Opening the Door to ‘The Sixth Sense’ 10 Years Later

Ten years ago I went to see The Sixth Sense at a midnight showing in Mizner Park. I heard it was a solid, creepy horror film with a “cool” ending. I remember the experience of watching it and leaving the theater with a Whoa, I just saw something feeling. It’s the type of movie you can’t wait to tell everyone else about. And the best thing: you could recommend it to virtually anyone. When I left, for example, Fight Club, I had a great movie high, but I knew I couldn’t talk excitedly to everyone about it. Fight Club just isn’t for everybody. The Sixth Sense was a completely different situation. I couldn’t think of a single soul who wouldn’t like it, and it was clear to me M. Night Shyamalan had tapped into something cosmic.

There’s a scene a little more than halfway through the film where I remember turning to my friend (the great J Good) and said, “This just became great.” The scene is a detour of sorts. It was unexpected, not only in terms of the narrative, but also in its execution. Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment crash a wake, following the haunting of a tiny, vomiting Mischa Barton (they all grow so fast!). Here, they expose the mourning mother as a despicable murderer. But when you really look at this sequence, it comes out of nowhere and still manages to be a powerful emotional point in the film. It’s almost like a short little movie inside this other great one. Suddenly, things changed for me. I had to sit up in my chair. This wasn’t just a spooky story. At that moment, I knew it had a lot more on its mind.

It’s been ten years since the success of The Sixth Sense. “I see dead people” become nauseatingly popular. In 2005 it ranked #44 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes list. On 2001’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list it is #60. Most prestigious, 2007’s 100 Years…100 Movies ranks the film the 89th greatest movie of all time. Yowsa!

It opened well at $26.6 million dollars and word-of-mouth made sure it had five solid weeks where it hauled in $20 million or more. It became one of the most surprising and highest grossing Best Picture nominees. No doubt, much of the film’s success is due to it’s all-time great ending which led people back to the cinema to take it all in again. And again.

Let me now take a detour of my own. Since the film’s release I’ve listened to the spurious claims of many people who “guessed the ending”. They are family members, friends, acquaintances, a happened-upon stranger, a co-worker, a neighbor, a vendor, a customer … and to you all I say this: I don’t believe you. I believe you are confused and have perhaps fooled yourself into thinking you never heard a hint leading you to discovery. You can’t convince me you figured out the ending. It didn’t happen. Not really. Hard-headed? Perhaps. Happily hard-headed? Definitely… Moving along…

I’ve always thought the twist ending stacked up favorably amongst the great twist endings we’ve seen. It isn’t just a great twist, it literally changes everything the film is at its root, or it at least becomes — to an even greater degree — something it only hinted at in the shadows of its frames. It is a ghost story, yes, but it is — to our surprise — a deeply personal one. When that wedding ring drops and rolls to floor like a screaming, screeching wheel, the movie reveals itself to be — at its heart — a love story. The “gotcha” effect is great, but the ramifications are what really make it sensational.

I know there are those out there that consider M. Night Shyamalan to be a one-trick pony and by the time The Village came around it was a little easier for audiences to guess what was coming. I think Shyamalan listened to these complaints and it’s why he hasn’t had a real twist ending since (I never considered the revelations at the end of Signs to be a twist per se). That’s a bit of a shame, considering his three twist endings all have different implications.

Despite the far more obvious twist we all saw coming, I liked the ending to The Village. The rest of the film is enhanced by it. I love the cliffhanging twist at the end of Unbreakable because it’s an ending that needed to be there to complete the dynamics of Shyamalan’s “Issue # 1”. Both of those films needed those endings to be successful. Alternatively, the strangest thing about The Sixth Sense is it really didn’t need its twist to be good, but it sure as hell became greater with it.

I watched The Sixth Sense again recently and a couple of things struck me. Firstly, more directors might consider giving Donnie Wahlberg additional work. Between his role here and in Band of Brothers he’s proven to have enough chops, no? This is one of those instances where I knew he was in the movie walking in, but as I left the theater I was left wondering who Donnie Wahlberg played in the film. The guy lost over forty pounds and nailed a pivotal role. Who could have planned that?

Secondly, little Haley Joel Osment was talented beyond his years and I almost forgot how great he was. We take it for granted, but this is one of the all time great child performances we’ve seen. If this kid can stay out of the gutter, he might have a future.

Third, it’s easy to forget the film’s seductive setup. There is no mention of a ghost until almost an hour into the film when Cole finally tells Bruce Willis he sees “dead people”. The ghosts then start showing up like it’s Grand Central Station. If you went into this film blind, would you have just thought the little kid was out of his mind? Maybe. Although that scene with the kitchen cabinets is pretty freaky.

To pull off a great con you need, of course, a lot of confidence and this is something the notoriously cocky Shyamalan has never lacked. Even if you don’t like his films, you can’t help but admit they are crafted with a very assured hand. Some people have a problem with what they consider Night’s effronteries: the twist endings, his name plating before his film titles and the fact he kept giving himself increasingly juicy roles. We don’t mind if our athletes or music artists have egos the size of Texas, but if some little Indian filmmaker starts getting too big for his britches, well, he better watch it. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with these things.

Before revisiting it again, I don’t think I’d seen the film in eight years. I’ve seen Unbreakable countless times in that span. Yet, The Sixth Sense remains Night’s overall best work. I realized there’s a reason why I’ve held off viewing it again and it’s very simple (and embarassing). The movie makes me cry. There, I said it. It does. And I did. Again. At the same part I always start to tear. You know what I’m talking about. The scene in the car. Towards the end. Haley Joel and Toni Collette (who is crazy good in this movie) are stuck in traffic. He tells her about grandma. Yeah, that scene.


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