Ed Norton and His Split Personality Complex


I have no idea why I never noticed this before, but now that I have, it seems to be jumping right out at me. Ed Norton may have a split personality complex that he projects into the roles he chooses. I know it sounds crazy, but I need you just to bear with me for a second here. I was introduced to the acting prowess of Edward Norton in a film called Primal Fear.

A few years later, I fall in cinematic love with a movie he was in called Fight Club. You may have heard of it. Some time passed, and Mr. Norton appeared in a reboot of The Hulk. A year after that, I watch a movie where Edward Norton plays twin brothers called Leaves Of Grass. Please tell me I am not the only one who is noticing a trend in these films? What trend, you ask? In each one of these films, Edward Norton plays two people, in some form or another. Let’s take a moment to examine it a bit deeper, shall we?

Primal Fear

Though I touched upon the finer points of the Norton reveal from this film here, I would be remissed not to mention that this was the film that not only started his career, but started him down the road of giving us insight into his own polarity and the extremes at which he can function as an actor. Now I will tell you that if you have not seen this film, now would be a good time to jump ahead to so avoid any SPOILERS.

“One legit to quit” Only children of the 90’s will appreciate this joke.

The spoiler here? Edward Norton plays a guy pretending to have a split personality in an attempt to get away with the murder of a priest. And he does get away with it. And it is only once he gets away with it that he tells the Richard Gere character, and ultimately the audience, that it was all bullshit. And the craziest part is that he was playing up his actual personality (sociopath, aggressive, alpha) as the split personality, and the main personality he had through the entire film (meek, quite, insecure) was actually the made up persona.

This was the first time he gave the world any insight into the fact the he was the Sybil of actors.

Now try to really understand how meta this is. Edward Norton was pretending to be a guy who was pretending to be another guy, who was, in fact, pretending to be another guy.Wait, I might have too many guys in there, I am terrible at math. Either way, If I were him, I would have read the script and the very idea even being conceptualized in my brain would have caused my head to implode. But not Norton. Norton was like, yup. That is how I want to say hi to the cinematic world. And what a hello it was.

And he followed it up with the curb stomping masterpiece:

American History X.

And while some may cry foul ( I am almost compelled to put a picture of a chicken here, to emphasize that pun. Wow, I am spiraling fast) that this film is not an outright “split personality” film , if you look deeper, it genuinely reveals that he is very much played like two different characters. Physically, he even looks completely different in the first half of the film as he does in the second.

If you need further proof of this, check out these before Nazi and after Nazi shots from the movie.


Is it weird that I yelled “STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!” at this picture?

And after:

Notice how he looks so unlikely to curb stomp now?

Alright, we will admit, all he did was grow in his hair a little, but it is how gentle he comes across comparatively in the latter half of the film, versus the brutality of his whole demeanor in the beginning the shine the light on the two extremes he only seems to function in.

And some people may argue that every character goes through the same kind of transformation in any kind of mortality tale, which is what most movies boil down to being, but to those people I would say ssshhhhh, this is a good idea for an article, just role with it.

Oh, then I would point out Edward Norton’s next cinematic conquest from 1999. The ultimate love letter to the split personality complex:

Fight Club

Ok, so at this point, I almost feel like I should apologize for how much I bring this movie up. From most of my articles I have written here, and even over at my own site, of the 150 original pieces on there, this piece about Fight Club  has done ten times better than anything else, traffic wise. But  truth is, I don’t think that is reflective of anything other than a true appreciation for that film, as well as the brilliant source material which was, ofcourse, the original book the movie was based off, by enigmatic author Chuck Palahniuk.

Fight Club came out in a time when the world needed it. It took the spotlight off the trend of consumerism and put it back on idealism. On finding ones purpose, no matter how much anarchy one has to endure to get there. In that sense, it was the most punk rock thing that generation X and Y ever latched on to.

And who became the mouthpiece for that film? Why, everyone would say Tyler Durden.

I caption so many Brad Pitt pictures, that I am technically “under’ him more than Angelina at this point. 

And they are right.

But who is Tyler Durden, really?

The face every Father hopes his daughter will bring home one day.

Yup, that’s right, kids. Tyler Durden is really just the Edward Norton character’s alpha side coming to the surface, much like the opposite of Primal Fear. Instead of summoning a meek character who people would empathize with, he summoned an alpha character, that people would either want to f*ck or fight.

Now some may argue this is not Edward Norton playing two characters, and literally speaking, it is not. But it was another glimpse into the psyche of a man who seemed to relate more to two sides at once as oppose to just one side.

And though it seemed for awhile he shied away from characters like this after Fight Club, he would come back to them in a big way almost a decade later. A big, GREEN way.

Wow, that was a really weak setup. I am kind of ashamed. Remy SMASH!

  • mjlaxnmd

    You forgot The Score where he plays a con man/thief who spends half the movie pretending to be “mentally challenged” so he and Robert DeNiro can rob a warehouse.

    I don’t blame you for forgetting it… a movie with DeNiro, Brando, AND Norton should have been much, much better than it was.

  • ^ Good call!

  • dolaction

    What we forget to realize, is that acting is his craft, and he is a master of it. Suggesting he has multiple personality disorder is an interesting theory, and one that holds water with me, if only because i love a good conspiracy. I thought he was merely typecast as a tragically flawed character, but i can see the duality that inspires him in everyday life. If anything, bipolar is a better term. Bipolar people are among the most creative and philosophical people, if also not some of the most troubled. There arent many actors with mpd, but there are an unusually large amount of bipolar and depressed people acting.

  • João

    I just believe he’s a great actor just like Christian Bale, ho transforms into his characters,
    and in those character, Norton finds more depth than the regular ones.

  • camden

    Absolutely true. People say he’s good only because he ‘typecasts’ himself.

  • “I caption so many Brad Pitt pictures, that I am technically “under’ him more than Angelina at this point.” Sorry… well written piece… but this made me laugh out loud!

  • ^So glad someone appreciated that line, I made myself laugh when I typed it, and that concerned me about my own mental state.

  • RaFF

    great article, interesting theory

  • bobafett

    The guy above beat me to it on “The Score”.

    The “Nice Shoes, Brian”, “Thank You, I know” line cracks me up every time I watch that movie.

    But you’ve also forgotten Death to Smoochy, as he plays both Smoochy and his alter ego Sheldon.

    You could also argue that the Italian Job was a dual performance as he turned on his colleagues.

    Edward definitely likes his performances complicated. I for one want to see him and Charlie Hunnam in a Face/Off type movie.

  • ^Great examples, guys. Giving this insane theory of mine some legs, thanks you!

  • David Merchant

    I enjoyed this piece, but it left out Norton’s “split” role in “The Score”! In it (spoiler alert), he plays a gifted thief named Jack who pretends to be a mentally and physically disabled janitor named Brian in order to infiltrate the Customs House he wants to rob. To pull this off, he stays in his “Brian” character all day, every day while at work. (Like the moment when we see Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint transform into Kyser Soze, we are shocked the first time we see Norton as Jack, having met him as Brian.)

  • whydowehavetosignin

    This is great, I love Edward Norton haha I like the film The painted veil 😉