The Sixth Sense (1999)
September 23, 2022 7:42 AM - Subscribe

Young Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is haunted by a dark secret: he is visited by ghosts. He is too afraid to tell anyone about his anguish, except child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis). As Dr. Crowe tries to uncover the truth about Cole's supernatural abilities, the consequences for client and therapist are a jolt that awakens them both to something unexplainable.

Also starring Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Mischa Barton, and Donnie Wahlberg.

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently available for digital rental in the US on multiple outlets. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (28 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The plot for this has one of the most famous turns in the history of movies. If you have not seen this and do not know the plot of this film, and are doing the thing people do where they check in on a movie they are thinking about seeing, turn and run.

FF threads can always include spoilers as they are akin to book clubs and are aimed at providing a place for people who have seen/read the thing under discussion. Often, the people at the top of the page will avoid spoilers, just to be extra considerate, much as you wouldn't attend a book club in a busy community center and call out as you enter the open door, "HOLY CRAP! Who'd have know the butler did it!" They don't have to do this, but it is nice. In this case, it is highly likely that even casual comments at the top of the page will have spoilers.

Consider yourself warned.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:47 AM on September 23 [11 favorites]


So I saw this when I was stationed in Germany, in the on-base theater. It was just popular enough that we got it, but it wasn't so popular that we got it fast. I'd seen coverage of it in various magazines and online (such as "online" was back then), but had been careful to avoid The Twist. But, you know, even knowing that there is a The Twist in a movie makes a person think Huh, I wonder what The Twist is... and I'd pretty well sussed out that

OKAY THIS IS REALLY IT

SOMEONE IS GOING TO SPOIL THE MOVIE NOW


if the kid sees dead people, then probably The Twist is that Bruce is dead people. Or maybe that the kid is the one making people into dead people and then is just hallucinating them after that, but the movie establishes pretty clearly early on that he can, in fact, see dead people, so nah, it's probably that Bruce is dead people.

But then something truly magical happened: that fucker M. Night Shyamalan absolutely swerved me. He constructed the movie so well that I honestly had convinced myself that nope, Bruce Willis was clearly alive throughout, so I wondered what The Twist was. And even after he showed us the cards at the end, I didn't believe it. I mean, I didn't not believe it enough that I would buy another ticket, but I definitely picked up the DVD as soon as I could and watched it a few times in a row just to admire what that fucker Shyamalan had managed to do.

This is the movie to start with when you discuss the theory of The Twist in movies and TV and books and suchlike. Because a really good The Twist isn't just "Oh, someone was lying to you all along! Ha ha!", a really good The Twist makes you go back to ask "Wait, does this work even if you know it?" And The Sixth Sense 100% delivers. In ways that not even a lot of Shyamalan's later stuff does (Signs and The Happening don't really have a The Twist; Unbreakable and Split only barely do, maybe The Visit does, but it seemed pretty well-telegraphed to me at least).

I know that there have been movies with The Twists in them since then (and shows, and books). Some have even managed to do interesting things with The Twist. But man, this was The The Twist, and it is still damn good.
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on September 23 [22 favorites]


I agree completely with Etrigan. Part of the fun of this movie is seeing it again after you know The Twist and realizing that it's obvious. He hides it in plain sight.
posted by Gelatin at 10:29 AM on September 23 [9 favorites]


86% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Okay, I know that the bar for 100% fresh needs to be pretty high, but what 14% of critics didn't think this movie was at least good? This is bullshit on a level with six Baseball Hall of Fame voters saying Nolan Ryan didn't deserve it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:03 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


He hides it in plain sight.

Yes, exactly. It’s perfectly constructed to mislead the viewer, and deserves all the respect it gets.

It’s also what M. Night completely failed to do in all his other movies. They had twists just to have twists, and the surprise was either super duper predictable or came out of no where. He seems to have completely misunderstood what made this
movie so special.
posted by Frayed Knot at 11:06 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


DOT Jr. saw this, knowing nothing about it, too young to have read anything about it online, and before any of his friends saw it.

About twenty minutes in, he looked at me and said, "I bet Malcolm is dead."

He still loved it though. And watching it with him (my first rewatch in many years) became a very enjoyable game of spotting the tells.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:17 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


It’s also what M. Night completely failed to do in all his other movies. They had twists just to have twists, and the surprise was either super duper predictable or came out of no where. He seems to have completely misunderstood what made this movie so special.

That's the essential tragedy of M. Night. This 2013 thread has a lot of criticism aimed at him, but this comment gets to the meat of it: "Basically, he hit a home run his first time up at bat, and good for him. The problem is that he's been trying to hit a home run ever since then, but in sports that aren't baseball. It just doesn't work."
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:47 AM on September 23 [9 favorites]


"Basically, he hit a home run his first time up at bat, and good for him. The problem is that he's been trying to hit a home run ever since then, but in sports that aren't baseball. It just doesn't work."

I think it works even if you consider him still playing baseball -- Aaron Judge is having an historically good season, hitting 60 home runs in 535 plate appearances. That's just one home run in every nine at-bats. Shyamalan has made 13 movies, so statistically, he's about 50/50 to have another home run by now.
posted by Etrigan at 12:13 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


This is probably the only movie I've ever seen in my life where I went into it unspoiled--I'd barely heard of the movie that day, we were online and bored and were all "eh, let's go to a movie" and there you go.

I do love how it's hidden in plain sight all along and then afterwards you go, "Oh YEAH, THAT's why she like, ignores him and rambles on and on at dinner!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:36 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]


I'm sure I said this before, but I think it's a much better film the second time - when you not only know the twist, but you're not looking for it. The first time it's about Malcolm, or seems to be, but the second time it's just about Cole. What makes the film powerful isn't the twist (that's what Shyamalan failed to learn from its success), but the story of Cole coming to terms with his abilities, and the relationship with his mother.

I think the story of a grown-up Cole would make a remarkable TV series, and Haley Joel Osment is not only still around but still acting. But I wouldn't want Shyamalan to make it, and I suspect he wouldn't let anyone else.

(Edited to add: I'd have the guy who did The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix. Not that anyone is asking.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:36 PM on September 23 [8 favorites]


Mike Flanagan? I would hire him for any horror TV show.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:48 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


The plot for this has one of the most famous turns in the history of movies. If you have not seen this and do not know the plot of this film, and are doing the thing people do where they check in on a movie they are thinking about seeing, turn and run.

This, a bajillion times. Watching this for the first time and unspoilered is a stunning experience. That very experience, though, makes any re-viewings less than satisfying. It’s Shyamalan‘s Rosebud. But, Citizen Kane easily survives the spoiler, viewing after viewing, even if it’s one’s first viewing and you know the twist.Sixth Sense, not so much.

I’d love to be in the same room with someone who has never seen Sixth Sense and knows absolutely nothing of the twist. Maybe never even heard the “I see dead people.” line. I’m not sure that person exists.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:36 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


I’m one of those people who heard that there was a twist and knew what it was as soon as BW was shot (of course I also knew the “I see dead people” line from the ads). It should have been an award-winning act of restraint for me to get through the rest of the movie without saying anything to my GF.
posted by transient at 3:39 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


I’d love to be in the same room with someone who has never seen Sixth Sense and knows absolutely nothing of the twist.

I think these things have a half-life, although this particular example has achieved some memetic immortality through constant references*. The twist became Shyamalan’s signature, of course, and once you are alerted to these things, they are less surprising. His next film was Unbreakable and it still worked there in my view. Beyond that: Signs (atmospheric but lousy) and then The Village, where I not only guessed the twist from early on bit I guessed it from the tune the premise was shown in the trailer and rejected it as being too crayon-obvious.

The last movie I can recall before this with the same don’t-tell-anyone-about-the-twist aura was The Crying Game. I have not seen it since its initial release and I suspect that the changing world may have left its presentation behind. OTOH, I think thirty years on, it is over the horizon behind us and your theoretical viewer walking in knowing nothing or it would be easier to find.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:36 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Shyamalan has so damaged his own reputation that it's easy to retroactively sneer at The Sixth Sense as "just another Twist movie," but it really does stand alone above all the others.
posted by rikschell at 4:52 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


I also saw this in theaters early enough in the release to know there was a twist ending but not spoiled on exactly what the twist was. I don't generally try to solve mysteries ahead of the characters or predict endings, unless I'm bored. And I was caught up in the movie from the get-go, so the puzzle-solving bit of my brain stayed quiet up until we got to the last scene between Cole and Malcolm backstage of the play, and as I realized it must be nearly the end of the movie, it suddenly dawned on me that Malcolm being a ghost must be what the twist was. So I got to enjoy getting fooled but also feeling smart while hearing the gasps/murmurs of the audience when the reveal montage played out.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:28 AM on September 24


I didn't know the twist before I saw it, and later I also got the pleasure of showing the movie to someone else who didn't. It was incredibly enjoyable both ways.
posted by tomboko at 9:13 AM on September 24


Saw this in a packed theater opening weekend, utterly unspoiled, didn’t even know there was A Twist. The collective gasp from the audience was magnificent.

(Same summer I went into The Matrix expecting a sci-fi Point Break or something.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:32 AM on September 24 [6 favorites]


I had the same experience as you, DirtyOldTown. A friend who saw it in the theater bought the DvD and made me watch it with him immediately, excited. When the little boy says "they don't know they're dead," I turned to my friend and said, "Oh! Bruce Willis is dead!" My friend yelled "Goddammit!" and stomped out of the room.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:12 PM on September 24 [4 favorites]


That very experience, though, makes any re-viewings less than satisfying.

Yes, 100%. I saw it unspoiled on release and had all the gasps, surprise, etc. along with the rest of the audience. On a second go some years later, I thought the movie was virtually unwatchable. There are all manner of good things about the film, but I was unable to enjoy any of them because of the elephant in the room.
posted by cupcakeninja at 5:13 PM on September 25


After guessing the twist in this and a couple of other famous "twist" movies, I realized that doing so was not actually increasing my enjoyment, and I trained myself to turn off the part of my brain that does that while consuming media. It's generally been an improvement.
posted by kyrademon at 6:00 PM on September 25 [3 favorites]


Somehow I didn’t yet know The Twist when I finally got around to renting this movie on VHS. When I got to the end I was so amazed I rewound to the beginning and watched it again immediately to see how it was done.

And I watched it again just last week. Rewatching it knowing The Twist changes the movie but doesn’t ruin it. As my SO said, the first time you watch it it’s scary, but the second time you watch it’s tragic.

We also rewatched The Visit a few days later. It was good to be reminded that M. Night Shyamalan can actually be an excellent filmmaker when he tries to be.
posted by ejs at 8:34 PM on September 25


The scene in the car where Cole tells his mother the message from her mother... the "do I make you proud?" moment - is one of the best in movies, IMO, and it gets me every single time. So damn good. That's why I love this movie; I mean, the twist is excellent (and it got me too, back in the day) but the journey is Cole's. His reconnection with his mother is the real story, and the real triumph. And, ultimately, Malcolm's redemption for himself for his failure to help Vincent. I don't care what anyone says in hindsight- this movie is great.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:33 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


One of the ways Malcolm's condition is hidden in plain sight is that he's always wearing some variant (shirt, coat, suit, tie) of the clothes he was wearing when he was shot.
posted by Gelatin at 4:22 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


I expected I would never see this movie, had the Twist spoiled, and then ended up seeing it when I was a bit older. It still worked.

Toni Collete's performance in this move is absolutely underrated - she's playing a mother absolutely at the end of her rope, who doesn't know how to help her child and can't find anyone who can.

This movie did actually inform my own writing - the thing that most Twist movies do not do is have a story that works completely fine without the twist, and The Sixth Sense is an excellent movie before the final scene. It has an arc, it answers questions, it leaves you satisfied, and then... there's just one small detail.

Bad twist movies, including a lot of Shyamalan's later work and a lot of the movies and TV shows from the 2010s that forced a Twist in because they felt like they needed one to be 'buzzy', don't think about the audience's experience when they're watching it. Plotlines will wrap up too soon, pat explanations will be given only to be "subverted" later, or things simply won't make sense unless X improbable thing is going on. When I'm writing mysteries, I'll think carefully about what the audience is seeing, and making sure that I've got a plausible answer to all the questions that almost works.
posted by Merus at 5:19 AM on September 26 [4 favorites]


I wasn't paying enough attention watching this film, so when Willis gets shot I just assumed he was dead. Figuring it out by being stupid instead of smart made the twist reveal scene later very confusing.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:45 AM on September 26


Toni Collette is one of the best working film actors of our age, full stop. She just has the misfortune of having done much of her best work in horror/thriller and comedy films, which are inherently less respected come awards season.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:23 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


>[Shyamalan] seems to have completely misunderstood what made this movie so special.

YES. He did completely misunderstand it. If you read the screenplay, you can see from the scene that starts on page 31 that Shyamalan didn't understand what he was doing at all.

The key to the entire movie was thoughtlessly revealed in this scene, where Cole walks into a stranger's house (Mr Marschal) and inexplicably speaks German and then pulls open a vent to find a dead woman's diaries and hand them to her widower. In that scene, he's being directed by a German-speaking ghost who we don't see because we're seeing it from Bruce Willis' POV.

But if that scene were in the movie, it would ruin the whole point. It would mean that Cole knows the ghosts are asking him to do things to help them - and if he knows that, then there's no movie! Because the whole point of the movie is that Bruce Willis is the first ghost Cole has ever met who doesn't terrify him, so Cole gradually realizes that none of the ghosts are actually dangerous, they're just desperate for help to complete their unfinished business, and if he helps them, he will find peace.

Shyamalan not only wrote this scene that TOTALLY BLOWS THE POINT OF THE MOVIE, he also SHOT it! It's in the deleted scenes (here it is on YouTube). If this scene were included in the film, Cole's whole storyline would crumble.

I assume his editor (Andrew Mondshein, who hasn't worked on any of his later films, which I suspect may be signifigant) was likely the one who removed the scene from the final cut. Which completely saved the movie.

As a screenwriter, I think about this scene all the time. This scene gives me so much hope and confidence. It reminds me that it's ok to make stupid mistakes... we can always fix it in the edit!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:30 AM on September 26 [3 favorites]


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