(Part 10 Of An Ongoing Series)
Some magic’s real.
Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment)
Two of movie history’s most renowned twists came from 1999: Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden was actually an alter ego, and The Sixth Sense‘s Malcolm Crowe was actually a ghost. In other words, these two major characters were never “really there.” Maybe there’s something very 1999 about that. Maybe deep down, a lot of us ’99ers wondered how much of ourselves were ever “really there,” and these movies lifted those anxieties to the surface for further examination.
Yet even though the twist is the first thing we tend to think about when we think about The Sixth Sense, there’s so much more we ought to think about. Like how it made us associate the name “M. Night Shyamalan” with names like “Spielberg,” “Hitchcock,” and “Kubrick,” unlike his more recent movies, which evoke terms like “preposterous,” “self-indulgent,” and “megalomaniac.”
Considering how angry Shyamalan’s post-Unbreakable movies have made me, I went into my latest viewing of The Sixth Sense (my third overall, and first since ’99) assuming I’d be far less enthralled this time around. I assumed wrong, though. The Sixth Sense is practically perfect, maybe even better than I remember it, even though I couldn’t stop thinking about how Bruce Willis was already dead.
Shayamalan’s crappier cinematic tricks, like the so-called twist in The Village, are a lot like the so-called magic trick Dr. Crowe performs for Cole. But The Sixth Sense‘s sleight-of-hand is so Ricky Jay slick, I still can’t help but admire it. We really should’ve known better- a movie like this begs for at least one scene between Dr. Crowe and Cole’s mom, but Shyamalan merely makes us think we’ve seen that scene by cutting to what appears to be the end of it.
Aside from being slicker than I remember, The Sixth Sense is also scarier, sweeter, and funnier than I remember. It often shifts between these tones gradually from scene to scene, but at times they all smash together exquisitely, like the scene in the kitchen where the audience’s gasps collide with laughter, and are quickly broadsided by swells of tender sympathy.
For all the talk about the movie’s twist ending, there’s another aspect of the ending that feels overlooked these days: The Sixth Sense has one of the happiest endings I’ve ever seen in a scary movie. Everyone, alive or dead, is getting some much-needed closure, all of us learning to make friends with the horrors. And instead of feeling like some Disney-mandated cop-out, it feels refreshingly cathartic and puckishly subversive.