Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Film Reviews: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Fig. 1: The Sixth Sense poster.
M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) cannot truly be entirely placed under the horror or thriller genres. "The Sixth Sense isn’t a bloodfest or a whodunnit thriller: some may make the case it isn’t even a horror movie. But the quiet dialogue, the doe-eyed Osment and the sporadic yelp of violins create a tangible sense of dread that makes watching it an overwhelmingly freaky experience." (Cain, 2014). The story, while frightening and incredibly morbid in places, has a touch of sweetness that makes it enjoyable and touching to even those who don't particularly value horror films. Haley Joel Osment's acting as Cole Sear, a young boy who sees ghosts, is heart wrenching and believable, his emotional performance fueling the film. "He has to carry the heart of the movie as well as distract us from paying too much attention to Willis', well, deadness. Especially in the moments of supposed peril (the boy is, in fact, never in serious jeopardy) which he faces alone, the young actor handles the fear and vulnerability of his predicament with an emotional force."  (Nathan, 2000).

Fig. 2: Vincent Grey.
The film follows Bruce Willis' character, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist in Philadelphia who has recently been honored for his work. During the short introduction to the character, his wife Anna says she believes Malcolm has a gift for working with children, and the audience is lead to believe he's had a very successful career. When the two retire to their bedroom, they notice someone has broken in, and discover a young man in the bathroom whom Malcolm identifies as Vincent Grey (fig. 2), an ex patient of his. Vincent accuses Malcolm of failing him, saying to Anna "Do you know why you're afraid when you're alone? I do. I do." (The Sixth Sense, 1999). After Malcolm offers to help him, Vincent rejects his help and shoots Malcolm in the stomach, before shooting himself in the head. The film cuts to what appears to be some months later, Malcolm is recovered and back at work, this time with Cole Sear, a nine-year-old boy with similarities to Vincent Grey. Malcolm believes if he can help Cole, it will be as though he helped Vincent.

Fig. 3: Malcolm talks to Cole about what he sees.
What's interesting about Cole and Malcolm's relationship, is that by the end, the audience realises that Cole always knew Malcolm was a ghost. When Malcolm first visits Cole in his home, Cole tells him "you're nice, but you can't help me.(The Sixth Sense, 1999). Cole saying, "you're nice" most likely refers to all his previous experiences with ghosts being negative, while Malcolm is kind to him from the beginning. Cole is also visibly wary of Malcolm, not wanting to get too close to him until he believes Malcolm definitely won't hurt him. At the end of the film, Cole knows he won't see the doctor again. Malcolm believes this is because his work with Cole has been successful, and he must now move on to the next patient. But Cole knows Malcolm no longer has unfinished business, and tells him how to talk to his wife, knowing this will help him move on. "There are fairly involved dialogue passages between Willis and Osment that require good timing, reactions and the ability to listen. Osment is more than equal to them. And although the tendency is to notice how good he is, not every adult actor can play heavy dramatic scenes with a kid and not seem to condescend (or, even worse, to be subtly coaching and leading him). Willis can. Those scenes give the movie its weight and make it as convincing as, under the circumstances, it can possibly be." (Ebert, 1999).

Fig. 4: Cole's breath is visible as the temperature drops.
The film very much makes the audience feel what Cole is feeling. The ghosts seem terrifying for most of the film, with some of them behaving aggressively or simply being frightening in appearance. As the film goes on, and Cole realises he can help the ghosts move on, he becomes less scared, and the ghosts are in turn less frightening. The audience knows when the ghosts are going to appear, as it is often preempted by a character commenting on it being cold, and their breath being visible when they exhale. This makes the beginning of the film somewhat more unnerving, as Anna Crowe comments on the temperature dropping, and her breath is visible when she enters the cellar, suggesting something entered the house with Vincent Grey, possibly something that prompted him to shoot Malcolm, and then himself.

The ending comes as a big shock to those who are not aware Malcolm is dead, as M. Night Shyamalan has clearly put a lot of effort into making sure it's not easy to detect. Anna Crowe appears to be upset with her husband for being distant and spending all his time working. It's not until the end that the audience realises she is mourning her late husband, and struggling to move on. It also becomes very obvious that no characters apart from Cole acknowledge Malcolm's presence. He walks around Cole's school, and even walks into a house during a wake without anyone seeming to question him being there. Cole also never mentions Malcolm to anyone else, despite the audience being lead to believe Malcolm must know Cole's mother, as the two of them sit together in Cole's home as they wait for him to return from school.

Fig. 5: Wearing red to a funeral.
The colour red appears frequently in the film. Anna Crowe regularly wears red after Malcolm's death, the tent Cole has made to protect himself is red, and so is the balloon he follows up a spiral staircase, where he encounters a ghost that believes it's trapped in an open cupboard. Red appears to mark people and objects associated or directly connected to ghosts. When Cole attends the funeral of a young girl, she directs him towards a box containing a videotape. Cole gives the videotape to the girl's father, who upon watching it, discovers his wife was keeping their daughter ill, and subsequently killed her, by putting cleaning fluid in her food. When the father confronts the mother, she is completely dressed in red, a strange choice for a funeral. Her outfit makes her stand out in the room before she has been confronted, making it obvious that she's drawing attention to herself, trying to gain sympathy for her daughter's death.

At the end of the film, when Cole finally tells his mother his secret, she wears a red jumper instead of the black she is usually seen in. When Cole tells her he sees ghosts, she is at first skeptical, but comes to accept and believe what he is telling her. Her decision to wear red is indicative of her acceptance of Cole, but also the overall warmth of the film, and how Cole's interactions with ghosts have gone from negative to positive. 
The Sixth Sense frightens and touches people equally. It is a horror with a happy and resolved ending, that finishes with a twist that has made it famous. "There is an unnerving but emotionally satisfying maturity to The Sixth Sense that makes it so much more than a beautifully worked parlour trick. It's a ghost story about being human." (Nathan, 2000).


Figure 1: The Sixth Sense poster. (1999) [poster] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 2: Vincent Grey. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 3: Malcolm talks to Cole about what he sees. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 4: Cole's breath is visible as the temperature drops. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Figure 5: Wearing red to a funeral. (1999) From: The Sixth Sense. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan [Film still] United States: Hollywood Pictures. At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)


Ebert, R. (1999) 'The Sixth Sense' In: 06.08.1999 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Nathan, I. (2000) 'EMPIRE ESSAY: The Sixth Sense Review' In: Empire 01.01.2000 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

Cain, S. (2014) 'The Sixth Sense: the film that frightened me most' In: The Guardian 22.10.2014 [online] At: (Accessed on: 04.05.2016)

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