Moon Knight: A Discussion on Dissociative Identity Disorder

Was Moon Knight actually worth the hype, and was DID really presented in an accessible manner?

Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector/Steven Grant in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT, exclusively on Disney+. [Photo by Gabor Kotschy]

By Clairene Tan

Moon Knight, the Disney+ miniseries based on the Marvel Comics, features characters of the same name. This series is not your typical superhero story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as it is the first that prominently features a mental disorder that most might not be familiar with — Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

DID in Moon Knight

From the get-go, the audience is introduced to Steven Grant (Oscar Isaac), a mild-mannered gift-shop employee whose attempts to lead a mundane life are foiled when he experiences multiple blackouts and vague memories of another life.  Together with the viewers, Steven soon realises that he suffers from DID, and shares a body with his other personality – Marc Spector (also Isaac), a ruthless mercenary.

Oscar Isaac as Moon Knight in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT. [Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios]

A person with DID has two or more distinct personalities (also known as alters) which often result from trauma sustained by the person during childhood (and in some cases, during adulthood). To cope with the trauma, the individual might subconsciously protect themselves with their alters who can have a distinct set of personalities, worldviews, and behaviour. 

The person that the alters reside in is known as the host and together with the alters, they are collectively termed as a system. At any point in time, the alters may have an ability to take control of the host identity and body — a process called fronting or dissociating. After this occurrence, the host or alter that was previously fronting may experience a loss in memory and have no recollection of what happened. 

As a system, Steven and Marc have to navigate the complex world of the rivalry between Egyptian Gods and protect the world from the descent of great evil. Notably, the show goes beyond the superficial “hero-fights-villain” plot and deep dives into the intricacies of navigating life whilst afflicted with DID.

Fact or Fiction?

Without spoilers, Moon Knight often realistically showcases how DID is experienced. For instance, Steven and Marc dissociate multiple times throughout their journey together as they take turns to protect each other from either physical or emotional harm. Similarly, individuals with DID in real life can also have alters that front whenever there is impending trouble so that the system as a whole can feel safe. 

Both Steven and Marc are also presented to possess radically different skill sets — Steven is an expert in Egyptian history, whilst Marc is an expert in mercenary combat (even their superhero outfits are different!).

Oscar Isaac as Mr. Knight in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT, exclusively on Disney+. [Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios]

Of course, there are still key differences however between Moon Knight‘s portrayal of DID and how it’s experienced by real-life individuals. 

In Moon Knight, Steven and Marc often talk to one another and are seemingly able to request the other to retreat or take over the body more easily. In reality, alters can also front when they feel like it, but are not necessarily confined to only appearing in times of danger.

Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant/Marc Spector in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT. [Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios]

The show also seems to have taken a slightly more positive and wholesome approach in reconciling the different alters’ roles in the system.

There were several scenes where Steven and Marc help each other deal with their respective traumas and learn to better trust each other. In contrast to reality, the route to such common understanding between alters is probably much more of an uphill battle, especially if they have more than two alters in one system. Additionally, a system can have alters taking on different roles, ranging from ‘protectors’ to child-like personalities,  further suggesting inherent complexities.  

Nevertheless, the show still deserves much credit for approaching this topic in as much of a realistic and sensible manner. This can probably be attributed to the hard work that the writers, directors, and star Oscar Isaac put into researching DID to ensure that their portrayal of it is as accurate as it gets.

So, should you watch Moon Knight?

Ethan Hawke as Arthur Harrow in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT. [Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios]

Shows that portray mental illness with respect and sensitivity are few and far between, and as mentioned above, Moon Knight does a splendid job at it.

To clarify, this series is certainly not the first of its kind – other shows like Split, Psycho, and Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also also present DID but in their own unique way. However, Moon Knight‘s classic save-the-world storyline is cleverly interwoven with the representation of DID.

There is sufficient action accompanied by the sophisticated storytelling of how the mind of a patient with DID works, enabling the audience to better understand DID. People who may not understand the deeper meaning of the show can still appreciate the action and vice-versa; a true leverage on popular culture to spread awareness to the masses.

May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT, exclusively on Disney+. [Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios]

Of course, as with most of Marvel’s recent entries, Moon Knight also boasts a high production value. With an incredible cast – Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, and May Calamawy, the characters that they each represent were indeed brought to life. 

On one hand, you have Isaac effortlessly transitioning between Steven and Marc whilst displaying the full range of emotions of each character. On the other, you have Hawke and Calamawy expressing their characters’ motivations and personalities to an elevated level, allowing the audience to truly feel like they can understand and empathise with Layla (Calamawy) and Harrow (Hawke). 

Other ancillary factors like the cinematography, pacing and storyline were done well too; there was never a moment where I felt bored with the show and in fact, it kept me on the edge of my seat most of the time.

May Calamawy as Layla El-Faouly and Oscar Isaac as Marc Spector/Steven Grant in Marvel Studios’ MOON KNIGHT. [Photo by Gabor Kotschy]

Throughout the  6-part miniseries, Moon Knight brings its audience closer than ever to how living a life with DID is like, but also makes the topic more accessible to people from all walks of life. Most importantly, it opens up an opportunity to openly discuss DID and mental illness in general, a trajectory that society should be headed towards.