Making Sense of THE SIXTH SENSE – IAFT Movie Review
What I wouldn’t give to go back and watch The Sixth Sense (1999) for the first time again.
I can easily imagine the pleasurable astonishment of a viewer discovering the film, knowing absolutely nothing about the premise or the now-infamous twist.
Re-examining the film today, it’s extraordinary to note how little the big twist actually matters to the story itself.
If the movie had faded to black after the little boy, Cole, confesses to his mother that he can see dead people and has a message for her from her own mother, The Sixth Sense would still be a classic.
But the final surprising moments after that elevate the movie into transcendence, adding a tangible dimension to what we’ve seen before.
Setting the twist aside, the story works handsomely as both a drama and a supernatural thriller, and those two components are closely connected.
The director, M. Night Shyamalan, takes great pains to create a complete world for the mother and son characters to inhabit and, just as interestingly, a void of a world for the child therapist, Dr. Malcolm Crowe.
Shyamalan paints in all the edges.
At first Cole just seems like an odd, troubled child, and almost everything supernatural that happens around him could easily be explained away.
Everything except a few details here and there.
And Malcolm works with infinite patience to help the boy. When Cole asks Malcolm to tell him “a story about why you’re so sad,” Malcolm’s answer is uncommonly touching.
Even more important than Cole’s relationship to the doctor is Cole’s relationship with his mother, Lynn. There’s an early moment when they tell beautiful lies to each other in a way that uplifts them and gives them both the strength to go on.
Their lives are train wrecks, but they will always be there for each another, and that element informs everything Cole does.
When the supernatural is finally introduced, the movie doesn’t change its tone or pacing. Yes, we can now see the ghosts Cole talks about, but we are more interested in how Malcolm can help Cole with his curse.
Shyamalan uses the ghosts as a way to keep us alert with several nifty scares. There is gore, but it’s never gratuitous.
The script is razor sharp throughout, ensuring that we understand Cole is a gifted child, much smarter than older children, but never letting us forget he is a kid.
Look at it as a whole, and see just how much trouble Shyamalan went through—not only to hide his secrets but also to make it seem like he had no secrets to hide, and you have something very special.
As a visualist, Shyamalan is unmatched. He keeps showing us unexpected angles and new ways to approach even the most normal scene. The Sixth Sense looks and feels like one of Val Lewton’s best horror efforts from the 1940s, with a sense of tension palpable throughout and the more chilling sights just out of view.
The Sixth Sense remains one of the best thrillers ever made, mostly because it knows that the best way to take our breath away is to make us care about the characters we are about to go through hell with.
- Writer/Director: M. Night Shyamalan
- Actors: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams