Are there people out there who still don’t know the ending to The Sixth Sense? I’d be willing to be that if you just walked up to people on the street, more of them would be familiar with what the twist ending of The Sixth Sense was than could tell you what the significance of “Rosebud” was from Citizen Kane. Even knowing what the ending of the movie will be, is The Sixth Sense still enjoyable? With M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth being released, and apparently being not all that good, there’s been a lot of shit being talked about the filmmaker all over the internet. Even though his most recent few films have been stinkers, I still remember a time when people actually anticipated Shyamalan movies, and dare I say, even ENJOYED watching his movies. With all the hate, I figured I’d revisit the movie that really jumpstarted his career to see if it still holds up, and for the most part, it does.
See, kids? Helmets are dorky AND don’t even save your life.
The night that Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) wins an award for his work in child psychology, a former patient breaks into his house and shoots, then commits suicide. The next fall, feeling as though he had failed that child, Malcolm finds another young boy who seems to share similar issues as the boy who had shot him. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is picked on boy most of the boys his age, despite keeping to himself and being relatively quiet, while also having a mom, played by Toni Collette, who loves him endlessly. Malcolm thinks he is figuring out what is causing Cole so much stress, possibly caused by abandonment issues with Cole’s father, only to have Cole admit the real reason why he’s always so afraid, which is that he sees ghosts all around him. Uh oh, that can’t be good. Malcolm believes Cole and wants to help him, so he encourages Cole to try to talk to the ghosts, no matter how scary they are, to try to find out why they are communicating with Cole. Cole attempts to resolve the disturbing death of one ghost, and succeeds, causing him to feel much more at peace with all the restless spirits. Oh yeah, then there’s also a giant twist at the end of the movie that became a huge staple of pop culture for the next 15 years.
Remember the cuddly, cute Joseph Gordon Levitt?
Can The Sixth Sense be an enjoyable movie, despite knowing what the twist of the movie is? I think one of the biggest strengths of the movie is the fact that it came out at a time when CGI effects were becoming more commonplace in horror films, but all of the scares were done practically. Whether it be makeup effects or just the way a shot was constructed, almost all of the scares of the movie were achieved either practically or through editing as opposed to using computers or just trying to gross out the audience. One of the most effective scares is a scene where Cole’s mom leaves him in the kitchen to get breakfast, she walks out to the laundry room for a few moments and the camera follows her, and when she goes back to the kitchen, all of the cabinets and cupboards are open. We don’t need to see how these doors were all opened, it’s far creepier to see them mysteriously open, which was very reminiscent of the chair stacking scenes in Poltergeist. I know that Shyamalan gets a lot of shit for a lot of reasons, but back when this movie was fresh, his Spielberg/Hitchcock worship was relatively effective filmmaking. Even though a BIG part of the movie is the twist ending, it’s interesting to go back and see all the “clues” left in the movie that make it seem incredibly obvious what’s going on. Again, in hopes of not spoiling a 15 year old movie that everyone knows the ending of, I still want to be vague about what those clues are, but they’re definitely there. Yes, I know, there are maybe a few contradictions or rules that are set up by the film, only to have the film “break” them, but I’d say that, at least upon initial viewing, those minor flaws are okay to overlook for the sake of telling the story.
I just wish that somebody would parody this scene more! Come on, guys! It would be so funny!
Just as iconic as the twist ending in this film would be Osment’s delivery of the line, “I see dead people.” The line was famous, sure, but just as famous was the idea of child actor Haley Joel Osment and his performance. There’s a reason this performance got him an Academy Award nomination, as his performance still holds up. He’s funny when he needs to be, terrified when he needs to be, and acts the way a little kid does when he needs to be. Bruce Willis’s performance is fine, I guess, but nothing compared to Osment’s. In fact, I’d say that Willis’s performance isn’t as good as Collette’s performance as Cole’s mom. The amount of love felt between these two characters oozes out of every scene, whether it be Cole’s mom reassuring him that he’s not strange, Cole getting pushed around in a shopping cart, or a confrontation over a family heirloom. One of the more powerful scenes towards the end of the movie involves Cole finally confront his mom about the things he sees, in addition to providing his mom with information that helps her finally feel like a family member is truly at rest. Yes, the concept of the movie is kind of silly, which I guess is what happens when you rip off Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but initial viewings are very effective, and years later, there are still a lot of good things in there, even if you know that Snape kills Dumbledore.
Wolfman Moon Scale