Film: The Sixth Sense

"I see dead people."

The Sixth Sense is a 1999 horror/thriller by M. Night Shyamalan starring Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis.

Successful child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Willis) is shot and injured in his home by a disturbed former patient of his, who commits suicide immediately following the shooting. Months later, a still-shaken Malcolm comes across the case of ten-year-old Cole Sear (Osment), who is exhibiting exactly the same symptoms of his former patient: frequent panic attacks, social withdrawal, and unexplained injuries. Seeing a chance to redeem himself by helping Cole, Malcolm takes a special interest in Cole and begins counseling him. Learning the secret behind Cole's condition, however, only makes things stranger than Malcolm could have imagined.

Osment was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film, and the film was nominated for five others, including Best Picture,Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, with no wins.

Warning: Spoilers Below

This film provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Good Lord, the anguish that Cole's mother goes through. Just imagine it— your child becomes more withdrawn, won't talk to you anymore, and inexplicably has bruises and marks show up on their skin. They even need to be hospitalized at one point due to a severe panic attack that comes about for no apparent reason. Worse yet, you don't know whether it's someone they know who's abusing them, or if it's all in their head and they're doing it to themselves.
    • Or even worse, that your son might be a budding psychopath. Cole's drawings, his detailed descriptions of violent events, and his 'free writing' would be enough to spook any mother.
  • Answer Cut: Used when Cole says to Malcolm, "I see dead people", it not only cuts to Malcolm, who is dead, but slowly zooms in on him. At first, the filmmakers didn't even want to include this shot, fearing it might give away the ending.
  • Bedtime Brainwashing: The protagonist does this to his wife in the end.
  • Creator Cameo: M. Night Shyamalan as a doctor the kid sees at one point.
  • Creepy Child: Cole, early in the movie.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: The poisoning victim.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Subverted. Cole is repeatedly assaulted by ghosts. People assume he's abused by his mother, and she can't figure out what's happening to him.
  • Dead All Along: The famous twist ending. This happens to Malcolm himself at the end.
  • Dead Sparks: Malcolm and his wife. Literally.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The family dog runs away right before the kid who shot himself appears to Cole.
  • Fade to White: How Malcolm exits the film.
  • Foreshadowing: After watching this film the first time through without spoilers, it is almost impossible to watch it again without seeing obvious foreshadowing.
    • Well if you pay close attention, Bruce Willis's character always wears something he was wearing the day he was shot.
    • When being visited in the hospital (?), Cole looks directly at Malcolm's wound.
    • Think there was something about the color red. I can't remember . . .
    • Notice people's behavior whenever Malcolm is around. They shiver and put on jackets.
    • Another subtle one; notice how no one but Cole ever seems to talk to Crowe?
    • In the scene in the restaurant, it appears as if his wife is looking in his direction when he's speaking, and when she finally says "Happy Anniversary," it looks like she's addressing those words to him. One possible interpretation is that she senses his presence but doesn't consciously realize what it is.
    • The door to Malcolm's basement, where he stores his tapes and other information from his cases is repeatedly locked whenever he tries to open it. He always has to fumble around for the key, but we never actually see him find it and open the door. When he finally starts to realize what's going on, he looks at the door and sees it's not only locked, it actually has a desk with books on top blocking it shut.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: Malcolm shows up late to an anniversary dinner with his wife at a fancy restaurant; she barely acknowledges him before leaving.
    • Kind of hard to acknowledge someone you can't see or hear. You know. 'Cause he's dead and all.
  • Ghostly Chill
  • Happier Home Movie: Malcolm's wedding.
  • The Hero Dies: Malcolm himself at the end is revealed to be Dead All Along. The film concludes with Malcolm saying goodbye to his wife and moving on to the afterlife after he finally comes to terms with his fate.
  • I Am Not Leonard Nimoy: There are a lot of people who refer to Cole as Haley Joel (Osment).
  • I See Dead People: Trope named for the line by Cole.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: all the ghosts. Malcolm isn't the exception; throughout the movie he is wearing items that he had with him that night. We never see the gunshot wound because he is wearing his jacket over his shirt or the camera angles just don't reveal it when he has it off.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Thanks to Cole being a Creepy Child, he's bullied and hated by his peers.
    • This turns around at the end, as seen in the play the class puts on - Cole plays the stableboy who becomes king and the leader of the bullies plays the village idiot.
  • The Lost Lenore: A rare male example of the trope in that, um, Surprise! Malcolm's wife isn't surly and depressed over a neglectful husband. She's grieving for a dead one.
  • Mama Bear: Lynn has no idea what's wrong with her son, just that something is seriously off with him. And yet, during a nightmare, she begs Cole to tell her if someone is hurting him so she can kick their asses. Lynn also calls up the mother of one of the boys from the party and tells her to keep her son away from Cole.
  • Made of Iron: Seems to play it straight with Crowe - he's shot in the stomach, which in Real Life is a death sentence - but is seen walking around just fine the next fall. Then it is subverted in the end - it turns out that reality ensued after all.
  • Mandatory Twist Ending: Practically spawned the twist ending for the new millennium. Also a strange variant of The Ending Changes Everything: everything we saw previously is true, but much of it means something completely different from what it seemed to mean.
    • Also Lampshaded when Malcolm is telling a bed time story to the kid.
  • Meaningful Name: Cole Sear, get it? He sees things.
    • Combined with his first name: he sees dark things.
  • Medicate The Medium
  • Munchausen Syndrome: Munchausen by Proxy. We learn that a mother sickened her daughter with floor cleaner in order to get sympathy from family and friends.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A full example when the bullies make Cole peek into a closet, where he's tormented by a ghost, the only one the audience hears but never sees.
  • Offing the Offspring: Kyra's mom kills her by regularly poisoning her lunch for two years. And after Kyra dies, the mom starts to poison Kyra's younger sister too. Kyra gets justice by giving filmed proof of the clandestine act to Cole, who gives it to Kyra's dad, who watches the video along with the guests at Kyra's wake.
  • Oh Crap!: The look on Kyra's mother's face when now everyone knows what she did to her own daughter.
  • Once More with Clarity: After it becomes apparent that the viewer has One Side of the Story.
  • Psychic Powers: Cole's most prevalent ability is Mediumship.
  • The Reveal: Malcolm is dead. His wife isn't cheating on him, she's trying to move on, and she doesn't respond to what he says to her because she doesn't know he's even there.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The color red. Pay close attention to any scene with red in it. It means something important. The fact that Kyra's mother is dressed in red, as if she's going to a dinner party or get together, instead of a funeral, should tip the viewer off to the fact that she is an Attention Whore who deliberately kept her daughter sick and ended up killing her.
  • Sanctuary of Solitude: Cole is sitting in a church by himself when Malcolm goes to talk to him.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Malcolm's wife's friend on their wedding video. It's a bit jarring.
  • Scare Chord: More subtle than in some movies but definitely there.
  • School Play: Brief scene at Cole's school. Also a trick some bullies play on him.
  • Sexless Marriage: Malcolm and Anna. If you've seen the movie, you know why.
  • So Unfunny It's Funny: Halfway through the film, Malcolm tries to get Cole to ease up by performing a magic trick where he claims to move a coin from his hand to his shirt pocket, etc. Problem is, he never takes the coin out of either spot, he just taps the spot and claims the coin moved there. It actually works and convinces Cole that he has nothing to fear from Malcolm. Later Cole is seen doing the same trick to another kid, who just dismisses it as "stupid."
  • Something Only They Would Say: This is how Cole demonstrates his medium powers to his mother, by repeating several things that only his grandmother's ghost would know about.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Cole Sear. As in Seer.
  • Spirit Advisor: Malcolm just doesn't know it yet, and then Cole learns to become an adviser for spirits to help them move on.
  • Spooky Photographs
  • Stood Up: Malcolm's anniversary with his wife.
  • Take That: "Silence, Village Idiot!"
  • Talking in Your Sleep: The only way Malcolm can get his wife to talk to him. Somehow, Cole knew this would work for Malcolm when nothing else would.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: one of the dead people Cole sees was a small girl poisoned by her mother putting cleaning fluid in her soup.
  • There Are No Therapists: A very interesting aversion. From the standpoint of everyone else in the movie, Cole does not have a therapist. But he does. Stands out the most notably when the doctor is having Cole checked to see if he is being abused, and Malcolm is just sitting there - when a real therapist would surely be adding his two cents.
  • Tomato in the Mirror
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The fact that Cole can see ghosts isn't revealed until the halfway point of the movie, but everyone knew thanks to the trailer. This was most likely forced on the producers since it's the main theme of the film, so not mentioning this in any trailer would just make it seem like an ordinary drama about a child psychologist trying to help a troubled youth, which would pretty much be false marketing instead.
  • Trick Dialogue: Used several times as part of the big twist.
  • Undead Child: The ghost of Kyra, the poisoned girl.
  • Unfinished Business: Most ghosts have it. Malcolm has two pieces of it: first, to be sure his wife knows how he felt about her; second, to help Cole, a child troubled with exactly the problem that he failed to handle well when another child had it.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Kyra's first appearance to Cole. Turns into a Vomit Discretion Shot in the following scene where her puking in front of Cole is censored by a Reaction Shot of him watching in disgust.
  • Weirdness Censor: A variant: it applies to the ghosts. "They see what they want to see," doing the same things they did in life.
    • And they don't see each other which is another hint to the twist.
  • Wham Episode: The Reveal at the end.
  • Wham Line: "They don't know that they're dead."
  • Your Cheating Heart: Malcolm's wife seems to be cheating on him which pisses him off. Ultimately averted as he is dead and she is just extremely depressed and looking for solace.