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Film / The Sixth Sense

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"I see dead people."

The Sixth Sense is a 1999 horror/thriller written and directed 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. Her child becomes more withdrawn, won't talk to her anymore, and inexplicably has bruises and marks show up on his skin. He even needs to be hospitalized at one point due to a severe panic attack that comes about for no apparent reason. Worse yet, she doesn't know whether it's someone they know who's abusing him, or if it's all in his head and he's doing it to himself. Or even worse, her 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.
    • The scene where she's accused of abusing her son. She obviously managed to convince the social worker than she's not harming Cole, but it must be indescribably hard to have your only child taken from you under false pretenses.
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    • Then there's Kyra's mother poisoning her and her father's horrified reaction to seeing the video of it...
    • The Reveal: Malcolm died in front of Anna, who was trying to treat the gunshot wound because there was no time to call for an ambulance. Anna could only hold her husband in his last moments as he tried reassuring her he felt no pain. Since then, she's spent the whole year grieving him and failing to move on from the love of her life.
  • 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.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Tommy's cringey cough syrup commercial.
  • Bedtime Brainwashing: The protagonist does this to his wife in the end to ask her for forgiveness and reassure her that he still loves her and she can let go. Considering that he's dead, it's the only way he can talk to her by himself.
  • Birthday Party Goes Wrong: The birthday boy bemoans the fact that his parents forced him to invite the weird kid Cole to his party. When Cole hears a deceased person's voice from upstairs, the boys lock him in the attic. It ruins the party for everyone else and Cole has to be taken to the doctor.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kyra's mother. She poisoned her daughter with floor cleaner apparently out of Munchausen Syndrome and for all the audience knows had zero regrets for eventually giving her a fatal dose. The more horrible part is that Kyra's father had to see a video showing her mother mixing in the poison with her drinks right in the girl's bedroom.
  • Blanket Fort: A creepy scene involved Cole meeting the puking ghost girl in a blanket fort he built in his room.
  • Blessed with Suck: Cole and Vincent's abilities are nothing but trouble for them.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The color red appears often in the film to show their importance: the red doors of the church, the ruby knob of the basement door, a red outfit...
  • Creator Cameo: M. Night Shyamalan as a doctor the kid sees at one point.
  • Creepy Child: Cole, early in the movie.
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Kyra, 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. Malcolm finds out at the end of the movie that he didn't survive the shooting when his former patient broke into his home.
  • Dead Sparks: Malcolm and his wife. Literally. All of the scenes where she seemingly is pulling an "ignoring you" scheme is just that she literally doesn't knows he's there, being a ghost and all.
  • Death of a Child:
    • Among the dead people seen is a preteen girl poisoned to death by her mother.
    • Cole encounters a ghost of a pre-teen boy who had showed his friend his father's gun and accidentally shot himself, and we see the wound in the back of his head.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Malcolm's former patient is a deeply troubled young man who shoots himself.
    • A ghost that Cole meets with slits on her arms.
  • 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.
  • Famous Last Words: "It doesn't hurt at all anymore."
  • Foreshadowing: After watching this film the first time through without spoilers, it is almost impossible to watch it again without seeing obvious foreshadowing.
    • 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. This is doubly important as this is what he does immediately before saying the signature line.
    • The color red pops up whenever there is something supernatural going on — people wear red, objects in the environment are red, and several of the ghosts wear something red. This not only allows viewers to anticipate the appearances of ghosts before they happen by noticing the scene has a lot of red things in it, but also hints to The Reveal about Malcolm — his wife frequently wears red and the doorknob to his office is red.
    • Pay attention to people's behavior whenever Malcolm is around. They shiver and put on jackets, and none of them ever talk to Malcolm or acknowledge his presence — the few times they seem do, it's deliberate misdirection and a second look will show they weren't actually acknowledging him.
    • 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 choreography adds more subtly to the scene. It is a single shot take that begins behind Anna when Malcolm shows up, who is looking to the side until he starts talking, at which point she looks in his direction. As the shot zooms in on Malcolm, it looks as if she is indeed looking and listening to him before it is completely focused on him for a bit. When it gets back to her, she looks in his direction only once before never looking at him again for the rest of the scene. Malcolm doesn't adjust his chair at all like most people do when sitting down at a table, he simply sits down in it and leans forward. Shyamalan was very careful to make sure that Malcolm doesn't interact with his environment in a way that would catch a living person's notice.
    • 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: The presence of ghosts cause rooms to get colder and anybody nearby to shiver. Like anytime Malcolm is around.
  • Hate Sink: Kyra's mother, who repeatedly poisoned her with floor cleaner to gain sympathy, and is implied to be doing the same thing with her younger sister
  • 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 Haley Joel Osment: Many people tend to refer to Cole by his actor.
  • I See Dead People: Trope named for the line by Cole.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: All the ghosts wear what they had on when they died. 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. Mr. Cunningham was the one who gave Cole the part in the play, the last part was just probably unintentional. So for all we know, Cole's still ostracized but he's more confident about himself that slowly, but surely, he'll be more accepted with his peers.
  • The Lost Lenore: A rare male example of the trope in that Surprise! Malcolm's wife isn't surly and depressed over a neglectful husband. She's grieving for a dead one.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: Which its owner is the last person to find out about.
  • 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 Malcolm 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.
    • Lampshaded when Malcolm is telling a bed time story to the kid.
  • Manly Tears: Malcolm sheds then when he realizes he's dead and says goodbye to his wife for the last time. "You were never second".
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Cole Sear, get it? He sees things. Combined with his first name: he sees dark things.
    • Crows are often associated with death.
  • Medicate the Medium: Naturally, nobody believes Cole can see strange things and assume his injuries are a result of child abuse. He gets evaluated by several doctors.
  • 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.
  • Murder-Suicide: Vincent commits this on Malcolm and himself in the opening. He shoots Malcolm who was his doctor and he blames him for not helping him and then turns the gun to himself. Viewers find out only at the end of the movie that Malcolm didn't survive.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: The film opens with one of Malcolm's patients, a boy named Vincent, breaking into the doctor's home and attempting Murder-Suicide (only partially successful, though) because Malcolm couldn't cure him. Then Malcolm discovers that Cole has a similar psychological problem going on and tries to help him. Turns out that Vincent pulled said murder successfully and Malcolm tries to help Cole because it's part of his Ghostly Goals.
  • 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.
  • Returning the Wedding Ring: Malcolm's wife drops a wedding ring and lets it roll across the floor to signify the end of their marriage. The ring is actually his, and of course the fact he's dead was the real reason the marriage ended.
  • 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.
  • The Stinger: After the credits, the panicked Spanish ghost from Malcolm's tape is heard saying "No me quiero morir" one more time. Doubles as a Last Note Nightmare.
  • Stock Underwear: Played for extra-creepy: Vincent spends his entire scene (barging into Malcolm's home on a complete breakdown and committing Murder-Suicide because Malcolm couldn't help him) dressed only in socks and tighty-whiteys.
  • Stood Up: Malcolm's anniversary with his wife. Turns out that it's because she's having dinner alone and Malcolm is a ghost.
  • 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: Malcolm only figures out that he's been Dead All Along until the last five minutes or so of the film.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The fact that Cole can see ghosts isn't revealed until the halfway point of the movie, but everyone already 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.
  • Unseen No More: Cole, the Trope Namer for I See Dead People, discusses his ability to see ghosts, but it isn't until halfway through the film we get to see the ghosts. That is, unless you count Malcolm, who was a ghost the whole time.
  • 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 Line:
    • "They don't know that they're dead."
    • "Why did you have to leave?"
  • Your Cheating Heart: Malcolm's wife seems to be cheating on him which pisses him off. Subverted as he is dead and she is just extremely depressed and looking for solace.


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