Split: A Deeper Divide - SideReel Review
Director Kelly Nyks explores the various reasons why the United States has turned into such a nightmare of partisanship in his documentary Split: A Deeper Divide. Although he scores interviews with a number of prominent politicians and talking heads, neither he nor they can shed any new light onto this already much-discussed topic.
The framing device Nyks employs consists of traveling the country and asking people the same six questions in order to ascertain why our public discourse has devolved from enlightened debate into rancorous name-calling. His interview subjects cover the political spectrum and include such notable names as Chuck Hagel, Evan Bayh, Nicholas Kristof, and Tucker Carlson, as well as a number of average Joes who seem overly passionate or deeply cynical; Nyks certainly can’t be accused of partisanship when it comes to the finished movie.
However, we can accuse the picture of being condescending. These topics, and these questions, have been covered ceaselessly for the last 20 years or so, yet Nyks presents his film as if we might be considering them for the first time. Even people who are minimally engaged with politics probably possess a fleeting understanding of how cultural concerns -- like gay marriage and abortion -- are used to increase fund-raising and voter turnout, how media consolidation limits the news we read and hear, and how racial and socioeconomic issues can divide us as sharply as our political ideologies.
Nyks never digs deeply into these controversial subjects -- refusing even to ask political pundits like Carlson about their own occasionally inflammatory rhetoric. He simply presents a topic, serves up a handful of talking heads who provide history and/or their opinions on it, then moves on to the next concept. There’s nothing wrong with this approach to the material, but the content itself isn’t informing you of anything new unless you happen to be, say, a freshman in a high-school civics class or a history student just learning about how slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Act all altered the political map of the country. The whole thing plays like an intro course for 14-year-olds who want to be historians, political scientists, or campaign managers when they grow up.
Providing a resource for kids that age is certainly a worthwhile goal, but it doesn’t make for compelling viewing for adults. Throw in Nyks’ stilted, ham-fisted setups for each section of the film as he drives around in his car, and the movie quickly becomes an easily dismissed rehash rather than an engaging expose. Nyks never understands that just because you aim for the middle, that doesn’t mean you can’t still burn with passion and intensity.