September is often the most awkward of times for Hollywood and for the rest of the filming industry. The vacations are over and schools begin along with all the day to day boredom of life. But despite even this, there still seems to loom some great filming successes, that have shocked even the most doubtful of film critics. This time, they all seem to be firmly locked onto the grip of 'ghost fever' that has proved enormously popular throughout these recent times.
The prosperity of the filming world even during times of difficulty such as these, highlights a renewed sense of consistency in the already money filled filming industries such as Holly Wood. Such example of these recent successes can be seen in films like the horror thriller-'The Blaire Witch Project' and Jan De Bont's special effects saturated picture- 'The Haunting'.
And, of course, this brings us onto our modest but surprisingly potent Bruce Willis chillier directed by M. Night Shyamalan starring; Bruce Willis, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment , Donnie Wahlberg and Toni Collette. 'The Sixth Sense' is a testament to the fact that you can't judge a film by its previews alone. Which is a good thing, because it's the type of film that makes itself out to be 'just another late summer filler taking up box office spaces'- rather than the great film that it is. In my opinion, The Sixth Sense is anything but a 'filler'.
In fact it's a well written, well thought- out and a well-directed production that easily contends with any other film of its genre of the time. The Sixth Sense has a rather simple story line compared to other films, but then again it's not the story line that makes the film unique in its success - the up and coming director, M. Night Shyamalan has a more complicated and unrevealing motive that builds up throughout the film. The film is a gripping and intriguing combination of psychological thriller and ghost story, with a solid emotional core.
The story relies on the premise that a troubled eight year old boy, Cole Sear (beautifully played by Haley Joel Osment, a veteran of television and film) has a 'sixth sense', in which he not only sees dead people wandering the earth in a state of limbo, but hears them, feels them and in particular, fears them. Everyone is familiar with a hunch, intuition or perception. Each is intangible and involuntary, but most people rely on them every day.
Cole' intuition is live and in colour, his sixth sense breaks down the veil that seems to exist between the natural and the spiritual realm and it terrifies him. This is a gift that Cole does not want, yet it is a problem that neither his mother (Toni Colette) nor doctors are unable to understand. Labelled freak (similarly to Gray) at school, Cole is exposed to, through his sixth sense, a direct experience of the calamitous events that have occurred in the buildings he inhabits.
His unpopularity at school is the least of his worries. Dr Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a decorated child psychologist- and a man whose life seems to have come together. Despite Malcolm' greatly accomplished and celebrated past, he has not been successful in helping everyone. When a disgruntled ex-patient by the name of Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg) breaks into Crowe's home and shoots him before turning the gun on himself, Crowe, knocked violently down it's easy to forget what a fine all round actor Bruce Willis really is.
Even his action film roles (Die- Hard for example,) are based on an ''ordinary guy in a way over his head'' idea. It seems that, more often than not, it's the bluster of from his highly acclaimed pedestal, becomes more and more disconcerted with his career and his abilities. As a result of sagging in self-confidence, his relationship with his beautiful wife (Olivia Williams) becomes increasingly strained. A year later, he meets Cole Sear, a child who' case is remarkably similar to Gray's. ''Acute anxiety'', ''possible mood disorder'', ''socially isolated'') Cole, who lives with his struggling mother Lynn (Toni Collette), repels Crowe's advances in the fear that his freakish secret will be revealed. Crowe continuously attempts confide with Cole in his struggle for self-redemption. Eventually, Crowe gains Cole's trust, learns of his secret, and only then does the audience begin to see what the boy the boy fears so much, - when we do, it sends chills through the theatre.
Crowe gets more and more involved with the case as a second chance at saving Gray, his marriage and his own battered soul. The Sixth sense is the writing/directing masterpiece of Philadelphia-based filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. Shyamalan came out last year with the destined for greatness drama 'The Wide Awake'. Unfortunately despite a big pre-release build-up by distributor Miramax, the film met with critical cool and audience indifference and disappeared after the briefest of runs. Not one to waste his efforts, Shyamalan has recycled some of that film's concepts into his latest effort.
Like the sixth sense, 'The Aide Awake' dealt with a troubled boy in a Catholic school who is obsessed with both death and religious iconography. M. Night Shyamalan transforms what sounds like a ''straight-to-video'' story into and emotional look into the possibility of the other side by slowly unfolding events and characterisations in the story. Like fearful thoughts that invade one' mind in the middle of the night, Sixth Sense creeps along quietly and stealthily at snails pace allowing the suspense to swell into a disturbing climax.
The film relies greatly upon delicate balances, for example, between the normal and the paranormal and between positive and negative elements. Crucially, it introduces many previously unexplored themes and subjects such as: religion (Cole seeks sanction in a Catholic Church), heaven, hell, death, (life after death- ghosts), life, loyalty, success/ failure (Malcolm' life), love (between Cole and his mum/ Crowe and his wife) and trust (between Cole and Crowe). All these themes combine to create a form of deeper communication between the film and the audience.
Also, because everyone has a different perspective upon these themes and understands their relevance' to their individual lives, everyone sees the film from a different perspective and learns different things from the film. Almost every commercial for this film this year features an image of young Cole whispering the line; ''I see dead people''. Although most reviewers would regard this line as a spoiler, that ruins much of the uneasiness, built up from the beginning of the film, I favour the mysterious climax and suspense point that it provides.
Certainly if you're a first time viewer, when Osment shudders ''they're everywhere,'' the goose bumps will march onto your arm like an occupying army. When Cole tells Crowe of his secret for the first time, (during the most famous lines of the film) Malcolm seems reluctant to fully believe what the boy says, instead, he tries to label the boy's condition - unsuccessfully, of course. Cole can read thoughts, that's another of his gifts. ''How can he help me if he doesn't believe me? '' he questions. Crowe is unable to answer.
He has to think about the boy's secret. It is, in this case too terrible to conceive. It opens doors in to places most dare not go, places the boy lives with everyday, suffers in, alone. Cole pulls Crowe back from the verge of abandonment when he sees that the doctor as being a last hope. The two characters become dependant upon each other, ultimately, Crowe realises that each ghost is attracted to Cole because they need this help in some way, and once Cole helps them they would leave him alone. Of course, at the time Crowe doesn't know just how right he is.
So, how did The Sixth Sense manage to become successful enough to edge out other huge successes such as ''The Blare Witch Project'' to win top box-office honours? Well it does seem a lot more in depth than other films of its time. Also, its maturity and variety themes communicate perfectly to the audience. It's definitely a thriller that has won triumph through sacrificing cheap thrills (plus gallons for blood) for something more a bit more special. To find out exactly what, you'll have to watch it for yourself!
The Sixth Sense may not be the greatest of all films, but it is undoubtedly well written, directed, produced and certainly superbly acted. Willis provides a solid performance as a man who teeters on the edge of loosing it all. Fans of his less taxing roles in films like 'Armageddon' and the 'Die- Hard' series should be surprised at the sensitivity of his Malcolm Crowe. Here is a man of many weaknesses, and Willis portrays him with stone-face sincerity that at first glance may seem very like other Willis character.
But no, it's obvious that there's a lot of thought and hurt going on behind those eyes. It's not so much what he says but the look of defeat in his eyes. Shyamalan pulls the character of Crowe off with surprising denouement that slyly elevates everything before it. In the jetwash of his wisecracking, tough-guy persona, the film that overshadows Willis' easygoing persona. Haley Joel Osment displays talent beyond his years through his compelling portal of a tortured boy forced to act as a decidedly reluctant supernatural conduit.
Osment' act presents himself as a genuinely ill lad who has experienced years of sanity gripping terror. As Osment describes his frightening visions, his haunting words terrify the audience in a unique way. Osment is no puppy-eyed moppet; he displays a sizeable understanding of his characters darker shadings and this is very evident in his acting of Cole Sear. Haley' certainly got the talent and isn't afraid to show it, even at the risk of upstaging his older colleagues. Toni Colette also delivers an exceptional figure that longs to help her child but cannot.
Her body seeps with a disquieting agony as Cole remains just out of her reach. Finally there's Crowe' wife (Olivia Williams), Her performance is nothing spectacular until you watch the film a second time. She has the impossible task of acting 'two films'. It is only due to her inter- action that the film doesn't falter after the audiences' initial viewing. Throughout the course of the film, we get to see some of the dead people that Cole sees, and while seeing the dead is not the newest device used in this genre, It's still remarkably spooky.
Shaymalan has made the correct decision not to go into ''Ghost-overkill'', and frightens us, not with the grizzly shocking- values alone, but by illustrating the human anguish of loss. Despite saying this the director is so sly and manipulative with the camera that just hollow-eyed figure passing through the frame is enough to induce a scream. Cole's dead people are shown in moderation, and only to further the plot- they are not simply thrown in to make the film scarier.
Shyamalan employs a hand held camera throughout the film to great effect here, as the continual, slight movement of the camera not only gives the impression that ''someone'' other than the audience is watching the action, but also that there is a conflict yet to be resolved. This conflict is, of course, resolved at the end. Without a doubt, however, this is a film that is fuelled by the abrupt and unexpected twist it takes at the end. Shyamalan has been extremely conscious of walking the fine line between setting up the ending and not giving it away.
Unless you've been over- analysing, or someone told you the ending, Shyamalan' clever editing and attention to detail (such as character interaction ) will ensure that it comes to you as a pleasant surprise and make the rest of the film even more enjoyable. At times, The Sixth Sense seems to be vexed by plot holes and troublesome ambiguities, but they occur in retrospective only, and do not affect the enjoyability of watching this film. The simple fact is that the film is able to hide its holes until the end says a lot about the quality of the filmmakers.
There is also lot of symbolism in this film. Some of it is obvious, like setting the film during the Halloween season- it is the time of the dead and opposes the time of spring (Easter). Shyamalan makes wonderful use of not only shadows but also reflections- (these have been symbolically connected to spirits of the dead- notice that Crowe never has a shadow). This use can be related to windows and doors, which are symbolic entrances to other dimensions and realities- hence, the significance of locked doors throughout he film. The vast amount of themes and
Symbolism presented throughout the film is only made functional under the sound technical supervision Shyamalan who' consistency and superb film- insight also introduces a conclusion that is gives the audience a sense of revelation as well as shock. The director communicates with the audience and allows them to share a deeper empathy with the characters involved. He does this largely by using simple but affective methods throughout the film. For example, in the classroom scene, (featuring Cole exploding at his teacher in school) technical devices are abundant.
Shyamalan uses various camera angles (changing at different stages throughout the scene) and dramatic devices (such as the boy writing on the blackboard) to builds up a harsh and pressured atmosphere which finally reaches a climax as Cole' teacher looses all his previous authority and collapses in stuttering. The film is successful because we all think about the after- life heaven and hell. It is amazing that in a film like this, filled with so many symbols of life. Our film critics are reluctant to discuss the blatant spiritual symbolism found in this movie.
For example, the theme of religion is abundant in the film i. . Malcolm tells Cole that: churches are places of sanction/ icons of Jesus and the saints are important to the boy. Shyamalan also uses the colour red to represent anything that has been tainted by the supernatural. E. g. ; Cole' mother loves her son but cannot help him- at this point she is not dressed in red, Cole builds his own sanctuary (tent) complete with icons of Jesus and the Saints. In the last scene, featuring Cole and his mother in the car, the truth is revealed Cole' mother becomes his sanctuary- at this point she is dressed in red.
''Do you ever feel the prickly things on the back of your neck? ' Cole asks Crowe. The doctor may not be able to relate, but anyone watching this chilling psychological thriller will know exactly what he's talking about. The Sixth Sense is a horror movie ''propelled forward by the universal themes that it presents'' to the audience. It is reality- based fright. It comes from the fears of real people, real children and real adults; fears of loss, the unknown, of having a sixth sense about what lies beyond and fears of not understanding those intuitions. The Sixth Sense is a movie that communicates a deeper meaning to the audience.
From a broader perspective, The Sixth sense is about the power to communicate. Dead of alive, every character seeks to reach a new level of communication in order to deliver or obtain love, knowledge and peace. The suspense in The Sixth Sense in heightened mostly by its protagonists' convincing performances and by the film's appropriate slow pace, while the film's true horror is created by exploiting its characters' vulnerable states and by making them ignorant of the power of their own strength. Our culture demonstrates a great curiosity about spiritual aspects of life.
The Sixth Sense is a film that is able to convey these issues in a way that allows the audience to feel better abut their positions in life. I highly recommend this film as a conversation-starter. Take a friend searching for truth and go out for a great film. Another issue that this film deals with is our own truth. ''And the truth shall set you free,'' Jesus said. I believe that at the core of this film is the importance of truth. Don't be afraid to deal with the afterlife, spiritual subjects, and issues of truth. Allow this film to be one of the ways God opens your thinking to new dimensions in your life.