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"I See Dead People..."

  • Jul 6, 2009
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When it first came out in 1999, The Sixth Sense was one of those movies that surprised and shocked movie-goers everywhere.  This was the movie which put M. Night Shayamalan (and trying saying that five times fast) on the map.  Of course, in 1999 M. Night hadn't made a walking joke of himself.  Yet, for what it's worth, The Sixth Sense is still good.  Even ten years later.  It never has the same impact after you've seen it once (though it is worth a second look), but it still stands that the twist is rather shocking the first time and that it comes together quite well.

Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm, a guy who once failed to help a patient with a problem.  Feeling like he needs to do better, he finds himself trying to help a young boy named Cole (Haley Joel Osement who will only be remembered for this particular movie and perhaps Pay It Forward).  Cole is unusual.  He often finds himself in churches and is also scared.  But of what?  And Cole is an awkward kid all together.  He's not popular in school.  He's often secluded.  The kids make fun of him, and the teachers don't do much of a better job of reaching out either.  In one of the film's best scenes we see as Cole keeps calling his teacher "Stuttering Stanley" (and yes, the teacher's name was Stanley, but wouldn't it have been interesting if his name was "Bob" or something?), the teacher, stunned that Cole knows his nickname from childhood, calls Cole a "freak."  And that's something that Cole is apparently used to.  It's no wonder he's so secluded and alone.  No one understands him.  

But Dr. Malcolm just might be able to understand Cole.  When Cole attends a party for a fellow student (not by his choice, but rather he is forced by his mother) he gets locked in a closet and finds himself in danger.  In what appears to be mortal danger.  Yet when his mother comes to his rescue... there is no one in the closet with Cole.  Yet there is still evidence of a struggle.  Was someone really in there?  Or did Cole hurt himself?  What we all discover is that someone really was in there with Cole.  As Cole tells Dr. Malcom in the film's most famous line, "I see dead people."  Dr. Malcolm, unable to respond at first finally musters a "How often do you see them?"  To which Cole replies, "All the time."  And as it turns out, Cole really CAN see dead people.

Part of makes The Sixth Sense so iconic is that it was a total 180 from what we'd been seeing at the time.  With moves like "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" being the standard for the late 90's, it was surprising to see a suspenseful horror movie that really--when you really get down to it--didn't really have that much blood and gore.  In fact, most of the scares come from wondering just how Cole will deal with his sixth sense.  That's not to say there are no gruesome images.  There are, and Shayamalan makes them look so real.  We're scared not because of these images, though, but because we're nervous.  We're wondering just what will happen to Cole and if he'll come through everything alright.  And just how is Dr. Malcolm supposed to help Cole anyway?  He has to take him at his word... but it still sounds crazy.  And Dr. Malcolm has bigger problems.  His wife is constantly ignoring him because he did something wrong, but he doesn't know what.

While M. Night has become something of a joke, and is often no longer taken seriously as a director, he still has good skills.  The problem with Shayamalan is hardly his skills as a director.  It is mostly his screenplays and stories.  The Sixth Sense was when M. Night still HAD sense of his own.  After making such an iconic film, he really didn't have very many places to go but down.  There's a twist at the end of The Sixth Sense that if you haven't seen I won't give away.  It's just that it's constructed in such a magnificant way.  The movie demands a second viewing.  And when you watch it for the second time, you actually realize that M. Night has been showing it to you the entire time.  

Haley Joel Osment gives a stunning performance here as well.  It's almost hard to believe that you're watching a kid in this particular role.  There are many child stars who just aren't suited for this sort of thing.  But Haley never falters.  He seems just as frightened to be in this situation as we all are to watch it.  You imagine that a child would do some of what he does.  He thinks he can't share his secret with his mother because he's afraid she'll reject him.  He doesn't share it with the kids because they think he's a freak, and he won't reach out to adults either for the same reason.  But when he is frightened his first instinct in one scene, is to crawl in bed with his mother for protection.  We're dealing with a kid who's forced to act older than he actually is, yet M. Night never forgets that he IS a child. 

Perhaps the reason M. Night does such a good job with this film is because he was not yet the ego-maniac we see him as today.  He was relatively unknown. 

The film itself was nominated for many Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment, but he lost to Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules), Best Director and Best Picture.  It was a rare moment where a horror film was nominated for Best Picture. 

The only major drawback is that once you've seen the movie twice there's really not much to get you to watch it again and again.  It's a good movie to watch every once and a while, but like many movies with a good twist, it's just not as thrilling with repeat viewings.  At least not for the kind of twist the movie throws at you.  You could, for example, watch The Empire Strikes Back over and over again, in spite of knowing the end... but there are many reasons for that.  Reasons that The Sixth Sense doesn't have in abundance.  Yet it's still a good film.

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July 26, 2009
Very nicely written review. I was never as taken with Shyamalan's work as most people were and that's primarily because of his reliance on the twist. Once I know that you're going to have a twist I can't help but anticipate it, and in this case I caught it within the first 15 minutes of the film because of tried and true bit of filmmaking that wasn't there--no transition between his shooting and his contact with anyone. That implies he didn't make the transition either. Ergo he's dead. After that it was very obvious that no one reacted to him except the kid who saw dead people. Fortunately I liked it better on the second viewing when I wasn't relying on the twist anymore. Of all his films I suppose I liked UNBREAKABLE the most even though it was fairly obvious as well, at least it was an unusual concept. The worst was without a doubt THE VILLAGE, but then I haven't seen LADY IN THE WATER or THE HAPPENING yet.
July 26, 2009
I think when it came to The Sixth Sense, M. Night had yet to develop that ego.  I didn't guess the twist, even though it was obvious.  But I kind of liked that the movie is literally telling you the entire time but Willis's character doesn't realize that he is dead (although it makes for a huge gaping plothole... a really really huge gaping plot hole that I can't discuss here).  

The Village was downright awful!  I didn't think he could do anything worse but The Happening is FAR FAR worse!  I did a review on that one too.  I would say The Happening is the worst film he's ever done.  That one is far worse than The Village.  And that's saying a lot when you consider just how bad The Village was... why I haven't I reviewed The Village yet?

By the way, I absolutely LOVE your commnts!  Keep them coming!

July 26, 2009
My daughter figured out that he was dead sooner than I did because his name is Malcom Crowe and the crow is the symbol of impending death. At least she got something out of that master's degree. Come on, spill. What's the huge gaping hole? The only thing I couldn't figure out is why he couldn't go down in the basement, unless it was because it was because a piece of furniture was in front of the door and he was non-corporeal. It's scary to think that there's something worse than THE VILLAGE! Thank you. I hope you'll read some of my stuff. The most recent is nothing to write home about, but I do have a few good things in there.
July 26, 2009
As I watched the film the one thing that kept popping into my mind were little things.  If he's dead... how exactly was he contacted to "help" this kid?  Beyond that, I kept wondering if he ever realized that no one ever acknowledged him or anything.  Did it occur to him that the woman he might order food from doesn't realize he's there or anything like that?  I mean, perhaps that's digging too deep (and Shyamalan did a good job of not showing us all this stuff) but when it comes to Cole and Malcolm, Malcolm has been dead for quite some time once they meet.  You'd think Dr. Malcolm would realize that after he'd been shot no one was paying attention to him or anything like that.  I got the gist of that whole, "They don't know they're dead," and I liked the way many scenes were shot (such as how it looked as though is wife was ignoring him) but I just couldn't help but think that if he's been meandering around as long as he has... wouldn't he have noticed that people didn't really notice him at all?  Perhaps that's overthinking it, but it was one of those things that never really got explained.
July 26, 2009
The way I looked at it is the dead people don't know they are dead (we're give that at the beginning), but Dr, Crowe is a little different than the others.  He's been given sort of a mission to complete--helping another boy who is very similar to the one who killed him, the one he failed. He sort of winks in an out of his semi-existence, that's why we never saw the transition scene I mentioned this movie lacking. For Crowe there was no transition. He died and the next thing he knew, there he was, but HE DIDN'T KNOW HE WAS DEAD. His mind assumed he was still alive, what ever force let him come back, put him where he needed to be. There was no meandering. Anyhow, that's how I saw it.
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this movie


The Sixth Sense is a suspense horror film released on August 6, 1999 and produced by Buena Vista Pictures.  The film was directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan. The Sixth Sense was produced by KathleenKennedy, Frank Marshall and Barry Mendel, and starred Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette and Olivia Williams.

The Sixth Sense tells the story of a young boy who is able to communicate with spirits who do not know that they are dead, while seeking the help of a child psychologist.  After its release the film received 37 nominations and six nominations for Academy Awards,and celebrated 31 various wins.

On its opening night, the film grossed $26.6 million by the end of the weekend.

It was given an MPAA rating of PG-13 and runs 107 minutes.

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Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: August 6, 1999
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 45min
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""I See Dead People...""
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