Now that M. Night Shyamalan’s Split has opened and around $40 million worth of people have seen it, the time is right to share James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy’s observations on where their characters end up, and the other surprise of the film’s final scene. Needless to say, SPOILERS follow…
Through much of the film, the threat hanging over Casey (Taylor-Joy) and her two fellow abductees is that they are to be turned over to “The Beast,” the unseen but apparently very unpleasant 24th personality dwelling within Kevin (McAvoy). Eventually, the Beast does emerge, and proves that psychologist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is correct when she says that different identities harbored by those with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) can manifest physical changes when they come to the surface. In this case, Kevin-as-the-Beast becomes a muscular human monster possessing almost superhuman strength and speed.
The regimen to portray this fiend, according to McAvoy: “Lifted a lot of weights, ate 6,000 calories a day, beefed up a bit. That was important for the Beast. But the voice was the hardest thing, because I didn’t want him to sound normal, and at the same time I didn’t want it to be like, [does strange voice] ‘I’m a bad guy!’ That’s where the evangelical thing came in; he’s full of joy in his love for these other personas within Kevin who feel they’ve been wronged, and now the people who have wronged them must be punished. His entire voice is imbued with a kind of zealous rapture. I wasn’t that concerned about the physicality when I was performing him; he had to be strong, and he had to be solid, that was it. And doing the stunts was fun.”
McAvoy did almost all of those himself, he adds. “There’s a couple of bits with the stunt double, like the one where the guy’s running down the street in the dark, behind bushes and stuff, but generally it’s me. There’s one scene where I’m pulling two bars apart, and the camera’s behind me, and the muscles in my back and my neck just pop; they go fucking huge, and make me look like I’m a WWE wrestler or something. And I’m like, ‘You can’t even see my face! People are going to think that’s a bloody stunt double, but it’s me!’”
As flashbacks throughout Split gradually make clear, Kevin isn’t the first male to treat Casey cruelly; she has been abused since childhood by her perverted bear of an uncle, which has honed in her a survival instinct that helps her eventually escape Kevin’s cellar. Yet becoming free from one horrible situation just means she has to go back to another, as a cop informs her that her uncle has arrived to take her home. It’s almost a tragic conclusion for Casey, though Taylor-Joy believes it’s subject to interpretation.
“We shot that ending a couple of different ways,” she reveals. “We shot it with words, we shot it without words, and I think Night leaves her next move open, in a way. Everyone’s perception of it is completely valid, of course; whatever you think is the decision is the decision, but the way I see it, Casey is screaming ‘No!’ in her head. And hopefully, with the reaction of the police guard, you can understand that she’s not going to take this anymore. She hasn’t escaped one prison to go back to another one; that’s not going to happen. She has been irrevocably changed by the experience she’s had over the last three days.” And if Shyamalan decides to catch up with Casey again in another movie, “I would be honored to play Casey again; I love her so much.”
One thing for sure is that Shyamalan doesn’t intend for this to be the last time we see McAvoy’s villain. Split’s closer reveals that he inhabits the same world (the Shyamalaniverse?) as David Dunn, the working-class superhero from Unbreakable played by Bruce Willis, and strongly suggests that the two are headed for a battle royale. Regarding plans for that matchup, McAvoy says, “Night and I have discussed it, but we need to wait and see how well this one does first. It’s something that certain parts of the filmgoing community want to see, but it depends on how many of them pay to go to Split, and if they bring their friends.”
Shyamalan is famously secretive about the twists his movies traditionally contain, and such was the case this time. “I had no idea that was coming!” McAvoy says of the Dunn shot. “When I first read the script, that wasn’t in it. He later told me there was a possibility we might be doing something like that, and it’s a nice treat for the fans. But when I first read it, there was nothing. That’s the beauty of it; there is that…it’s not quite a Shyamalan twist, it’s something slightly different, but to me the film works without it. It’s like a bonus. I love it, and I like what it suggests about the future, but at the same time, the film doesn’t need it to still be a satisfying moviegoing experience."