Boasting one of the most frequently quoted lines in film history and a truly unforgettable twist, The Sixth Sense is a modern take on the classic ghost story that still holds up more than 20 years later. The 1999 supernatural horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan was the filmmaker’s breakout hit, his mastery of suspense and largely positive critical success since turning him into a household name globally.
When child psychologist Dr Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is shot by one of his former patients Vincent Grey (Donnie Wahlberg), he is haunted by the fact that there was one child he was unable to help. This leads him to Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a 9-year-old boy who reminds him of Vincent. Cole is tormented by a secret that he is visited by ghosts plagued with unresolved problems from their lives. Together, Cole and Malcolm both learn to accept the unexplainable and to find closure. This eerie, sentimental, and often sweet film has become a beloved classic that earned a spot on the 2007 American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films.
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10. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
In one of their earliest encounters, Malcolm (Willis) suggests that he and Cole (Osment) play a mind-reading game: if Malcolm is right, Cole will take a step forward, but if he is wrong, the boy will step back. Initially, Dr Crowe makes a few correct guesses, including that Cole is afraid to share his secrets. However, Malcolm incorrectly guesses that Cole avoids getting into trouble at school. At this, Cole steps back and reveals that he got in trouble for drawing disturbing images, so his mother had to meet with his teacher. He says that now he draws rainbows because ‘they don’t have meetings about rainbows.’ Moving further away, he tells Malcolm that he won’t be able to help him and then closes off communication by leaving the room.
This moment is notable for the way it frames our perception of the psychiatrist-patient relationship. Malcolm sits in a chair whilst the camera is placed at Cole’s eye level, aligning us with the child’s perspective and making both characters appear equal. Close-ups of Cole’s feet as he steps forwards and backwards emphasise his negotiation between opening up and closing off, and POV shots track backwards as he moves away physically and emotionally to create distance between Malcolm, Cole, and the audience. This scene sets up the early tension in their relationship, and we realise here that Dr Crowe will have to work hard to earn his patient’s trust.
9. Cole’s Childhood Photos
When Cole’s mother, Lynn (Toni Collette), is gathering up the laundry one day, she stops in the hallway to examine his childhood photographs on the wall. The camera cuts to close-ups of light flares that appear close to her son’s image in almost every picture. This moment appears before Cole reveals his secret ability and serves as foreshadowing for anyone familiar with the supernatural. Legend has it that if an unexplained light flare or glowing orb appears in a photograph, then the camera has captured evidence of a ghost. In an article for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County magazine, Beth Saunders writes about the phenomenon of spirit photography, though she concedes that these orbs may be nothing more than floating specks of dust caught in the light.
It is also worth noting that Lynn is wearing a hoodie and adjusts the thermostat, indicating that there is a chill in the air. Cole later reveals that sudden cold can indicate the presence of a ghost. Furthermore, as she looks at the family photos, the pop music emanating from her walkman cuts out and the film score fades in as we leave the real world behind and enter the film’s ghost story through her perspective.
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