Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Cutting Edges: "The Sixth Sense" (1999) Film Review

Fig 1: Film Poster

M.Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” (1999) is a supernatural thriller ( and can be considered horror) that is notably iconic for the terrific screen play and surprise ending. “The Sixth Sense” established Shyamalan as a director and is one of the first movies that introduced his theme of endings with a twist.

The film tells of a child psychologist, Malcolm, (Bruce Willis) who tries to help a boy distant from socialisation and is troubled deeply, Cole (Haley Osment). Cole reveals to Malcolm that he can see dead people, and that is the cause of anxiety and withdrawal from the world.

Desson Howe best describes the film: “This is an entrancing film, which dabbles in profound character revelation and the paranormal – something you don't often see in a movie. And the 11-year-old Osment evokes the boy's terror and awful predicament so memorably, you'll never forget him” (Howe, 1999). Indeed, though the main character is thought to be Malcolm, it is more so Cole – and Haley's performance of a troubled boy who is distinctively different from anyone else his age creates the body of this film. An author of Total Film states: “Yet the position of Willis' name on the cast list is a little misleading, because he's not really the main character. The Sixth Sense focuses primarily on the boy Cole who simply doesn't want "to be scared anymore". (Total film, 1999).

Fig 2: The doorknob

Although the movie is dark, drenched in suspense and anxiety inducing, Shyamalan injects a small amount of humor here and there – for example, when Cole shows his friend a magic trick with a penny that Malcolm showed him, Cole's friend states “It’s stupid” with an awkward pause, then Cole replies “It was supposed to be funny.

More so, the amount of suspense is equally distributed throughout – from the mysterious man who broke into Malcolm's house, and subsequently shot him, to Cole seeing various ghosts of people being hanged, a boy who whispers for him to see where his fathers gun is (and as he turns around, a gruesome head wound is shown) and jump scares to keep the heart racing; the woman in Coles kitchen and the girl who was weeping and throwing up. Adding to these thrilling scenes are the screeching music scores that consist of strings that add to the uneasiness of viewing.

However, with the help of Malcolm, Cole learns to listen to these lost souls, and learns not to be afraid, and his mood notably improves. The audience sees Cole talking to a woman with half her head burnt, but Cole is calm when talking to her. 

Fig 3: "I see dead people"

Initially, when the iconic scene shows Cole in a hospital bed, telling Malcolm “I see dead people”, Malcolm believes the boys medical condition is worse than he thought, and that he is hallucinating. However, when he returns home to listen to an old tape of Vincent (the man who shot him), crying, and when turning up the volume, hears a man crying and begging for help in Spanish. After this, Malcolm finally believes Cole. This particular scene is masterful as the Dr keeps going back over certain parts and thinks he hears something, but brushes it off. But as he keeps rewinding to hear it again he turns up the volume each time, but the audience can barely hear, until finally, the recording is turned up so much so that the viewers can hear Malcolm leave Vincent alone for a while, hear him start weeping as a Spanish man begs for help and that he does not want to die. The recording is as haunting to the character as it is to the audience.

Fig 4: The distraught father

Another notable scene which includes sublime screen play is of a young girl, Kyra Collins funeral. At first, an arm grabs him from under the bed which is Kyra herself, who gives him a box. Cole proceeds to her father and the box holds a video tape of Kyra's mother poisoning her with cleaning fluid in her soup. After viewing, the emotion shown in the dads face is heart breaking, as the camera slowly zooms to show his realisation, and as he is distraught, some of the viewers will find themselves in the same position. 

Fig 5: M.Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan is also known for his cameos in his movies, and he plays a Dr that Cole's mother goes to after he is locked in a room. An interesting observation are the use of Asian (Indian) actors and actresses, which are rarely seen in cinema, such as the director himself and the couple at a Jewellery store choosing a wedding ring. 

Fig 6: An unnoticed Malcolm

The ending proves a powerful twist – tying together the subliminal messages of no one interacting with Malcolm, him seeing his wedding ring roll across the floor and he realises he wasn’t wearing it, the powerful flashbacks of Cole saying “they don’t know they're dead”; they only see what they want to see” and he looks at the door he was trying to open, but this time there is a shelf of books in front that he didn’t see before, and slowly he comes to realise the wound on his back, and all this time, he was in fact dead. However, in a touching finale, Malcolm tells his wife she was never second, and that he loves her. The screen fades to white, to show he has moved on.

By the end, Roger Ebert says: “I have to admit I was blind-sided by the ending. The solution to many of the film's puzzlements is right there in plain view, and the movie hasn't cheated, but the very boldness of the storytelling carried me right past the crucial hints and right through to the end of the film, where everything takes on an intriguing new dimension”. (Ebert, 1999).

A roller-coaster ride of emotions, it is easy to see why “The Sixth Sense” is such an iconic movie that many people have seen. 


Ebert, R. (1999) rogerebert.com (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-sixth-sense-1999
Total Film. (1999) gamesradar.com (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://www.gamesradar.com/the-sixth-sense-review/
Holden, S. (1999) nytimes.com (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9802E3DB1430F935A3575BC0A96F958260
Howe, D. (1999) washingtonpost.com (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/movies/reviews/sixthsensehowe.htm

Illustration List 
Fig 1:"Film Poster"  (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://www.moviemagic.ucoz.com/artwork/The_Sixth_Sense.jpg
Fig 2: "The doorknob" (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://montagesmagazine.com/files/2013/12/door-malcolm-6-600x338.jpg
Fig 3: "I see dead people"  (Accessed on 12/04/16) http://wheresthejump.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/the-sixth-sense-1.jpg
Fig 4: "The distraught father" (Accessed on 12/04/16) https://i.ytimg.com/vi/oEug8JqvXFU/maxresdefault.jpg
Fig 5: "M.Night Shyamalan" (Accessed on 12/04/16) https://thatoldpictureshow.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/m.jpg
Fig 6:  "An unnoticed Malcolm" (Accessed on 12/04/16) https://pic.yify-torrent.org/20140422/33447/e613cae67acd4e04b2dc0f766cc0007c.png

1 comment:

  1. Lovely review Manisha - just makes me want to watch it again :D