The Sixth Sense(1999): A Modern American Classic

What makes a movie watchable? Is it the culmination of the events or the journey which the characters undergo in the movie, which appeals to us, especially in case of thriller movies?

In 1999, when The Sixth Sense was released it met with critical acclaim and box office success. The film garnered huge attention in India, thanks to the director’s connection to India and especially for Malayalees it was a proud moment. Even though the film was not a typical summer blockbuster the film was dubbed in Hindi with the title being changed to Murde Ki Kahaani Zinda ki Zubaani loosely translated as Story of a dead body narrated by a living human being.

The Sixth Sense PosterI cannot recall when I actually watched The Sixth Sense for the first time, but for some reason the scenes of the film remained with me. Recently I watched Manoj Night Shyamalan’s The Visit, despite being an insipid fare the film had few moments of brilliance. I pondered, would The Sixth Sense work now since I know the famous twist in the tale. 1999 was a year of twist in the end films, the other movie was The Fight Club. I must say no movie has succeeded in pulling out the brilliant twist after The Sixth Sense. Closer to home, we had Pizza which I feel was inspired by The Sixth Sense.

To categorise The Sixth Sense as horror or supernatural movie would be laziness on our part.

The Sixth Sense tells the story of celebrated psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who takes on a new case of a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who suffers the same psychological problem similar to one of his earlier patients, Vincent Gray. Crowe holds himself responsible for the death of Vincent and he does not want to Cole to meet the same fate.

The film primarily is an art form which does not allow you to imagine, it assaults all your senses at one go and hammers you into the moment with the help of visual and audio. Credit to Shyamalan, who does not resort to gore or other horror clichés to scare us.

What makes The Sixth Sense even scarier is the ghosts appear anytime, at all the places. Shyamalan places them in the middle of the school, at the breakfast table and so on, usually the places which are supposed to be cheerful and happy.

Another scene which still strikes a chord with me, has a childhood connection for me. A lot of us when we were kids were scared to use the toilet at night, there is a scene in the movie when Cole is in the bathroom and a ghost walks in, the scene still gives me goose bumps.

The Sixth Sense is a beautiful film which deals with the pains of growing up and how hard it is to cope up with reality both for the dead and those who are alive.

Credit to Shyamalan, for the superb casting. I still remember the image of Bruce Willis, all I had in my mind was one of an action star who could save us single handedly. Here we go to watch him as a physician who is vulnerable, a man has been who is trying to revive his life history and marriage at the same time. The way he smiles during the play of King Arthur, the tilt and nod as if he is approving Cole’s performance. We realise he is a sort of father figure to 9 year old Cole.

sixth-senseAnother brilliant scene, is now the famous scene in the history of cinema “I see dead people”, When Cole reveals his ability to see the ghosts. The camera slowly zooms into Malcom’s face. The scene has a payoff even while in repeat viewings. For those who have not watched the film, the audience is in dilemma to accept Cole’s version of truth or the shrug in Malcolm’s face is he accepting the inevitability about Cole’s mental condition. On second viewing, we as an audience looks at the scene differently. Does his shrug implies his empathy with Cole or indication of Malcolm accepting the truth?

The emotional crux of the film is the relationship between Cole and his mother Lynn (Tonni Collete). The dinning table conversation scenes between her and Cole are so brilliant when she thinks it is Cole who has been moving the pendant.  The scene in the car when Cole finally reveals his secret, the scene begins with the concern for her child, you can feel the fear of mother, realising something is wrong with her son, by the time the scene plays out we get to see the emotional breakdown of Lynn which has been building up during the movie. Her relief, her joy and the way she keeps her hand on her mouth while tears swell up leaves you with a lump in your throat.

To discuss The Sixth Sense and not mention Haley Joel Osment would be an act of hara-kiri. I always have respect for directors who work with children. I certainly believe working with child actors and extracting fine performances from them is hallmark of a great director and very few directors have able to mastered it. In India it was Satyajit Ray who I feel brought out the best performance from his child actors.

We see much of the movie from the point of view of Cole, the terror in his eyes, the way he speaks in hushed conversation lends so much depth and credibility to the film. The way he looks away from cemetery when he travels in bus, the way he holds the torch in his tent is so incredible. Even if Shyamalan had not shown a single ghost it would have still been chilling,surprisingly this is what Manoj does for most part of his supernatural movies, there are no ghosts or anything way too horrific.

The Sixth Sense Still 1Of course, the final twist here is the icing on the cake. I am sure nobody could figure that out. Shyamalan takes his own sweet time, with unparalleled grace and subtlety serves us with the final twist. Looking back, we can always say I could spot the red colour, the chillness in the air and so on. Even after so many years I am still to find a genuine person who could guess the twist from the start.

Very few people get a chance to direct films, and very few make films which survive years and evoke the same emotion. Manoj did this with his second film and went to make my favourite superhero film The Unbreakable. Whenever the history of American cinema will be discussed, Manoj’s name will get mention due to The Sixth Sense.

Of course now you may ask, does the film work without the twist? I would say yes, the film would have worked even without the twist. The soul of The Sixth Sense lies in the journey between a mother trying to protect a child, the car scene is the highpoint of the film for me.

Even now, more than 15 Years post the release, The Sixth Sense has not lost any of its charm. On the other hand with each viewing the movie offers something new. I would strongly recommend you to watch The Sixth Sense again. If you are planning to watch a horror movie this halloween, then you know you could revisit The Sixth Sense.

The Sixth Sense is truly a modern American classic.



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