M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is the early contender for Best Horror Movie of 2017 as the film dominated the weekend box office for the second week in a row. The film appears to be a return to form for Shyamalan, whose career took some serious stumbles in the 2000s, with fans and critics reacting favorably.
The film is succeeding in no small part thanks to a knock-out performance from James McAvoy who plays the film’s terrifying antagonist: A man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka Multiple Personality Disorder. It’s an incredibly challenging role, but believe it or not, this character is based on an actual person.
Billy Milligan, born in 1955, is the first person in American Legal History to be acquitted of a crime based on his psychological condition. Basically, he’s lawyers argued that Billy didn’t do it—his other personalities did. Throughout his trial and after his deferred sentence had him committed to a mental hospital in Athens, Ohio, Mulligan was revealed to have 24 distinct personalities. Someone who also had 24 unique personalities: McAvoy’s character in Split.
Billy’s personalities consisted of 2 groups: The Ten and The Undesirables. It was members of the latter group (mostly) who had committed the crimes for which Mulligan was accused. For example, Ragen Vadascovinich, a communist enforcer, had committed the robberies, and it was 19-year old, attention-starved lesbian Adalana who had committed the 3 rapes pinned on Mulligan. The most vicious of The Undesirables who inhabited Mulligan’s psyche was named Kevin; James McAvoy’s character in Split is named Kevin Wendell Crumb.
Here’s a complete list of Mulligan’s personalities:
These ten are the alters whom personalities “Ragen” and “Arthur” decided were not “undesirable.” They freely shared consciousness, and doctors quickly learned of their existences.
- Billy Milligan (William Stanley Milligan) is the core personality.
- Arthur is an extremely sophisticated and educated Englishman. An expert in science and medicine, with a focus on hematology. He is in “the spot” – that is, in charge of the shared body – during times that required intellectual thinking. Arthur is one of only two personalities who could classify a person in the group as an undesirable.
- Ragen Vadascovinich is the “keeper of hate”. His name comes from the words “rage again”. Ragen describes himself as Yugoslavian, has a Slavic accent, can write and speak in Serbian and is extraordinarily strong. He controls the spot in dangerous times and can designate group members as “undesirable”. He admitted committing robbery in order to support “the family”, but had no knowledge of the rapes.
- Allen is a con man and a manipulator. He is the most common person to talk to the outside world. He plays the drums and paints portraits. Also the only right-handed self. He is the only personality that smokes cigarettes.
- Tommy is the escape artist; he is often confused with Allen. He plays the tenor sax and is an electronics expert. He is also a painter, specializing in landscapes.
- Danny is afraid of people, especially men. He only paints still lifes and never paints landscapes. He says this was because Chalmer made him dig his own grave and buried him in it.
- David, age eight, is the “keeper of pain”. He comes to the spot to take the pain of the others.
- Christene, age three, was the one who would stand in the corner in school when “Billy” would get in trouble. She has dyslexia, but Arthur taught her to read and write. Ragen has a special bond with her.
- Christopher, Christene’s brother, plays the harmonica.
- Adalana, a lesbian, cooks and cleans house for the others, and writes poetry. Milligan’s attorney claimed that Adalana had admitted to committing the rapes without the knowledge of Milligan or the other alters.
These people were labeled “undesirable” after breaking the rules laid down by Ragen and Arthur. These alters were no longer allowed “on the spot” (that is, to hold consciousness) and only revealed themselves after Milligan was sent to the hospital.
- Phil is a thug and took part in planning some small time crimes. Has a Brooklyn accent. Marked due to him being a criminal.
- Kevin is a criminal planner; he helped devise a plan to rob a drug store. Labeled also because he is a criminal.
- Walter is Australian. He calls himself a big-game hunter and has an excellent sense of direction. Was often used as a spotter. He was labeled because he shot and killed a crow.
- April only has thoughts about destroying Billy’s stepfather. Declared an Undesirable when she convinced Ragen to kill Chalmer. Luckily though Arthur was able to talk him out of it at the last second.
- Samuel is a Jewish person and the only one who believes in God. Was marked because he sold some of the other people’s personal paintings.
- Mark is the workhorse. He is often referred to as the zombie because he does nothing unless he is told, and will stare at walls when bored.
- Steve is the impostor, he uses imitations for comedy. Steve never accepted that he was an MP. He was made to be undesirable because his comedy caused the family problems.
- Lee is the prankster and his practical jokes normally get the family into trouble. He does not care about consequences for his actions. He was made an undesirable because one of his jokes put them into solitary confinement.
- Jason is the pressure valve. He was used at the beginning to release tension for the family, but he caused them to get into too much trouble and was marked as an undesirable.
- Bobby always dreams of leading some adventure or fixing some global crisis, but he has no ambitions and was labeled due to that fact.
- Shawn, who is four and deaf, makes buzzing sounds so he can feel the vibration in his head. He was labeled an undesirable because there was no benefit from being deaf later on in life. (Even though he is an undesirable he was never cast into the shadows beyond the spot; he was just never allowed to take the spot.)
- Martin is a snob, from New York. He wants things just handed over to him without earning them.
- Timothy worked in a florist shop until he encountered a gay man who flirted with him. He went into his own world after that.
(Not an Undesirable)
- The Teacher was by far the greatest milestone to helping Billy achieve fusion. He is the sum of all 24 people put together, and has almost total recall of all the other people’s actions and thoughts.
The video below contains clips from a documentary about Mulligan that was released in 1985; Billy is no longer available to the public, and the entire film doesn’t exist in any form that I was able to locate online. Still, the information revealed in these excerpts, including Mulligan’s own painting of many of his other personalities, is chilling.
Official Synopsis: Billy Milligan was sent by the Ohio court system to Athens, Ohio in December, 1978 to be treated for Multiple-Personality Disorder (MPD) — now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). He was treated by Dr. David Caul at the Athens Mental Hospital located, at that time, in the Athens Lunatic Asylum which is currently a part of the building complex now called “The Ridges.” [The state has since given the building to Ohio University which has transformed the central core of the asylum into The Kennedy Art Museum.]
Billy Milligan was released from the Ohio State mental health system in 1988 and managed to live the remainder of his life in relative obscurity (and with no further outbursts from any of his Undesirables). He died in an Ohio nursing home in 2014 at the age of 59.
If you’re thinking the life of Billy Mulligan would make for an awesome biopic or true-crime docudrama, you wouldn’t be the first. There were several attempts to produce such a film long before Split became a hit. None other than the great James Cameron co-wrote a script with Todd Graff, but A Crowded Room never came to fruition due to copyright injunctions filed by Mulligan himself (who may have had aspirations for producing a film version of his life himself).
After Cameron quit the project, Warner Brothers continued attempting to develop A Crowded Room; directors Joel Schumacher and David Fincher were each once attached; actors considered for the part of Mulligan included: Matthew McConaughey, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and John Cusack. In 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio was supposedly set to play Mulligan in a film based on a script by Jason Smilovic, but IMDB pages associated with that production have since been deleted.
At this time, the best source of information for those looking to delve into the fascinating and disturbing life of this compelling character is the non-fiction book The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes. You can read reviews and order yourself a copy on Amazon, HERE.
With the success of Split, we can probably expect renewed interest in Billy Mulligan, so who knows. We might see an accurate adaptation sometime in the not too distant future. Time will tell. In the meantime, check out the trailer, synopsis, and poster for Split below.
Official Synopsis: Though Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), there remains one still submerged who is set to materialize and dominate all of the others. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls led by the willful, observant Casey, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him — as well as everyone around him — as the walls between his compartments shatter.