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“The Sixth Sense” is a Halloween Classic

October 29, 2012

By John C.

There are certain films that get watched every year around Halloween, and one of the finest examples of a ghost story done right is the 1999 psychological thriller The Sixth Sense.  Although it isn’t celebrating any sort of significant milestone, besides this year marking the somehow appropriate thirteenth anniversary, it’s the sort of popular film that is still worth writing about.

The film opens with celebrated child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) at home with his wife (Olivia Williams), before the shocking discovery that former patient Vincent Grey (Donnie Wahlberg) has broken into his house and is becoming violent.  We cut to the next fall as Malcolm is waiting to visit with a new client who seems eerily similar to Vincent as a child.  He is trying to finally make things right by helping the young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a boy who lives alone with his mother (Toni Collette), and struggles with a dark secret.

“I see dead people,” he finally confides in Dr. Malcolm Crowe nearly halfway through the film, and it’s the first of many twists that brings deeper meaning to this story of the unique friendship between a boy and his psychologist.  The film picked up six Oscar nominations back in 1999, including Best Picture, Best Director and a much deserved Best Supporting Actor nod for Haley Joel Osment.  The young actor was just eleven years old when he made The Sixth Sense, and his performance still stands as one of the best ever put on screen by a child actor.  Every moment of whispered dialogue and the way that he looks at the other characters is just haunting.

Along with the beautiful musical score by James Newton Howard, what’s striking about The Sixth Sense is the way that writer and director M. Night Shyamalan uses lighting and cinematography to build up a constant feeling of foreboding and suspense.  The way that the camera follows a character up the steps or pans away as we hear a gunshot so that we don’t actually see the violence allows every scene to linger in the mind, often forcing us to look closer and see that things might not be quite what they seem.  Both in style and tone, the film deserves to be remembered as a classic Hollywood thriller, with strong overtones of Alfred Hitchcock.

Every scene brings us closer to a shocking twist at the end, which is so eloquently built up throughout the film that it would seem a shame to spoil it even thirteen years later.  Regardless of whether or not you know it before seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, it’s fascinating to watch the way that M. Night Shyamalan waits until the last possible second to deliver the big reveal.  This is a mystery that becomes even more of a puzzle once all of the pieces fall into place, with a screenplay that is ingeniously written every step of the way.  The film tells a self contained story that feels absolutely complete, but with an ending that leaves us just as intrigued as the first few scenes.

It’s a twist in the same league as the big reveals in such great movies as Psycho, The Usual Suspects and Fight Club, and an ending that changes our interpretation of the entire story.  There were many films in 1999 that helped redefine modern filmmaking, including The Sixth Sense and Fight Club, along with the brilliantly inventive Being John Malkovich and the Best Picture winning masterpiece American Beauty.  These were all films that proved mainstream audiences could handle challenging material delivered in a unique and utterly original way, and they all shared the common thread of having endings that bring even deeper meaning to the entire story.

Halloween is said to be the night when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and The Sixth Sense is a haunting look at a young boy who is able to communicate with those who have already passed away, but aren’t ready to move on from this life.  As much as they are remembered for that brilliant twist, the final scenes of the film are also moving and bring about a deeply felt emotional and spiritual understanding.  After thirteen years, The Sixth Sense remains a true Halloween classic.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    October 29, 2012 4:57 pm

    I love this film…and what a treat to see Bruce Willis with nary a smirk…just big, genuine smiles. I enjoy it more every time I see it, as I spot more and more clues!

    Like

    • October 29, 2012 11:56 pm

      Totally agree – The Sixth Sense is a movie that was made to be seen more than once.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      -John C.

      Like

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