Creature Feature Crypt by Count Gore De Vol

“I See Dead People”

The Sixth Sense at 20!

   On August 6th, 1999, one of the most significant horror films of the 1990s debuted on screens across the nation, giving audiences a true rarity in a Hollywood production—an ending that wasn’t telegraphed by the end of the first act. The fact that the ending wasn’t immediately ruined by everyone who saw it is more of an indictment of our modern, social media-obsessed culture than a commentary on those who saw the movie in theaters, but most people who went into their local multiplexes to see M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense did so unaware of the film’s shocking twist ending. For those who have somehow remained ignorant of said ending, despite the intervening twenty years of pop culture references, internet memes, and countless opportunities to view the movie, you might want to look away, because I am going to spoil it for you:

Bruce Willis is a ghost.

    Okay, to be fair there is much more going on in the story than that, though that is the twist upon which Shyamalan has built a career. Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist who specializes in reaching traumatized youth. As the film opens, he and his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) are returning from a dinner in his honor, celebrating Crowe’s devotion to helping children. They surprise an intruder in their home—Vincent Grey (an unrecognizable Donnie Wahlberg), a former patient of Crowe’s, one that he was unable to help. Grey shoots Crowe, and then kills himself.



    A year later, Crowe is trying to pull his life back together. His wife has grown distant, and he has lost the passion for his work that had made him so effective. He’s accepted a new case, a young boy named Cole Seer (Haley Joel Osment). Cole is isolated and withdrawn. He hears voices, and is possibly injuring himself. Though an intelligent child, he seldom takes an active part in classroom discussions, and when he does, the results are often disruptive. His mother Lynn (Toni Collette) is at her wit’s end. A single mom, she’s devoted to her son, but is unable to grasp what is troubling him so deeply. One is left with the sense that Crowe feels that, if he can help this child, so similar in problems to Vincent Grey, then perhaps he can both redeem himself and get his own life back in order.

    However, it won’t be as easy as it sounds. Cole is profoundly troubled. He plays with toy soldiers—toy soldiers who speak to him in Latin, and identify their units and Area of Operation in Vietnam. He’s timid, frightened. He’s slow to open up to Crowe, but slowly they develop a rapport. Finally, after a traumatic event at a classmate’s birthday party, Cole feels able to share his secret with Crowe.

    He sees dead people. They surround him. They speak to him. They terrorize him. They hurt him. And he cannot tell anyone, for fear they will think he’s crazy. Above all, he can’t tell his mother—he lives in dread of her looking at him as others already do, as though he was different. Though Crowe is supportive and understanding, inwardly he is dismayed. Cole’s delusion is far worse than he had thought at first. Crowe doubts that counseling will suffice, and that Cole will need hospitalization.

    Apart from Cole’s worsening condition, Crowe’s home life is suffering. His wife refuses to speak to him, and he discovers that she has begun taking anti-depressants. What’s more, a co-worker has been pursuing a romantic relationship with her, and to Crowe’s consternation, she doesn’t entirely rebuff his advances. He knows that he is devoting time and energy to Cole, time and energy that might better be put towards his own failing marriage. He tells Cole that he doesn’t think he can help him, that he can’t see him any longer. The boy begs him not to give up on him, to please believe that he is telling him the truth.

    Later, Crowe is at home, in his basement office. As he listens to recordings of interviews he had conducted years earlier with Vincent, he hears himself interrupt one session to leave the room for an important phone call. He starts to run the tape forward to continue with the interview, but stops—there’s a faint noise on the tape. He rewinds it, turning the volume up to maximum. On the tape, recorded in an office where only a child named Vincent was present, an adult voice can plainly be heard—an adult voice, speaking Spanish: “Yo no quiero morir.” “I don’t want to die.”

    With proof that Cole is telling the truth, that the dead are speaking to him, Crowe believes that he can help the boy, that he knows what his visitors want. He tells Cole that they simply want to be heard, so just listen to them. When Cole does this, a young girl’s spirit comes to him. The next day, Crowe and Cole travel to the girl’s home, where her wake is in progress. The girl’s ghost leads Cole to a videotape, hidden under her bed. Cole hands it to the girl’s grieving father, who begins playing it. Scenes of his daughter playing happily with marionettes give way to her mother bringing a bowl of soup to the sick child, and in full view of the hidden video camera, lacing the soup with cleaning solution before giving it to her daughter. The dawning realization is plain on the man’s face, as well as the faces of everyone watching along with him. As Cole and Crowe bid farewell to the dead girl’s younger sister, a girl who just recently began displaying the same symptoms as her deceased sibling, her father is accusing her mother of murder.

    Certain that he has helped Cole come to terms with his gift, even to the point that the boy was able to tell his mother everything—even using a message from her mother to convince her that he was telling the truth, Crowe knows that it’s time for him to work on his own problems. He needs to make things right with his wife. He goes home, and finds her asleep in front of the television, watching their wedding video. As he is apologizing to her, something falls from her hand, rolling across the floor. It is his wedding ring. Slowly the awareness grows in Crowe—he didn’t survive the night that Vincent Grey shot him. He died that night. He is one of the dead that have been haunting Cole Seer, looking for resolution so that he can move on to the next plane of existence.

    That twist ending made The Sixth Sense the most talked-about movie of the year, and made M. Night Shyamalan the hottest young director in Hollywood, compared by some to Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, Shyamalan spent the next fifteen years trying to recreate that success, with a string of films that had his trademarked twist ending, but little else to recommend them. Though Unbreakable was generally well-received, Signs, The Village, and The Happening each descended further into the realm of self-parody, while his most creative efforts were wasted on self-indulgent vanity projects such as The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water. Only when he began to push beyond the formula which made him a success, with movies such as Split and The Visit, has he begun to edge closer to the potential displayed in his first film, though his most recent project, Glass, was disappointing, at least to this Unimonster. It remains to be seen if that potential can be fully realized.

    Though I have my doubts, I’m hoping for the best—and rewatching The Sixth Sense.






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