Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is a mental state characterized by two or more identities or personalities that control a person’s behavior, accompanied by memory impairment.
We won’t get into great details when it comes to psychological definitions, nor symptoms, We’ll try to focus exclusively on movies and the way this state has been used to create fascinating plot twists and movie characters. It has been used ever since the first adaptations of “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde“, but especially in the last few decades.
Not many movies manage to handle this plot device in a believable manner, but here is a short list of those which succeeded to do a considerably good job. Obviously, the title itself is a major spoiler, we will try not to give away much more, but still, proceed at your own risk.
15. Charlie Bailey Gates – Me, Myself And Irene (2000, Jim Carrey)
When the bizarre Farrelly brothers are at the helm, you know what you are in for – a comedy with a solid script, full of rude, black humor and awkwardly inappropriate situations. Hence, this was a perfect vehicle for Jim Carrey, allowing him to do what he does best, and create his funniest character alongside Fletcher Reede and Lloyd Christmas.
He plays a too-nice-to-be-true state trooper, whose kindness has been abused and taken advantage of countless times throughout his life. Years of suppressed rage finally take their toll, and he suffers a nervous breakdown, triggered by his wife’s infidelity, thus creating Hank, a violent and rude alter-ego who will stop at nothing to get what he wants and enjoys retaliating against people who harmed Charlie.
When he is given a seemingly easy task of escorting a woman who allegedly committed a hit-and-run, things are not what they appear to be. They soon find themselves on the run from corrupt police officers and thugs led by the woman’s mobster ex-boyfriend, and Hank’s constant resurfacing at the most inconvenient times doesn’t help either.
This fast-paced comedy allowed Carrey to exploit his talent to the fullest, and he does so by demonstrating glorious transformations from the good-natured Charlie to the deliciously wicked Hank. He seems to be having a riot, completely letting himself loose’, and he truly owns the film. Recommended if you are a Jim Carrey fan and you can get past the low-brow and sometimes vulgar humor.
14. Mort Rainey – Secret Window (2004, Johnny Depp)
After Jack Nicholson’s creepy turn in “The Shining“, Johnny Depp delivers another good performance as a writer in deep trouble, based on Stephen King’s literary source. Not nearly as good as the former, this movie still has a strong central character, Mort Rainey, once-famed writer, who finds himself in a pickle when a strange man accuses him of “stealing his story“, and becomes increasingly violent over time.
Not a stranger to the roles of unbalanced and mentally unstable characters, Depp is in his own backyard, playing a man who begins to doubt his sanity while connecting the dots between himself and the mysterious visitor, but also the novel in question which bears a scary resemblance and his own life. The answers he ultimately finds are extremely unpleasant, but it is a delight to watch Depp accepting his own distorted and horrific reality, and thus forcing the viewers to take another look into the soul of the writer in question, who they came to care for over the course of the movie.
Sadly, while Depp is outstanding, the film itself fails to deliver the “shocking twist“ it was aiming for, leaving us with the familiar “been-there-seen-that“ feeling. However, even though the ending is predictable, the fans of Johnny Depp will be satisfied to see him tackling a very meaty role successfully. His typically quirky manner is completely appropriate for this movie.
13. Robert Elliott – Dressed To Kill (1980, Michael Caine)
In this erotically charged thriller, Michael Caine stars as a psychiatrist who has troubles rejecting his frustrated patient’s advances, but also has to stop his unstable transgender patient Bobbi from doing anything inappropriate. Here Caine plays the role completely atypical for him, proving once more how versatile he is as an actor.
He takes on a very complex role in an emotional sense, and plays it with great ease, although he is a bit underused sometimes. He does what he can to bring the necessary suspense and tension, but this is not always easy with the given material, since this is a direct homage to “Psycho“, although to call it inferior to the aforementioned masterpiece would be an understatement. Someone would even call it a direct rip-off of “Psycho“. Hence, even though there are occasionally satisfying segments, the ending comes across as cliched and predictable.
However, Caine is among more convincing characters in the movie, and he steals almost every scene he is in, making the viewers wish he had more screen time. Although the movie is just a tiny bit more than being a piece of cheap fun, he delivers a solid performance as a conflicted doctor with some highly complex issues about his sexuality. Especially in the scenes where his feminine side prevails.
12. Carter Nix – Raising Cain (1992, John Lithgow)
An eminent child psychologist conceals some terrible secrets which emerge when he finds out about his wife’s infidelity. Daddy issues have rarely left such a scary mark on an individual, and now he projects them onto his own daughter, wreaking havoc when many different personalities appear. Twelve years after the previously mentioned movie, Brian de Palma strikes again, with another psychological thriller, which, while having a very incoherent script, is fast-paced, sometimes funny and occasionally really scary.
It manages to deliver a greater amount of suspense and emotional restlessness (there is much less nudity, though), and the credit for that mostly goes to the truly captivating main character, John Lithgow. He carries the movie by managing to give his tormented character (who is obviously meant to be a villain) a human dimension, so the viewers grow to care for him despite his obvious mental issues.
Every character he plays is different in speaking, movements, manners and gestures, ranging from a little baby to an adult person. A truly brilliant turn that brings back memories of his fantastic roles in “The Twilight Zone“ and “Ricochet“. Given that the material he had to work with is not exactly first-class, he really made the most out of it. You should definitely give it a shot if you are a fan of Lithgow’s and De Palma’s, you’ll be in for another mesmerizing acting creation.
11. Earl Brooks – Mr. Brooks (2007, Kevin Costner)
Kevin Costner may seem a strange choice to play an emotionally complex character like this, but he pulls it off quite well. Although the plot is a bit generic (a respected gentleman tries to cover up the fact that he is also a serial killer), it is handled pretty successfully, as we watch the constantly conflicted anti-hero trying to suppress the violent urges that overwhelm him from time to time, and hide them from his unsuspecting family at the same time.
When he thinks he finally can control his harrowing needs, his alter-ego emerges again, pushing him to continue killing (he is known as the Thumbprint Killer). This movie employs a rarely used technique – two personalities are clearly different from the start (and played by different actors). William Hurt does a fantastic job as Marshall, the killing personality of Mr. Brooks, who has no problem to be a murderer, but is disgusted to see the pair of victims making love with open curtains.
He is a beautifully wicked combination of brutality and humor, the latter always being needed when we are to have compassion for such a character (since he is the most important in the movie, it is obviously necessary). With a persistent detective on their trail, the two characters have to lay low and be resourceful, as it becomes more and more difficult to be a distinguished gentleman and a serial killer simultaneously. Without a doubt, this is one of the better Kevin Costner’s roles in the last couple of decades.
10. Henry Jekyll – Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde (1931, Fredric March)
Every list about DID or MPD needs to have an entry about Jekyll and Hyde, because this novella was the first one to mention this disorder. In order to see how intriguing and interesting it was for the filmmakers, there have been 123 adaptations of it so far. While not a single one of them is completely true to its literary source, the one with Fredric March, who earned an Oscar, is one of the most famous ones.
March is brilliant playing a doctor who believes there is a good and evil side in everyone, and making a potion to separate them. Expectedly, he lets his wild side loose, committing horrific crimes. Since this was a ground-breaking movie where you can feel the innovation almost literally dripping from the screen, it required a strong actor to play both parts convincingly. He balances beautifully between the respected doctor in love and his freakish, murderous alter-ego who starts to prevail over time.
While he had to trade flowery, romantic dialogue with Rose Hobart as Jekyll (and it becomes boring after a while), there are no restraints for him as Hyde, and he can play this simian-like character with relish. He is an absolute joy to watch as a menacing, monstrous beast who turns the life of a cockney hooker into a nightmare. His transformation, both physical, due to fantastic make-up and effects, and artistic, is the pivotal part of this movie.
9. Smeagol – The Lord Of The Rings Franchise (2002/2003, Andy Serkis)
Smeagol is one of the most interesting characters of the trilogy, firstly because of the fact that he is among the handful of them who show shades of grey in their personality. Actually, he is the character who is probably among the most human ones. He immediately falls under the dark spell of the ring which significantly prolonged his life. He simultaneously loved and hated both the ring and himself, constantly torn apart between the desire to possess it (and the power it holds), and the desire to break free of its sinister influence.
Considering that it is a computer-generated character, Andy Serkis had a very difficult task to express this haunting emotional conflict using his voice only. He did a very good job, you can feel his suffering and his joy, pain and happiness. It is known that he drank dozens of bottles of the so-called Gollum juice (lemon, honey and ginger) to keep his throat lubricated for his intensive vocal performance. His audition was so impressive that Peter Jackson decided to have him perform Gollum’s movements, as well as the voiceover.
In his own words, he based Gollum’s desperation and craving on the withdrawals of heroin addicts, and his own hobby of rock-climbing came in handy for his on-all-fours performance. This fantastic devotion paid off and he became one of the most exciting characters in the franchise.