The Sixth Sense

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The Sixth Sense
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Frank Marshall
Barry Mendel
Sam Mercer
Written by M. Night Shymalan
Starring Bruce Willis
Haley Joel Osment
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Editing by Andrew Mondshein
Distributed by Kennedy/Marshall/Barry Mendel Productions
Hollywood Pictures
Spyglass Entertainment
Language English

The Sixth Sense is a block-buster film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, about a child psychologist who tries to help a child troubled by his mysterious ability to "see dead people all the time". The film was rated PG-13 for intense thematic material and violent images.

This supernatural thriller begins with Philadelphia psychologist Malcolm Crowe getting tipsy with his wife Anna and making light of an award bestowed upon him by the mayor's office for his outstanding work with children. Upstairs, they discover a break in, and Crowe sees a terribly skinny young man clad only in gray briefs, who complains that the doctor has misdiagnosed him ("possible mood disorder") and forgotten him. Crowe takes a moment and remembers former patient Vincent Grey and his good points, but Vincent rages, "You failed me!" and shoots Crowe with a small pistol. Then he turns his gun on himself.

From this point on in the movie, Crowe has no more conversations with adults; he does speak to a number of people, but it easily escapes the notice of the viewer that they never reply. Looking back, one can see all sorts of moments which hint at the reason for this, but on first viewing they merely seem to reflect things like self-doubt or a relationship inexplicably becoming distant.

Our next view of Dr. Crowe finds him seated on a bench with notes and briefcase, reviewing notes on a 9-year-old boy named Cole Sear, who has a diagnosis similar to that of Vincent Grey. He follows Cole to a church, introduces himself, and apologizes for missing his "appointment".

In the following scene we meet Cole's divorced mother, hastily dressing as she prepares to send Cole off to school. After leaving the kitchen for a moment to fetch a tie for Cole, she is astonished to find most of the cabinet doors and drawers open with Cole still seated at the breakfast table. (This brings to mind the typical reasoning of atheists: if the fossil record appears to show that human beings and animals evolved from other forms of life, then it must be a purely natural process; no supernatural being could have done it (since the supernatural is merely an ignorant myth). Cole must have been looking for something (it couldn't be ghosts, no matter how unlikely it is that a boy could get up, open a dozen doors and drawers, and get back in his seat without even breathing hard or breaking a sweat).

Cole's mother and Dr. Crowe are seated across from each other, not talking, when the apartment door opens and Cole comes home. She tries to get him to talk, by playing a game where she says three things happened to her as if they were true, but are obviously only wishes: winning the lottery, quitting her jobs, eating a picnic and swimming all day in a fountain. Cole's things (wishes) are being picked first for kickball, winning the game, and being carried on his teammate's shoulders. Then Dr. Crowe tries a game with a similar purpose: he must guess something (pretending to "read" Cole's mind), with right or wrong guesses indicated by Cole taking a step forward or back. Right guesses win the boy's confidence, wrong guesses are actually intended to learn something about the boy:

  1. Your mom's doctor couldn't help her, so you think I can't help you (right)
  2. You're worried about secrets your mother told the doctor (right)
  3. You have a secret (right)
  4. (wrong) The watch was left behind by his father when he left
  5. (wrong) He got in trouble at school for drawing a picture with a man hurt in the neck with a screwdriver by another man; everyone got upset and his mother cried; now he draws the kind of pictures they don't have meetings about, like smiles and rainbows and dogs running

Cole says, "You're nice, but you can't help me."

Crowe shows up at an elegant restaurant where Anna has finished eating alone. He sits down, says he just can't keep track of time. He starts talking about his new patient, how he's similar to Grey, about his doubts. He apologizes for seeming distant, tries to pick up the check. She signs, glances up, says, "Happy anniversary", and leaves without another word.

Crowe and Cole talk with each other while strolling through the neighborhood. They also meet indoors, where Cole comments on the number of questions the doctor asked about Cole's father. Crowe still does not know Cole's secret, and mentions free association. Cole had once filled a page with angry words and left it where his mother could find it.

Crowe is in the basement, studying the book Severe stress and mental disturbance in children by Cynthia R. Pfeffer, thinking it could be some sort of physical abuse (but possibly self-inflicted). A young man calls on Anna, inviting her out to the Amish country for a flea market. She declines, to Crowe's relief (perhaps he suspects her of wanting to have an affair).

Cole is in his classroom, when the topic turns to the history of Philadelphia. The teacher asks the children to guess what their school building was used for long ago. Cole suggests that people were hanged in it, his teacher counters that it was courthouse. Cole says that it was the lawyers who had the people hung. The teacher says it's not true, and Cole asks him not to stare at him. The teacher rather inconsiderately chooses instead to stare him down, and Cole calls him Stuttering Stanley over and over until the teacher pounds on Cole's desk saying, "Shut up, you little freak!"

At a birthday party in house like a castle (more upscale than Cole's Chuck E. Cheese party last year), Cole's mother is suffering the disdain of the wealthier mothers while Cole is lured into a small closet at the top of the stairs and shut in. By the time Cole's mother finds him, he has passed out and is brought to the hospital. The doctor (played by director M. Night Shyamalan) insinuates that Cole's mother has been abusing him. As he's resting in bed, Cole is visited by Dr. Crowe, who tries to get Cole to talk by beginning a rambling story. Cole interrupts and asks Crowe to explain why he's sad. Crowe demurs, but tells the story of "Malcolm" who loved helping children more than anything else in the world. He found out he had made a mistake with one and couldn't help him, but then met a "cool" boy who reminded him of the first one. He thought if he could help him, it would help the other one too.

In return, Cole reveals his own secret: "I see dead people ... walking around ... they don't see each other ... they only see what they want to see ... they don't know they're dead." He sees them, "...all they time ... they're everywhere." Crowe thinks the boy is hallucinating and considers a diagnosis of paranoia or schizophrenia (obviously based on the materialistic premise that there is no such thing as ghosts, or life after death).

Cole's mother uncovers scares on her son's back as she puts him to bed. He wakes up, rushes surreptitiously to the bathroom through the suddenly chilly hallway, and enters the kitchen. "Mom?" he calls. The woman turns around, and she has a red mark on her face. She speaks as if addressing her husband who had beaten her and displays her wrists with scars as of having cut her wrists to commit suicide. She yells, "Now you can't hurt me any more!"

Crowe tells Cole he can't be his doctor any more. Cole says he's the only one who can help him but, "How can you help me if you don't believe me?" Crowe reviews an audiotape of a session with Vincent Grey, when he left the room to take a phone call. Turning up the volume, he hears through the static, "Yo no quiero morir." (I don't want to die.) And it's not Vincent's voice.

After this, Crowe decides to believe Cole and makes his first helpful suggestion: the way to make the dead people go away is to listen to them, because even the angry ones just want help. So the next time Cole sees a ghost (a little girl) he says, "Do you want to tell me something?"

Color is a constant theme of the movie, with trees filled with lush green leavess contrasting with piles of brown leaves on the ground in the fall. Cole barely manages to open the heavy red door of a church (red is used throughout to indicate the supernatural).[1]

Notes

  1. "Red is an important color in this film. It is used to underscore important links to the supernatural. Red in our culture is a symbol of blood, and hence, death. It is also a bright color that pulls the eye. It underscores. Shyamalan gives it a spiritual connection as well." [1]
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