“Split: A Deeper Divide” is a new doc that attempts to take us deep into the cultural divide that exists today and explain where it came from. It’s not necessarily director Kelly Nyks’ fault that, while he attempts to plunge into this crevice like a moonshine-poisoned, wetsuit-clad James Cameron, he’s really just examining fault lines through binoculars. It’s an audaciously broad topic, and at less than eighty minutes, you wonder what exactly “Split” gives us that we haven’t received from countless other political documentaries.
And it’s politics where the film slips up. Nyks takes on what is a fairly abstract social issue and too often reaches for the shorthand of contemporary Washington politics, with the film featuring obvious rhetorical placards such as “Do politics divide us?” What are politics if not an often-failed attempt of the government to recreate the tenor of it’s constituents? Nyks approach, which features DC policy-makers shaping the cultural conversation (through the media -- Nyks is no idiot), seems to have it backwards. Popular policy, and conversation, is shaped by the attitude, or perceived attitude, of the people.
The variety of talking heads certainly seems to cover one part of that aspect. Interviews with a wide spectrum of American citizens creates a clear picture of where people reside on the ideological scale. Most are generally intolerant of each other by way of faith: in the film’s most effective detour, Nyks focuses on the debate between others where religion takes precedence. It’s not simply religion, the film argues, but also temperament and moral compass. Those must be inflexible, some argue, in order to breed unity, a falsehood that suggests some believe others can be “more than” human, an ideological straw man.
Where Nyks slips up here is in giving a fair share to all arguments. It’s extremely difficult to balance the entitlement of some to have articulate opinions when they themselves are unwilling to compromise. As the doc points out, compromise is seen as a weakness to some, and as such is rarely even approached. Given the amount of footage in this doc saved for Mitt Romney, one admires the restraint to avoid using any one of his hostile soundbites where he steadfastly refuses compromise in the guise of being anti-everything instead of pro-anything. But insight is not a democracy: some have it and others don’t. When Nyks is nonjudgmentally capturing the views of those who see social progress as an enemy to a current way of life, he’s creating a compelling tapestry of the prism of American communication. But when he begins to use those statements as subtle theses for arguments based in the nobility of those protecting their way of life (as opposed to helping, or understanding, their fellow man), the film loses focus as a statement and just becomes a collage.
Nyks also glides over the aforementioned “perceived attitude” by neglecting to delve further in the role of corporations. Major social figures like Noam Chomsky and Jesse Jackson are interviewed, but there’s very little from any major leaders of commerce. Nyks carefully lays out the media landscape by correctly noting that 90% is controlled by seven separate conglomerates, but he only examines this as an inequality, without taking into account the actions and effects of this 90%. The low-hanging fruit in this discussion are political “movements” like the Tea Party, clearly backed by outside interests, but that would be politicizing the doc in ways Nyks seeks to avoid, even if the responsible civic action to take would be to remind the people (once again) that movements like that are almost always backed by private interests, of Big Business, and not the noble backwoods idiots broadcasted on the news holding signs with misspelled slogans. It was only last year where this divide was captured so thoroughly in the small doc “Battle For Brooklyn,” where real estate mogul Bruce Ratner was revealed to be bankrolling several “independently-run” “grassroots” organizations dedicated towards making sure his purchase of the Atlantic Yards was carried through. A much smaller focus, sure, but the exact same point, realized with clarity and social indignation.
Nyks’ film wants to avoid such ideological donnybrooks, however. And to that respect, “Split: A Deeper Divide” causes no harm. The picture creates a storybook-simple portrait of America as a country divided by ideals, but it’s one that some might not understand. As such, it’s ideal for classrooms and other similarly impressionable minds who do not truly see the violent disagreement that poisons our social discourse. But if you’re looking for an articulate analysis as, say, to the suburban sprawl of the fifties and sixties that harvested such diametrically-opposed social viewpoints and class differences, well, that’s simply not the sort of material covered in “Split.” [C-]