While psychologists are still trying to figure out the causes of multiple personality disorder, screenwriters have been using it as a plot device since the dawn of cinema. In this feature, we’ll put the ten greatest examples in movie history on the couch to see what makes them tick.
10. High Tension
This French slasher flick is relentless in its brutality, as a mysterious psychopath brutally murders a girl’s family. The culprit turns out to be her best friend, who has a split personality that’s insanely jealous and will do anything to get her alone.
9. The Three Faces Of Eve
Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for her exceptional take on split personalities in this 1957 drama based on a real case. Eve White is a suburban mother who suffers from painful headaches and blackouts. When she’s unconscious, the extroverted Eve Black comes out to play. Filling out the triad is Jane, a stable personality who manages to unite her multiple identities.
8. Shutter Island
Leonardo DiCaprio shines as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal sent to an isolated mental hospital to investigate a bizarre disappearance. As his quest continues, he starts to have strange dreams and it’s soon revealed that he’s actually a patient there himself, caught up in a bizarre delusion as a way to find closure after he murdered his wife.
7. Session 9
Brad Anderson’s cult horror flick has a terrifying premise: a work crew removing asbestos from a run-down hospital discovers a box of tape recordings from a patient with multiple personality disorder, and against all logic listens to them. As they do, they start being picked off one by one, as the evil personality “Simon” from the tapes makes the jump to a new mind.
6. The LEGO Movie
Sure, it’s a bit of a curveball, but the “Bad Cop” / “Good Cop” character in The LEGO Movie, voiced by Liam Neeson, could change personality with a simple 180 degree rotation of the head. Double-sided heads were first introduced in the 1990s to show different emotions, but different personalities are an equally valid reading.
When ten strangers check into a Nevada motel and start getting killed off one by one, Identity seems like a fairly standard murder mystery. Then weird coincidences sprout up – the bodies disappear, they all have the same birthday – and you realize you’re really watching a story about a multiple personality patient having his “selves” integrated to try and remove his homicidal impulses.
4. A Tale Of Two Sisters
South Korean filmmakers have a real knack for unsettling psychological horror, and this 2003 flick, inspired by a folktale, is no exception. When a young girl named Su-mi is released from a mental hospital, both her and her sister start acting very strangely, as does their psychotic stepmother. Of course, all three women are the same girl, but that doesn’t stop the body count from rising.
This 1976 TV movie helped define dissociative identity disorder for a generation of Americans, and Sally Field’s performance as the titular schoolteacher with a baker’s dozen personae living inside her was widely acclaimed, winning her an Emmy.
2. Fight Club
The twist in David Fincher’s cult classic – that the Edward Norton-played narrator and Brad Pitt’s feral Tyler Durden are the same person – comes pretty late in the game, but it throws the film’s conceit into stark contrast. Fincher littered the movie with clues that make themselves obvious on multiple viewings.
1. Me, Myself and Irene
The Farrelly Brothers’ 2000 farce stars Jim Carrey – a dude whose brain contains multitudes anyways – as Charlie, a good-humored state trooper who gets pushed over the line and develops an abusive personality named Hank who goes on to ruin his life. The thing is, his life was already ruined before the split personality (his wife cheated on him with a dwarf limousine driver), so Hank actually helps Charlie get his act together in a bizarre way.