I had written most of my views down on the probing, immersive cinematic pieces of ‘horror’ in the first part that included both THE SIXTH SENSE and SUSPIRIA.
Twenty years after it premiered to instant cult status and bouyed by Brian Raftery’s latest book BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER. HOW 1999 BLEW UP THE SCREEN that I enjoyed reading to the hilt , THE SIXTH SENSE was revisited by me, this time in all the earnestness of a singular viewing experience and it all made sense. It utilised the novelty of its title to launch the innate, intrinsic connections between loved ones. Often as it happens in the case of preserving our kindred, fear wracks these blood bonds. This screenplay identified the potency of it all.
The fear of losing out on one’s precious relationships, being left to fend for oneself without a partner in a void of urban disrepair and not knowing the pain of one’s own children all came beautifully close to reality in Manoj Night Shyamalan’s humanist classic. Those two words HUMANIST CLASSIC put together define THE SIXTH SENSE for me.
This tale of a troubled young child(Haley Joel) who seems wise beyond his years when trying to articulate his silent broil while connecting with his psychologist, a decorated and compassionate man(Bruce Willis) with personal chinks in his armour comes with two major revelations. First being that the child isn’t deluded and that he can actually communicate with non- mortal spirits. The second is the disclosure that comes in the ending moments where the adult guardian turns out to be a deceased man himself, communicating with the clairvoyant child and trying to reach out to his grieving wife (Olivia Williams) The moments that come before it lead to this non linear approach and I noticed them with clarity this time around . In hindsight, on this viewing, the ‘big reveal’ is backed by clues from the very beginning of the film.
Watching it now, one can make sense of the climactic twist. In the man’s interactions with his wife, she never looks at him face to face or is shown sleeping, implying a great rift in the bond but skillfully demonstrating the fact that Willis has gone beyond the mortal realm and is communicating with her as an invisible apparition. So Cole is his medium and that upends the narrative in a direction that is unexpected but seamless in hindsight.
The Sixth Sense also revels in the most predominant sense of the cinematic medium : of recognising sensual beauty in humanity. The emotional evolution and its parallelism with fear is articulated with close ups and beautifully constructed sense of narration. Shyamalan is a master of these moments of quiet revelations on that front, a feat he reiterated in SIGNS and one of my own favourites THE VILLAGE . There is no shock tactic employed by him to convey even the ‘historic’ cinematic twist in his most memorable creation. It flows with the nervous tension of this unlikely bond between the world of children and adults.
Looking at Cole and his gift of communicating with the dead, one also thinks about the unsympathetic tag that The Warrens( the real life paranormal investigators made iconic by the Conjuring universe) may have received as children too. Cole is bullied and alienated within his peers and he is indeed looked at as a freak by them.
That apart, there are scenes that stay with us. How can we forget the ‘I see dead people’ announcement or the trajectory of the young girl (Mischa Barton) who leaves behind a tape implicating her mother in her untimely death at the time of the post funeral service luncheon. Cole and his mother (Toni Collette) break our hearts by the tenacity and brittle resolve that binds them wherein love is the strongest principle and the concluding scene with them in the car is emotionally resonant as all parent – child affinities are. Then there is the ‘Stuttering Stanley’ sequence. The quiet poignancy of the one where Bruce watches as his wife expresses her affection to another man and their final moment together.
James Newton Howard composes a memorable score that attests to this keen sense of humanity.
HALEY JOEL OSMENT is, hands down, a great performer. Along with the tacit melancholy of Bruce Willis and transparency of Olivia Williams and Toni Collette, THE SIXTH SENSE becomes a transcendental experience, bypassing genre conventions to find the core of human frailties and goodness . It remains a standalone marvel and with good measure.