Showing up on Netflix this month is this 1999 classic from M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan exploded on the scene with this film and followed it up with two solid offerings in Unbreakable and Signs. Things got dicey after that with The Village and Lady in the Water. Shyamalan never really captured the magic like he did with The Sixth Sense.
Just a little more history lesson before I get to the movie…
Bruce Willis delivered, at the time, what was thought to be his best acting performance ever and worthy of a Best Actor nomination. He didn’t get nominated. What made the snub even more obvious was how every one else connected to the movie DID get nominated – Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, and Barry Mendel for Best Picture; Haley Joel Osment for Best Supporting Actor; Toni Collette for Best Supporting Actress; Shyamalan for Best Director and Best Screenplay. None of them won but it is just an honor to be nominated. This, by the way, is the background of the joking between Matt Damon and Bruce Willis in the movie Ocean’s 12.
As for The Sixth Sense, it is a slow-moving story of how child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is trying to help 9-year old boy Cole Sear who is having vivid hallucinations of dead people. Dr. Crowe had tried to help a young man with a similar problem early in his life and ended up being shot by the man. Crowe’s attempt to help Sear is both for the boy’s benefit as well as a cathartic process for himself as he feels like he failed to help the earlier child. Dr. Crowe suggests a different method with dealing with the hallucinations – helping the dead find closure in this life so they can move on to the next. This ends up being the key for young Cole Sear, played brilliantly by Haley Joel Osment. The film plods along with Cole helping the dead people that he sees. He solves a murder, helps another deliver a message to a loved one. Osment delivers an incredibly nuanced performance for a 9-year old.
Have I mentioned the film plods along a bit? Another word could be that it is very intentional. Some have argued that the ending only partially redeems the slow, methodical pace of the film. I don’t see it this way at all. Remember, every single item in the frame is put there on purpose by the director. At least – they should be there on purpose and with Shyamalan this is particularly true. Hitchcock would do the same thing – fill the frame with details, tell a story at a slow, methodical pace, then in the final act of the film all those details explode to life revealing their purpose. The gamble lies in whether the story that’s being told is deep enough to pull off the twist.
Hitchcock mastered this kind of film making. The Sixth Sense belongs in that club as well.
The interactions of Dr. Crowe with both his clients and his wife are crucial to the arch of the film. Willis captures the dilemma that all mental health professionals face – feeling their client’s pain, being just as frustrated with slow or even lack of progress. Willis captures this perfectly and the slow pace only adds to the intensity of both the feelings of despair of Sear as well as Dr. Crowe.
I can not – will not – spoil the ending. It is perhaps the most incredible, mind-blowing ending to any film. (Save of course, Darth Vader telling Luke he was his father.) The intensity of the film is heightened by Shyamalan’s refusal to use the traditional ‘jump music’ in the film. The scary scenes ambush you as a viewer – with no set up or build up.
The Sixth Sense really is one of those rare films that you must wait until the credits roll to form an opinion on it.
If you haven’t seen it – it’s definitely worth the watch.
Then you’ll watch it again.