Our minds allow us to interpret what we perceive externally, yet there is still so much left unexplained about the mind itself. If it is true we only use a fraction of our total brain capacity, what exactly is left untapped? While a lot is yet to be uncovered, we already have a pretty impressive list of the mind’s abilities and defects. And there are a lot of defects. One in particular, regardless of how uncommon it is in actuality, comes up time and again in film. It is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple (or split) personality disorder. Here are ten film characters who suffer from the very disorder, often for our amusement:
10. Charlie Baileygates/Hank Evans (Me, Myself, and Irene)
On a lighter note, Jim Carrey‘s character Charlie Baileygates morphs into alter ego Hank Evans as a self-defense mechanism. Extremely assertive, and inappropriately so, his confrontational alternate provides an outlet for what Charlie is too feeble to express himself.
9. Bruce Banner (The Hulk)
The Hulk was originally a comic, but it has been adapted to every visual medium imaginable several times over, and given two film treatments in the last decade alone (the latter replenishing the badassery the Ang Lee version kept to a tasteful minimum). The original character is part Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, at least according to co-creator Stan Lee, and the themes are all the same- a scientist who transforms into an uninhibited, id-guided monster. But outside of fantastical terms, and in more clinical ones, what the scientist Bruce Banner faces is a case of split personality disorder, where he becomes someone (or something, rather) else, which acts as a conduit for all his repressed feelings. And while some may do nefarious things in a subhuman state, the Hulk is kind of heroic. That is when he’s not recklessly laying cities to waste.
8. Teddy Daniels (Shutter Island)
SPOILER ALERT (-editor)
A familiar trope for a psychological thriller, Martin Scorcese’s take on the genre puts a federal marshal on an island-turned-mental hospital to solve a murder. What he learns along the way is that there’s more to the case than he himself realizes, mostly because his case is one big repressed memory. He is actually himself a patient, relapsing into his former lifestyle prior to an event that induced his psychotic break, being the drowning of his own children by his insane wife (who he shot and killed upon the horrific discovery). This, of course, is only revealed at the end, when we’ve already been exposed to enough nonsense to be skeptical. The plot parallels in many ways films like Gothika and Hide and Seek, which both feature lead characters that would feel very at home on this list. Or in a straight jacket.
7. Malcolm Rivers (Identity)
The afflicted character is being evaluated to see whether or not the murders he committed were by one of his several personalities. Each personality occupies a room in the motel inside his head, and one of them is a killer, killing off the rest of the personalities one at a time. The movie we watch is in fact just a metaphor for what is going on with Malcolm as he attempts to consolidate his multiple personalities into a single one. When that single personality is that of a child, all is well until we learn, via Hitchcockian ending, that the child was the killer all along.
6. Mort Rainey (Secret Window)
Johnny Depp plays crazy as literally as possible in this film based on a Stephen King novella. He is harassed by one John Shooter, played by John Turturro, and accused of plagiarism. As several people and a dog wind up stabbed with a screwdriver, it seems he is quite the unfortunate victim, until we learn he is a victim of his own disposition. John Shooter is none other than his alternate personality that seems motivated more than anything by a need to change the ending of one of his stories. That and some corn on the cob.
5. Sybil Dorsett (Sybil)
Originally a miniseries adapted from a book, Sybil is based on a real life person and graduate student who suffered from multiple personality disorder (she had 13 of them). The film centers around Sybil’s sessions with a psychiatrist, during which we get to meet such characters as a seven-eight-year-old boy named Sid who loves football and a precocious 13-year-old girl named Vicky who speaks French. In all, 11 of her personalities are female, two are male, and many pose a direct conflict to one another. In trying to explain the cause of such internal overpopulation, it is revealed that Sybil is repressing memories of abuse as a child. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case 13 people stand as proof, all of them Sybil.
4. Gollum/Sméagol (Lord of the Rings)
This wretched little cave-dwelling creature does in fact have a split personality disorder. The personalities are so potent that they bicker amongst themselves regularly, usually when Gollum/Sméagol is facing a moral dilemma. Like a Faustian contemplation between the little angel and devil on his shoulders: he (Gollum) really wants “the precious,” but he (Sméagol) also wants to be loyal to “master.” That inner turmoil usually churns out a victor in Gollum, the id-chaser who wants no more but to behold the mighty power of the ring. In that way, the ring is the best possible prescription for keeping his other, albeit better, personality at bay.
3. Unnamed Narrator (Fight Club)
The narrator of this movie, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, lives a plain life, where in which he calls pieces of furniture “clever” and gets off on support group sympathy. Tyler Durden, a soapsalesman, is a risk-taker who is willing to take a punch to the face and start a fight club. While they don’t sound one in the same, they are. Durden is the more expressive half of the narrator, the one who seeks both pleasure and pain, and the complete destruction of all the major credit card company buildings. He, being the salesman he is, comes forward whenever supply doesn’t meet personal demand.
2. Norman Bates (Psycho)
Hitchcock’s film is a classic psychological thriller, riddled with symbolism, birds, and voyeurism. There are also a lot of Freudian concepts at work. If you were to check into Bates Motel, you’d encounter more than just a really bad shower; you’d meet the innocent-seeming mama’s boy Norman, who feins to attend to his ailing mother’s woes, while in reality his mother is dead. That doesn’t seem to register with Norman however, as he hoards her corpse on a rocking chair and keeps her alive in his head. He even dresses up as her and murders pretty girls he suspects his mother wouldn’t approve of. The dark twist is that he developed the dissociative identity disorder shortly after he killed his mother and the lover who had come between them. His umbilical chord, as it turns out, extends beyond the grave, and his condition goes straight back to Oedipus.
1. Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Granted Jekyll and Hyde are best known as literary characters, stemming from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” they have shown up in film on several occasions, presenting the same essential internal conflict. While Stevenson is said to have penned the tale in record speed on a cocaine high, it is easy to read into the story as a cautionary tale of how drugs make uncivil beasts of men. On a basic psychological level, the tale can be as much an allegory for bipolarity or split personality disorder. Mr. Hyde is the manifestation of Dr. Jekyll’s primal, pent-up urges, unleashed upon the consumption of a mysterious elixir. Performing unspeakable acts uncharacteristic of Jekyll, it is very much as if a new identity has been forged inside his subconsciousness. And so is the birth of a frighteningly unpredictable psychological disorder.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to our YouTube Playlist:
Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Movies – The Playlist