IT'S A SELF-FULFILLING prophecy to note that the American political system is, in all likelihood, terminally fucked. Like the Hatfields and McCoys, Americans have devolved into two cartoony extremes constantly sniping at each other. And the chances of anything ending that rabid stalemate are... remote. An Independence Day-style alien invasion might force us to realize we're all on the same team, maybe? Probably not.
That ever-deepening ideological division is the subject of Split: A Deeper Divide, in which director Kelly Nyks drives around America, talking to everyone from the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof to retired Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, from anti-tax power-monger Grover Norquist to cartoonist Ted Rall, from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to Tucker Carlson's bowtie. As he does in every documentary ever, Noam Chomsky shows up, talking here about how the advertising industry has influenced politics ("The red state/blue state division indicates how people differed on their purchase of the imagery sold by the people who advertise toothpaste"), Princeton sociology professor Paul Starr points out the obvious ("You can have a politics that smooths over the divisions, or a politics that accentuates those divisions"), and—in what becomes an entirely logical yet apparently utterly fantastical theme—a few smart people point out that if the left and the right stopped demonizing each other, we might crawl back to a functional democracy. "Democracies can only work with consensus," Hagel points out, which makes perfect sense, but also seems pretty unrealistic, considering everything Split shows: the "rampant partisanship" that's made civil discourse a thing of the past, parties' happy reliance on Christian platitudes and corporate donors, race, class, religion, a media landscape that allows everyone to hear only what they want to.
There's a lot to see in Split, and much of it's interesting, even if little will be new to the wonks who'll make up the film's audience. But while Nyks proves more than adept at showing how and why America's democracy is broken, Split can't help but fumble the landing: There isn't a concrete call to action here, nor is there any sort of happy ending. Because barring a post-invasion inspirational speech from President Bill Pullman, there aren't a whole lot of things that can fix the mess we're in.