So let me go ahead and tell you what this movie is about, and there will be spoilers throughout the review. If you haven't seen it, you can also go watch it on Netflix Instant, or just keep on reading -- after all, I knew both the important reveals in this movie before I watched it, and I've certainly known them every time since, and it hasn't lowered my enjoyment one bit.
The Sixth Sense was M. Night Shyamalan's first big hit and, in my opinion, his very best movie. (Others cite Unbreakable, but I think Sixth Sense blows that out of the water.) Watching this, it was easy to see why everyone thought back in 1999 that he would be one of the big, well-received, critically-acclaimed directors instead of... what happened.
The movie revolves around a very young boy, Cole (Haley Joel Osment), and his psychiatrist, Malcolm (Bruce Willis). Malcolm has for the most part abandoned his work in child psychology after a former patient breaks into his house, shoots Malcom, and kills himself. Several months later, when Malcolm meets Cole, the young boy's withdrawn and fearful nature reminds him of that former patient, and he takes on the case, hoping he can in a sense make amends for the boy he failed to help all those years earlier. It turns out Cole has the ability to see ghosts, and Malcolm helps him figure out how to reach out and help them. In the end, Malcolm discovers that he himself is also a ghost -- he died that night when his former patient attacked him -- and just as Cole needed him, he needed Cole to be able to forgive his past mistakes and move on.
Let's start off with the live-blogging.
- That opening scene with the former patient is really excellent - scary and heartwrenching.
- I can never remember whether it's established or even very strongly hinted at that Vincent could see dead people too...
- If there was ever a kid who looked like he was carrying the weight of the world, it's Hadley Joel Osment. Perfect in this.
- This is...a discordant soundtrack. Not sure what I think of it yet.
- Oh, man, and this interaction with Cole and his mom, where he's so scared of how she'll react. So good.
- "They don't have meetings about rainbows."
- Scenes with Malcolm and his wife are so obvious in hindsight but are artfully written to hide the twist.
- Cole's response to Malcolm's empowering speech: "You said the S word." Perfect tone.
- I really like the very solemn "I didn't know you were funny."
- I forgot how long it is until the movie's premise is actually revealed.
- Toni Collette is so great.
- This reveal is terrifying. Haley Joel Osment is SO GOOD in this.
- Malcolm's compassion is absolutely needed for this movie. You feel that he really wants to help & desperately hope he can.
- Cole's mom is great too. It can't be easy to have Cole as your kid, but she has such love & patience with him.
- Oh, man. "If you're not very mad, can I sleep in your bed?" That exchange breaks me.
- Hearing Cole and Malcolm talk over visuals of Malcolm's wife was a wonderful gimmick.
- Oh, yeah, they do set it up that Vincent and Cole had the same thing going on.
- There really is SUCH compassion and empathy in this movie.
- The pacing of that whole funeral scene is off. Much slower than it should be.
- Immediately after Cole starts to deal with his fears, we see things changing for him. Just that one step grew his confidence.
- Cole and Malcolm's goodbye has an extra level of meaningfulness knowing the twist.
- I bawled through both Cole and Malcolm's endings. Gosh.
This movie is not really about ghosts and how scary they are. We really see very few ghosts -- in fact, we don't even know they exist until halfway through the movie. What we do see is Cole's fear, his solemn expression and wide, frightened eyes, and we hear his terrified whispers as he tries to explain what he sees. But the ghosts are only half of what scares him. He fears how the ghosts will shape his life: that his mother will reject him, that people will call him a freak, that they will stare at him, that Malcolm will hurt him somehow if he knows the truth.
The movie is about fear and about moving past fear not through aggression or barreling on through, but through helping others. Malcolm must work through his fear of failure and the fear that he's lost his wife by being willing to reach out once more before he can move on. Cole must be willing to listen to the ghosts and their anger and help resolve it before he can be free from fear.
All through the movie, this theme of compassion vs. fear comes up. Cole interacts almost solely with his mother (Toni Collette) and Malcolm, two people who are almost unwaveringly compassionate toward him, even when they don't understand what's going on. In a brief moment, Collette snaps when Cole denies doing some of the things the ghosts are doing, but later that night, fear pushes Cole out of his bed to ask if he can sleep in her bed if she's not angry, and she welcomes him back with open arms. Malcolm looks at Cole and cares sincerely about the young boy, not just for the sake of redeeming himself, but because he loves helping people and he loves reaching out to them and making their lives better.
The mechanics of the plot serve as a (beautiful) backdrop for this deeper story -- that loving others and helping others can help us begin to heal ourselves. The whole movie is dripping with compassion and empathy and the desire to listen. I suspect that's the reason I love this movie so much. As someone who frequently struggles with fear and believes firmly in the transforming power of compassion, this is a movie that speaks to me on a couple levels.
Not to mention it's just a freaking great story.
Let me rerank and see where it lands. It began at #22, and I can't imagine it'll fall far, if at all.
vs. Red Eye (2005) - Two thrillers up again each other! But Red Eye doesn't stand a chance.
vs. Argo (2012) - I hope it goes up only against thrillers. Nope, The Sixth Sense easily beats out Argo, although I did think Argo was pretty good.
vs. Heathers (1989) - As much as I love Heathers, it's not as profound or moving as The Sixth Sense. Though if this was a movie version of the musical Heathers, this might be a different story...
vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) - Last Crusade is listed unusually high on my list (probably in my top 100, so I'm sure I'll deal with it eventually) and definitely doesn't deserve to beat The Sixth Sense.
vs. The Remains of the Day (1993) - Another one I look forward to rewatching, but for now, The Sixth Sense wins.
vs. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Man. This is a tough one. I think I'm going for Sixth Sense, because even though I enjoy Holy Grail, there are sections of it I just don't care about, and it certainly doesn't get to me emotionally the way Sixth Sense does.
vs. Company: A Musical Comedy (2007) - I'm pretty sure I have to give the nod to Company here. It's just such a beautifully coherent look at relationships and fear of commitment. Plus, Sondheim music.
vs. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - This is another tough call. Raiders is definitely better than Last Crusade, and I think me from 10 years ago would have certainly chosen Raiders... but I think The Sixth Sense is more enduring.
vs. Charlie Bartlett (2007) - Oh, man. I haven't seen Charlie Bartlett in awhile, but I still associate it with such a sense of fun and relatability. I'm not sure if it'll hold up, though, so... I think Sixth Sense gets the nod for now.
vs. Back to the Future (1985) - These are insanely difficult matches right now, since these are all my favorites... I think Back to the Future will win this round, since it's so delightful from beginning to end -- there's no "downtime" where I kind of tune out.
vs. West Side Story (1961) - I love the music for WSS so much, but the last time I watched it I remember being a tiny bit underwhelmed. Based on that and that alone, I'm voting for Sixth Sense this round. Don't worry, West Side Story, you can come back to win later!
And... The Sixth Sense moved from #22 to #21. Looks like I had it just about where it belonged!
Let's look ahead to the next movie I'll be watching. And the answer is... #93: Schindler's List. Meep. That's a little heavier than most of my choices thus far. It's also the first one in this challenge so far that I've only seen one time, so I'm not at all certain that it's earned that #93 slot. I'll be blogging about that on June 1, so if you want to watch or rewatch it along with me and offer your own comments -- go for it!