Wednesday, October 1, 2014

AFI Top 100: #89 "The Sixth Sense"

Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (1999)

This past Sunday, even with all the travel and the back and forth, John and I still managed to sit down to continue our AFI Top 100 marathon. This time, it was just the two of us. Date night! What better way to snuggle up with your BF than to pop in a scaaaaary movie? The Sixth Sense comes in at #89 on our list (we made it into a new set of tens! woohoo!), and while it has the distinction of being one of only a few horror movies on the list, it's also one of the newest films to be included in the 2007 10th anniversary edition.

Now, I shouldn't have to say this... but this post will contain spoilers. Hence the jump on the main page for anyone—anyone—who doesn't know or want to know the secrets this movie holds. Are there still people out there who don't know how The Sixth Sense ends? I have to believe there has to be, even though it likely means you've been living underground since the turn of the century.

The Sixth Sense is the mainstream directorial debut for M. Night Shyamalan, and it tells the story of Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), a successful child psychologist trying to make up for mistakes that he made decades ago with a patient that he quote-unquote failed. Following a violent attack by that child-patient-turned-troubled-adult, he dives head first into an eerily similar case, this time with a nine-year-old boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). Cole is odd, introverted, and prone to violent outbursts. He lives alone with his single mother, Lynn (Toni Collette!!!), and keeps secrets from everyone around him.

Malcolm eventually gains his trust, but even he can't come around to accepting the truth about Cole. After circling his own conclusions about the young boy, Malcolm finally hears Cole admit: he can see dead people. Thankfully, his doubt about the legitimacy of this revelation doesn't last long, and he embarks on trying to do for this boy what he couldn't do for the other one, even to the detriment of his personal life.

Obviously, there are many other reveals within the plot, but I'm going to attempt to keep some things under wraps. Trying to keep it classy. I saw this movie the weekend it came out in the summer of '99. My dad left work early, trucked us to the nearest theater for an afternoon showing, and BOOM! mind = blown. I was lucky enough to not have the plot twists ruined—I can't say the same for most of my friends.

The sad truth is that if you didn't see the movie that first month, someone was going to tell you the ending. Never mind putting off seeing it at all! By the film's 10-year anniversary, countless spoofs and parodies were released, which revealed all and then some. The movie even became a parody of itself, in a way, because the lines were so prevalent during the following decade, they borderlined on the cliche.

I'm going to ignore those cliches in this review, because they hold no barring on the film's initial brilliance. It deserves all the respect in the world, because no matter what anyone says now, The Sixth Sense was a magnificent surprise. As a director, M. Night gained an immediate reputation as someone who could deliver an ending with a ONE-TWO punch—an expectation he failed to live up to later in his career, and then stopped trying to attempt altogether.

M. Night did two things: he wrote a brilliant script, and he directed a beautiful movie. The script is the true diamond in the crown. The construction, the pacing, the dialogue, it all builds in a flurry of intensity before its first big reveal that the troubles surrounding Cole are because he sees and fears ghosts And believe it or not, we don't learn this until over an hour into the movie! Watching it now, we forget how emotional, compelling, and traumatizing this discovery is, and that every beat along the way builds and builds and BUILDS to that moment in the hospital room.

As far as I'm concerned, the script is flawless. I can't say the same for the directing, however. Looking at it critically, there are shot choices M. Night made that are, frankly, awkward; an attempt to make scary something that normally wouldn't be. Cole standing in the middle of a Philadelphia street, fall leaves around his feet, as he stares ominously at his school's entrance - standard dutch angle and pitchy music trying to force onto us what we already know. We get it. He's scared to go inside. Get over yourself and move on.

This happens a few other times, as well, and all it does is show how hard Shyamalan is trying. Though, thankfully, it never happens as egregiously as in other directorial debuts I can think of—Zach Braff's pitiful and desperate-to-be-important Garden State—so it doesn't take much for me to look past it.

The acting is another gem. Bruce Willis is stoic and Bruce Willis-y, but for the character, it suits him fine. Haley Joel Osment deserved that Oscar nomination, by god, because while he was cute and little with oh-so-pinchable-cheeks... he acted the shit out of this role. But the best acting by far comes from Toni Collette. She is in an entirely different movie. For her, this is an emotional, roller coaster of a character drama; she is subtle when she needs to be understated and hysterical when she needs to come on like gangbusters. Collette is what makes the film's most memorable scenes just that (the cabinet scene! the pin scene! the car scene!); she gives the movie its heart.

In the end, The Sixth Sense is two movies. It's one movie the first time you see it, and it's an entirely different movie the second time you see it. And for those people who say with confidence that they "guessed the ending" from the start, I'm going to take a page from Andre Rivas' retrospective and say: I don't believe you.

You may think you guessed it, because wow, is it obvious when you re-watch it now. You may have been spoiled by friends talking about how big a surprise it was, and thought you went into the theater untainted. But no. I don't believe that you watched it and sat with confidence from the start knowing how it would end.

And all I can say is that if you truly did guess it—if you are one of those people—and that ring clanking to the floor didn't send an onslaught of realization through your dumbstruck mind... then it makes me sad for you. That you weren't able to see the movie we all saw; that "first time" version. Because that is what made the AFI Top 100 list, not that "second time" movie you remember.

Rating:  ★★★★ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews]

Check back next week for #88 on the list, Bringing Up Baby — or better yet, have your own viewing party and watch along with us!


  1. Excellent. Jonathan was one of those people who "guessed" the ending, as he usually does with movies, but (from my experience) he never actually reveals that he knew how it would end until AFTER it's ended. I agree, sis: I don't believe it. Some twists are so wonderfully shocking, that all I can say is that if someone did guess it (ahem, The Usual Suspects, ahem) then I feel damn terrible that those people have to live a life devoid of surprise and magic.

    Makes me want to watch the movie again. It's been a loooooong time. xx

    1. You should watch it! You'll notice some of the directorial choices that I was talking about in the review -- really unnecessary, because the movie is already effective without all the silliness!

      But no doubt, Toni Collette knocks me away. When I was younger, I didn't care about her character, but now, she's the most interesting part. What a talent. I buy every single second of her with her son; how much she loves him, and how hard it is to be his parent. Love her!

  2. OK, this is Jonathan talking. SPOILERS AHEAD.

    Here's the thing. The evidence is there. As I watched the movie (in theaters, no bias - yet), as soon as I saw the beginning (when Bruce got shot) and then knew that the kid saw dead people, it was something I figured everyone realized already. I watched the whole movie with the perspective that this guy was dead and didn't realize it, and it was so sad to watch him come to terms with it. The scene with his wife while they eat together, but she "ignores" him was heartbreaking -- but for me, it was because he didn't realize she couldn't see him, not because his marriage was falling apart. I didn't even consider that there WAS a twist (how could I?) and it never occurred to me that him being dead was actually THE TWIST, until the big reveal happened at the end. Then I was surprised, only because I didn't realize (in the silence of seeing this movie and talking to no one) that the character being dead already was something we weren't supposed to know.

    So I think people could see the movie and know the ending, even if they weren't looking for it. It's just a different perspective.

    1. I suppose it is possible, though the movie really does a good job, even when you know the ending already, of making you remember "Oh, that's why I didn't guess, because of that thing she said right there." I certainly believe it's possible to guess -- IF you're looking for something to guess, which is related to that pre-viewing tainting I mentioned in the review.

      Your experience of not really guessing, but just... immediately inferring is a bit different. And would make this an entirely different movie, indeed! I imagine it would make the end anti-climactic and sort of "Uhhh.... ok." Which is unfortunate, because it really holds a lot of gravitas if you're viewing it as intended, and loses that if you're not.


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