8. ‘Stuttering Stanley’
Haunted by disturbing spiritual visitations, Cole shocks his class when he tells the teacher, Mr Cunningham (Bruce Norris), that they used to hang people in the school. The teacher does not believe him and gives him a condescending smile. Cole tells Mr Cunningham to stop looking at him like that, and as the teacher moves towards him, Cole starts yelling, “Stuttering Stanley!” He explains that Mr Cunningham used to ‘talk funny’ when he went to the same school as a child. Tension builds as Cole continues to yell and Mr Cunningham becomes more agitated, moving closer and starting to stammer. The scene ends abruptly when the teacher slams his fist on Cole’s desk and shouts, “Shut up, you freak!”
This is the first time we really see Cole acting out, and as he starts to yell, we get tighter close-ups of his face, then just of his mouth, contributing to the heightened tension. Mr Cunningham is increasingly framed with extreme high-angle shots as he gets closer to Cole, whilst the final shot uses a fish-eye lens to distort the image and make the teacher look particularly threatening. This is an important moment that demonstrates the fear Cole lives with every day, how it affects his social skills, and how, if Malcolm can’t help him, his life is going to be very difficult, thus adding urgency to his mission.
7. Cole and Malcolm’s Final Scene
Following a successful school play where Cole plays the lead role and is hoisted up joyfully by his classmates, he and Malcolm share one final conversation. The now happy boy acknowledges that he won’t see Malcolm anymore since he has completed his task of helping Cole overcome his fear of ghosts and accepts the responsibility of his gift. With a shared melancholy, they agree to see each other tomorrow, although they both know that they won’t.
In an earlier scene after Cole gets in trouble for teasing Mr Cunningham, he sits in a dark room as the sounds of children running and laughing outside bleed through the shaded windows. Here, Cole is framed by bright, colourful stained glass as children run and laugh inside the school, indicating that he is no longer isolated from his classmates. The sun-soaked room further symbolises how both Cole and Malcolm have come out of the dark to the other side. This moment also contributes to the sweet pseudo-father-son relationship they build throughout the film. Their goodbye is bittersweet, but we are assured that Cole will be okay now.
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6. Hanging Ghosts
In a similar scene after another school play, Cole and Malcolm walk down a school hallway when the boy freezes. The camera suddenly cuts to a shocking image of three ghosts hanging in an adjacent stairwell, though Malcolm does not see them. Osment delivers a chilling monologue in which he describes the feeling you get when a ghost is near – the hairs rise on the back of your neck, a shiver passes through you, and the air becomes deathly cold. He ends by asking Malcolm to help him not see ghosts anymore.
The fear generated by the quick cut to reveal the frightening ghosts is accentuated by a sharp orchestral accent in the score. Then, Shyamalan and cinematographer, Tak Fujimoto, slowly track in on a two-shot of Cole and Malcolm in a long take that allows the music and tension to build. Cole’s monologue displays Osment’s innate talent as a young actor who won numerous awards for this role and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Finally, this moment is especially scary because it is sudden, unexpected, and rather graphic, perhaps warranting a warning for some audiences.