The Sixth Sense is considered one of the 21st century’s classic movies. It certainly does not hurt that when it was released in 1999, my peers and I were ten years old. The Sixth Sense was a new take on the classic ghost story- not only is the world full of ghosts, but only a select few can see them. The member of that “few” that we focus on is Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment, and Child Psychriatrist Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis. How does this movie really stand up to the test of time?
When I was ten, I never watched this movie. I was a little curious but it did not really appeal to me that much. Oh, wow, you can see dead people. Look somewhere else. I saw bits and pieces and, of course, I knew the twist at the end, as well as some of the symbolism. Let’s start with that.
Every time there’s a ghost on the screen, there’s a bright red object. This isn’t explained in the movie; it is just something that a lot of people picked up on really quickly. The problem with this is that we’re so inundated with red, especially early in the movie, that even intentionally looking for it, I tuned it out. In one of the first scenes with Cole, an invisible ghost tears through the kitchen, opening all of the drawers and cabinets. Each one of these cabinets has at least one bright red item in it. This shit is everywhere- there is even a giant, bright red tent that takes up half of Cole’s bedroom!
As for the other reason why there is so much red, Bruce Willis shares the spotlight evenly with Osment. Willis alternates between wondering what he can do to help the kid and what he can do to save his marriage, which he believes is failing due to the amount of time he spends at work (an issue that the prologue hints at having occurred before). I might have found this plot more interesting had I gone into it without the closing knowledge, but with it, I have to say it seems so ridiculously obvious that I don’t think I could have missed it anyway. For example, there’s a scene where he sits across from his wife, who’s eating alone at a restaurant. It’s their anniversary, and she won’t look at him or say a single word to him until she leaves and says, “Happy Anniversary,” in an upset tone. You would have to be a trained actress to be that good at pretending somebody who is talking to you is not in the room.
Willis is apparently supposed to be a skilled Psychiatrist despite the fact that we never see him deducing much information. He acts like… well, an actor, acting like a Psychiatrist. It doesn’t exactly help that the only cases we see him dealing with are an utter failure- an earlier version of Cole, who ends up shooting himself and Bruce- and Cole himself, with whom he is utterly lost and eventually gives up before coming to the accurate conclusion that ghosts have unfinished business.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. The big reveal of the film (not the twist) is that ghosts in movies have unfinished business. No shit. Next, we will be faced with a Pixar movie about birds and bees that reveals they pollinate flowers.
The ghosts themselves are both better and worse than I expected. Better, because they can actually do things. They aren’t just “seen”, as the film’s best known line indicates. They actually fuck Cole up a couple of times (though this occurs off screen). They see him back and they take things (although, conveniently, they like to keep them in places Cole can get blamed for it). Worse, because they just were not as creepy as I expected. Maybe my expectations were seriously jacked up by years of hype because they weren’t all that bad; they just didn’t do anything for me. I would say the scariest ghost was probably a young girl foaming at the mouth who, for some reason, came into Cole’s house and broke into his tent. I just expected a lot more scenes like that, even if they were just jump scenes, and that such things would be occurring all over the place. Sadly, no.
As a genre film, The Sixth Sense is all over the place. I am not sure what to primarily call it- as a genre film, it relies too much on “happily ever after”. It is not really a horror film, either- not in any traditional sense. The Sixth Sense is its own work, something I believe is consistent among Shyamalan’s movies, and something I can’t fault it with, though a bit more direction in the narrative would be nice.
The main characters pull off their roles well. Both of the main characters are flawed and off-putting in their own ways. They both come across as real people, even if our action hero-turned Psychiatrist (seriously, who the hell came up with that idea?) doesn’t come across as good as he’s hinted to be. The rest of the human actors are similarly convincing. The ghosts, on the other hand, are crazily over the top. I can only assume this is intentional, to portray how crazy serious the situation is, but to me this detracts from the scenes they are in because I can’t take them seriously. When a dead lady is screaming at the top of her lungs at someone who is clearly not there and may not have been in years… yeah.
While the buildup to the big line takes a long time for anybody aware of what the movie is about, the plot works out pretty well. It wraps up all the loose ends neatly (other than why this is all happening), though there’s nothing spectacular. It does end on kind of a cliché note, with the Mentor out of the way (by the way, I found it freakin’ hilarious that Bruce Willis was killed by what looks like a .22 round) and the young pupil in a position where he has no choice but to become a better version of his mentor. Or, he could become this guy. Basically, The Sixth Sense relies on its uniqueness and surprise to really carry you through emotionally. The story is expected to pick you up from there. Good for one watch, if you either haven’t been spoiled or if you’re really good at not taking things seriously, but even then I can’t imagine much for a second viewing. It is a really well made, very average movie.