August 6 marks the 20th anniversary of M. Night Shyamalan’s blockbuster horror masterpiece The Sixth Sense. In 1999, The Sixth Sense spent five weeks as the number one film in the US, ultimately earning over $672,806,292 as of 2010.
The Sixth Sense was a sensation, without a doubt; those of us who were around at the time can remember it was the movie EVERYONE was talking about. And yet, patrons were tight-lipped about that twist. Before the age of social media, spoilers were a lot harder to come by (and people were generally less inclined to try to ruin surprise endings), so even a month or so after the premiere, it was possible to see TSS and still be surprised by the twist.
Why did The Sixth Sense become such a sensation, and what made people relate to it so strongly? The short answer is: EVERYTHING, but let’s try to break it down to the three main things that people love about it, in no particular order. If you have been living under a rock and have for some reason never seen this gem, please be aware that spoilers lie ahead!
1. That Twist
Let’s just get this one out of the way first, because the twist was mind-blowing; we just didn’t see it coming. Throughout the movie, Malcolm has been meeting with Cole, and we just assume that he is treating him as a patient.
We see fearful little Cole begin to blossom, to face his fears head-on, and to start communicating with (and helping) the ghosts he has encountered throughout his short life…so, the “therapy” is working, right? Yes and no.
Malcolm has definitely helped Cole, but the shocker was that he was one of the ghosts, and the fearful little boy knew it all along. In Cole’s own words, “I see dead people… walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.”
When you watch the movie a second time, it’s so clear! How did we not see it? That’s the genius of M. Night Shyamalan, he hid the truth in plain sight.
2. The Cast
Every single actor in this movie was perfectly cast, and I cannot even imagine anyone else playing those characters. Bruce Willis and Toni Collette give such real performances as the two people who care about Cole the most and who want nothing more than for him to be happy and not so afraid of the world. Collette’s scene with Cole at the end of the movie is so emotional and heartfelt that I weep every time I watch it.
And, let’s just talk about 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment, who gives arguably the best child acting performance ever. My background is in Early Childhood Education, so I know how real kids behave, and every ounce of Osment’s heart-wrenching portrayal of Cole rang 100% true. I just wanted to hug that kid and tell him that everything was going to be ok.
Donnie Wahlberg had one very brief scene, but it was an impactful and important one. He reportedly lost 43 pounds to play Vincent Grey, a former patient of Malcolm’s who had the same “condition” as Cole. His gaunt appearance and anguished expression sold Vincent’s back story.
3. Lots of Scares
Though not a movie that relies on excessive gore in order to be scary, The Sixth Sense is loaded with hair-raising moments. When Malcolm is shot by Vincent in the beginning of the film (followed by Vincent’s suicide), we gasped at the unexpected turn so early on.
Each ghost that Cole sees is startling and horrifying, and this movie is chock full of surprising “little” scares: the kitchen cabinets opening the moment Toni Collette turns her back, the quick vision of the people hanging in the school, Kyra popping out from under the bed, Cole screaming hysterically after being locked in the closet at the party…this list could go on and on, but you get the picture.
All of this just makes me want to watch this perfect movie all over again! I think I know what I will be doing tonight.
What about you, readers? What do you love about The Sixth Sense? Let us know in the comments section.