The Sixth Sense wasn’t the first film directed by M. Night Shyamalan but it was certainly his first stand out hit. Released in 1999, the film stars Bruce Willis as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe and newcomer Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, a boy with an unnerving ability to see dead people. Whether the film is classed as a thriller, a horror or an old-fashioned ghost story is up for debate. One thing that is clear is that it sent shockwaves through audiences the world over when it was first released.
At the start of the movie Dr. Malcolm is returning from a night out with his wife. They have attended a glitzy event where he had been honoured for his work with children. Despite a lovely home and a beautiful wife, his work remains Dr. Crowe’s first love, but that love is about to come crashing down. Vincent Grey, an ex-patient of Malcolm Crowe, has invaded their home brandishing a gun. He strongly believes that he was wrongly treated by Dr. Crowe years earlier when, as a child, he was suffering from hallucinations. This mistreatment has caused him serious mental problems into adulthood. Not wanting to be afraid anymore, he takes revenge and shoots Dr Crowe before turning the gun on himself.
After recovering from the gunshot, Dr. Crowe returns to work and soon meets Cole, a boy who seemingly suffers from the same condition as Vincent. Despite some doubts, he is determined not to let this patient down and Malcolm dedicates himself to helping the boy and his fraught mother. Cole, in his own words, “sees dead people”. They haunt his every waking day. He sees them at school, he sees them at home although whether he actually sees them or not is a key choice the audience has to make. Either way, the boy believes he does, which causes the relationship with his mother to become increasingly strained. Enter Dr. Malcolm Crowe. Dr. Crowe isn’t sure whether to believe him either, but worries that another misdiagnosis could have huge ramifications on everyone. As he throws himself back into work, his wife is drifting into the arms of another man.
The film plays on the notion that children are more attuned to seeing strange, even psychological events than adults. By removing their cynicism and disbelief, they are open to experiences that adults choose not to believe in. It also asks a question that most other films of this type do not. What is it that ghosts want? If they take the trouble to appear, why don’t they ask anything of them? The Sixth Sense answers this profound question in spades. Crowe suggests to Cole that he finds a purpose for his ‘gift’; helping the spirits he sees to resolve any unfinished business they may have. He also helps Crowe to better communicate with his wife, by suggesting he speaks to her whilst she sleeps. Cole promises that this way, she will hear everything he has to say.
Cole soon learns not to fear the dead people he sees, but to use his skills to help them. By learning about their lives and death, he becomes the conduit for their resolution. As much as he helps the dead, he also helps the living by reconciling his relationship with his mother who has issues of her own with her deceased mother. Sadly, Dr. Crowe’s marital problems can not be solved.
Of course, the biggest talking point occurred at the end of the film. Everyone who saw it wanted to keep it secret, but most of them found it difficult to keep quiet. If you haven’t seen the film then stand by for a huge Spoiler Alert. Be careful though, as once you know there’s no turning back. Are you ready for it? It turns out that Bruce Willis CAN act after all.