How does a film communicate transcendence? How can the visuals in a movie embody a transcendent theme? How can an “unusually compassionate” boy face his fears? Can a second chance lead to redemption? M. Night Shyamalan answers all of these questions in his film “The Sixth Sense.” The film starring, Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, powerfully conveys the themes of life after death, helping others, and finding a way to communicate.
As “The Sixth Sense” begins we see a light bulb with the filament slowly starting to glow. This compelling image symbolizes the possibilities and afterlife. As the light bulb comes to life, it visually tells the audience that they will need to immediately accept the premise that there is life after death.
Next, we see Malcolm Crowe and played by Bruce Willis and, his wife, Anna, played by Olivia Williams, drinking wine and celebrating. Crowe has been recognized by the city of Philadelphia in the area of child psychology. Anna declares, “Finally, someone is recognizing the sacrifices you’ve made, that you have put everything second, including me…They are also saying you have a gift.”
We understand that Crowe over his career has made personal sacrifices to help children and their families, even at the expense of his wife and their relationship. But, what Malcolm Crowe does not know is that he will soon sacrifice one more thing, his life. As the couple go to bed, they are startled to find a broken window. A former patient of Crowe’s, Vincent Grey, played by Donnie Wahlberg, has entered their home, wanting to confront Dr. Crowe. Vincent wants what Malcolm promised him, he does not want to be scared anymore, and tells Crowe “YOU FAILED ME!” At the end of the scene Grey picks up a gun, shoots Bruce Willis’ character, and then kills himself.
The powerful first 10 minutes of “The Sixth Sense” sets an eerie tone and feeling as the audience watches as the star of the movie seems to be mortally wounded, followed by a fade to black. The following scene we see Malcolm Crowe sitting on a bench waiting for a patient, which leads the audience to believe that he must have survived and recovered from his gun shot wound. Crowe is pouring over a hand-written file about a boy, named Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment. He reviews Cole’s diagnosis, which is remarkably close to Vincent’s. Both patience had similar symptoms: single parent homes, possible mood disorders, unusually compassionate, socially isolated, and acute anxiety.
Both of the main characters are trying to find peace and communicate with others. Cole is learning how to help others, especially the living dead variety. While, Malcolm has helped children, but now finds himself in need of help and seeking redemption.
In one particular scene, Crowe visits Cole, and tells him a story about a patient he failed to help. Since then everything has been different, but if he can help this new boy, referring to Cole, it will be like helping the other boy, too. If Malcolm, can help Cole with his problem he might be redeemed, from failing the first boy. Malcolm gains Cole’s trust, and Cole shares his secret, “I can see dead people.” However, in order for Dr. Crowe to help Cole, he must first believe in him, and suspend his previous skepticism.
In this scene. while Cole is talking, you can see his breath, meaning it is cold. Throughout the movie the temperature drops a noticeable amount, enough for the living characters’ breath to be seen, when a ghost is present. Later, the audience will discover this is a clue pointing to the fact Malcolm is a ghost.
At first Crowe thinks Cole could be suffering from visual hallucinations, paranoia, and could be schizophrenic. Crowe attempts to transfer Cole to another child psychologist, but Cole answers “Don’t fail me. Don’t give up. You’re the only one who can help me, I know it…Dr. Crowe you believe my secret right?” But all Dr. Crowe says is, “I don’t know how to answer that Cole.” Cole then poses the question, “How can you help me, if you don’t believe me?”
This conversation between the two main characters, again brings up one of the main themes of the movie, afterlife. Do ghosts exist? And if they do, can Cole see and communicate with them? After the conversation with Cole, Crowe is challenged to dig a bit deeper, suspend his disbelief, and listen to Vincent Grey’s child therapy session tapes. He turns the volume up all the way and can hear an unknown voice in the background speaking Spanish, “Yo no quiero morir,” which translates to, “I do not want to die.” Bruce Willis’ character, Malcolm Crowe, now believes Hayley Joel Osment’s character, can see ghosts. Malcolm also links the diagnosis of Cole to Vincent. Crowe now understands what made Vincent so scared. He was not merely having problems coping with his parents’ divorce, but was communicating with ghosts too.
Crowe finds Cole, in the church and asks him what he thinks the ghosts want. Cole replies, “Just help.” Crowe agrees, “Even the scary ghosts want help.” Crowe tells Cole he has an idea of how to make the ghosts go away, just listen to them. Crowe suggests that the ghosts have a certain need, and the only way for Cole to get them to go away is to listen to their problems, and try to help.
On the special features of “The Sixth Sense” DVD, the director, M. Night Shyamalan, says that the theme of the movie is centered around the idea of learning to communicate with others. In the film the only person Crowe interacts with after he is shot, is Cole. Crowe is unaware that he is dead, and throughout the movie Malcolm is frustrated that his wife will not communicate with him. So, he continues to haunt his wife in hopes of reconciling their relationship. Cole simply advises Malcolm to talk to his wife while she is sleeping, that way she will have to listen.
Meanwhile, Cole is struggling with communicating with not only his mother, Lynn Sear, played by Toni Collette, but also with spirits. He has an additional sense, the ability to communicate with the dead. Throughout the film, the young boy is dealing with haunting figures from time to time, and how to make them go away. In one scene, she confronts him about her bumble bee pendant that again has turned up in his drawer. Cole denies ever taking it, which she does not believe. In actuality this is the truth, because Lynn’s mother’s spirit keeps taking it and moving it around. At the end of the movie, Cole finally tells his mother about his sixth sense, and delivers a message from his grandmother to her. As Cole begins to listen and openly communicate with the spirits from the other side, he becomes less afraid, and is able to successfully communicate with his mother about what he has been dealing with.
In one scene, Lynn is cleaning and looks at pictures of Cole hanging on the wall, she notices an obscure flash in each photograph. I think when Cole finally tells her about his special gift, she links these things together. The obscure flash is also a visually compelling way of showing the audience, the ghosts are always with him. Everyday, Cole is surrounded by ghosts, and has this abnormal sense, which he learns to finally embrace by communicating with those who scare him most.
As we later find out, most ghosts are drawn to Cole and are in need of someone to listen or help them. Malcolm Crowe is one of these ghosts; he is need of redemption. The only way he will be able to obtain this redemption is to help this boy. Crowe needs to help Cole, like he was never able to help Vincent. He needs to help Cole become unafraid, and learn to communicate with others. But first Malcolm must suspend his disbelief. When he does this he believes in Cole, and his ability to speak to the dead. In believing Cole, he helps him figure out a way not to be scared anymore. By Malcolm helping Cole, he redeems himself. By Cole communicating with Crowe, he learns to face what he is most afraid of.
When Cole shares his secret with Crowe and his mother, that he can “see dead people” he is also sharing with them the fact that there is an after life, and ghosts do exist. In his school play, his role is a stable boy, who has the unique ability to pull the sword from the stone. This scene is cute and ironic which points directly to his unique ability to speak to the dead. In the legend, the stable boy becomes King Arthur who leads his people, Cole will also lead the dead to peace.
At the end of the movie, when Malcolm Crowe embraces the advice Cole gives him, he is able to talk to his wife, Anna, and communicates the message, “You were never second, ever. I love you.” She asks him, “Why did you leave me?” Then his wedding ring falls off of his hand and hits the floor. Reality is crashing in upon Malcolm Crowe. Next he remembers what Cole said, “I see people, and they don’t know their dead.” The audience then realizes, they have been looking through Malcolm’s eyes the entire time, and have only seen one side. Similar to Malcolm the audience has also been blind to the signs; he was a ghost. But, now we are able to see both sides; what Malcolm saw before he realized he was dead, and now what the reality really is. We see a montage of how no one was interacting with him, how the closet under the stairs wasn’t locked, but instead there was a table with books blocking it. We also see the reaction, when he feels the blood on his lower back. We witness him remembering what happened that night he encountered Vincent Grey, the night everything changed, the night he died. He has transcended. He now understands, what has happened, and has now redeemed himself completely. He returns to his wife Anna, and tells her to sleep, everything will be different in the morning. He can move on now, and be at peace, and so can she.
Both characters help the other transcend. Malcolm has helped Cole, deal with his fears and learn how to communicate with those who frighten him most. Meanwhile, Cole has helped Malcolm discover himself the fact he is dead. By obtaining this knowledge Malcolm is able to finish his own unfinished business, talking to his wife. They help each other learn how to communicate, with not only the living and the dead, but also the women in their lives.
“The Sixth Sense” the film starring, Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment, powerfully conveys the themes of life after death, helping others, and learning to communicate. Night wanted to tell a modern day “Hitchcock” film. A movie that has weaving story lines. One story of a man in need of redemption, connected to another story of a boy facing his fears, mixed with the ghosts, plot twists, and the themes of transcendence and communication mixed throughout. The strong transcendent message could only be successfully communicated, under the direction of M. Night Shyamalan; who had a clear vision, for how he wanted to visually communicate this story and that there is LIFE AFTER DEATH!