ated by dissociative identity disorder (DID), the controversial diagnosis once known as multiple-personality disorder. He dreamed up Splits main character 15 years ago; as with most of his films, he wrote the original screenplay himself. Shyamalan is interested not just in the ways in which the condition hints at untapped human potentialhe cites DID patients who have been said to flawlessly play Beethoven after merely hearing a piece of musicbut also in the fact that we regard that kind of behavior as disordered at all. They can do things we cant, but we call that a disorder? he asks. The therapy is to make them one consciousness again. But thats about conforming. Is it just our bias, our lens that we look through?
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Shyamalans interest in film developed when he was a kid in suburban Philadelphia, the son of an obstetrician
and a cardiologist. Born in Puducherry, India, he arrived in the U.S. as an infant and grew up as the only Hindu kid attending a Catholic school. When he discovered Steven Spielberg and got his hands on a Super 8 camera around the age of 8, a future auteur was born. By the end of high school, hed made dozens of amateur movies. Shyamalan became a household name with his third movie, The Sixth Sense, released in 1999 on his 29th birthday. The thriller not only introduced one of the most memorable lines in movie historyI see dead peoplebut it also made $673 million worldwide. Shyamalan was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Director. Though he didnt win, he became the first Indian American to be nominated in either category. That success turned Shyamalan into a brandone with high expectations he couldnt always meet. Many o
f his midcareer films, such as Lady i
n the Water (2006) and The Last Airbender (2010), were panned by critics or fared poorly at the box office. Its seductive to wallow inYoure a genius! Youre an idiot! Youre a genius! Youre an idiot!' he says. But did I honor the characters? Did I get the right actors? Thats the process I have control over. Shyamalan, one of the most prominent Indian Americans in the industry, has at times disappointed fans with a lack of diversity in his films. He says he sees progress as inevitable but adds that he resists diversity for diversitys sake: Hollywood has become more diverse to the point where its an agenda, and thats an awkward stage. A Shyamalan film in 2017 feels markedly different, starting with its budget. Both Split and 2015s The Visit were made on a shoestring$5 million apiece, less than 5% of the cost of his 2013 sci-fi adventure, After Earth. His newer films also reflect a retreat from the twist endings and Hitchcockian cameos once expected of him, supplanted by a back-to-basics emphasis on character and story. Drama is the most important part for me, says the director. I dont know if anyone will ever acknowledge the drama in my movies because the flash is what everyone remembers. Get The Brief. Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now.
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r security, we've sent a confirmation email to the address you entered. Click the link to confirm your subscription and begin receiving our newsletters. If you don't get the confirmation within 10 minutes, please check your spam folder. Hinging Split on McAvoys performanceat turns warm and sympathetic, at turns chillingly detachedseems to have worked. So far, critics have reviewed the movie more positively than any other of Shyamalans films in the past decade. However that impacts his legacy with fans, the director says he wont feel trapped. To be known for something that came organically from you is not a prison, he says. Its a house that you created. For more Voices, visit time.com/AmericanVoices This appears in the January 30, 2017 issue of TIME. Write to Eliza Berman at email@example.com.