Retrospective Review: “The Sixth Sense”

The_sixth_senseMan, September must be bleeding really badly for Shymalan September to bleed into the middle of October … but in all seriousness, this will be the last M. Night Shyamalan film I look at: the film that many consider to be his magnum opus, The Sixth Sense. As with my review of Unbreakable, I, like many people, knew the ending of The Sixth Sense going into it, so I will be talking about that. That’s a heavy spoiler alert for anyone who’s managed to avoid the twist for all these years; I envy you immensely. With that said, even though I knew the twist going in, I still really enjoyed this movie; it was suspenseful in the right parts, it was heartfelt in others, the acting was all solid, and, again, it was really touching. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt a little choked up watching some scenes of this movie. But enough sappiness; let’s dive right into my review of the best Shyamalan film I’ve seen to date, The Sixth Sense.

The film centers on a child psychologist named Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Anna, played by Olivia Williams, and has just received an award for his work. One night, a crazed ex-patient of his named Vincent, played by Donnie Wahlberg, breaks into their home and attempts to kill Malcolm for failing him and not believing the truth behind his “hallucinations.” Crowe continues his work while trying to figure out where he went wrong with Vincent, and his quest leads him to a young boy named Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment. Cole is an outcast at school and his mother Lynn, played by Toni Collette, is a recently divorced mother trying to help her son fit in and be accepted, while also trying to have a meaningful relationship with her child. After working with Dr. Crowe for a while, Cole reveals his secret: he sees dead people, walking among the living, and they don’t know that they’re dead. While he doesn’t believe him at first, Dr. Crowe starts to realize that this young boy is an unwilling medium for these spirits, and this just might have been what pushed Vincent over the edge. Now he must work with Cole to figure out what the ghosts want in order to help the young boy avoid the same fate.

The acting in this film is great across the board, with Willis and Osment really working well together. I didn’t expect Osment to be a good actor, simply because of his age, but was pleasantly surprised at how convincing his performance was. You really do feel for him and his struggle. Willis plays Dr. Crowe well, and you really believe that he is good with kids and can help them work through their problems. The way the pair figure out how to deal with the ghosts is great, and the scene of them helping this one girl who had recently died was a good way to show that Cole is going to be okay. The other actors were great in their parts, with Toni Collette doing a particularly good job as Cole’s mother.

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The story is great, both in terms of Dr. Crowe’s struggles with his wife and Cole’s struggles with these wayward spirits. The way the scenes are set up make great use of the idea of ghosts only seeing what they want to see in the world; then they see Cole and think “what the hell is going on here,” and that’s when Cole gets hurt or scared. They’re confused and just want to figure out why the world around them has changed so much. Dr. Crowe’s marital problems really make you feel for what he’s going through, and what his wife must be going through as well; they barely talk anymore, and that’s just tearing them both up on the inside. There is also a part of the plot that focuses on one of Anna’s employees who appears to have a crush on her, and this adds to the tension even more, as you don’t know where it’s going to lead and how Malcolm is going to react.

This movie is touted as a thriller, and rightfully so, but there are elements of horror movies that make their way into this film. And they work very well indeed. The scares in this movie aren’t usual horror scares; they come from the atmosphere of the scenery. You feel like, at any moment, something could happen that could cause Cole some sort of mental or physical harm, because not all of the ghosts seem like they want help; a lot of them just seem hell bent on making Cole miserable. In addition, some of the revelations of these ghosts can be pretty terrifying and unexpected, from people who were hanged when Cole’s school was a courthouse to a woman who died in a fire. A lot of them are unexpected as you mostly see the film from Cole’s perspective, and his perspective is skewed by the presence of these ghosts. It makes for some great scares and some unnerving moments throughout the film.

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Now, I’m warning you, one more time, SPOILER ALERT; if you’ve never seen this movie and don’t want the ending spoiled here, stop reading now. Are they gone? Do the rest of you not care about spoilers? Okay. At the end of the movie, Malcolm, after helping Cole figure out how to help the ghosts be at peace, returns home and follows Cole’s advice to talk to his wife while she’s asleep. It’s at this point that Malcolm is able to put all the pieces together: the night that Vincent came to his house and shot him, Malcolm died, and has been dead the whole time. Suddenly, everything adds up for him: that’s why his wife hasn’t been acknowledging him, that’s why no one is acknowledging him, and that’s why only Cole interacts with him: Cole is the only one who can see him, and Cole is the only one who can help him. By helping Cole, he paved the way for other wayward souls like him to eventually find peace with Cole’s help. At the same time, Cole helps Malcolm find peace as well. The ending, in which Malcolm speaks to his wife, is a little on the cheesy side, but I don’t care; I was still getting all kinds of feels during this scene; feelings of shock, when Malcolm starts to see the reality of his situation, feelings of fear, when you don’t know what’s going to happen to him, and feelings of relief and joy, when you see him say a proper goodbye to his wife. I know I said that I knew the twist going into this review, and while I did, I didn’t know anything else about this movie; and I’m glad I didn’t. I would have known about all of the touching moments near and at the end of this movie, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much.

The Sixth Sense lives up to the hype, bringing me my favorite of M. Night Shyamalan’s films that I’ve ever seen. It has suspense, heart, and great acting, all of which makes for a great movie that’s definitely worth seeing.

Score: 8.5/10

Written by Joey Sack

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