doctor from Doctor Who only wears one outfit all the time. Basically used to identify them, because obviously people wouldn’t be able to tell which person is fronting if they wore more than one outfit. -_-