This blog post is a day later than usual, because I had both a funeral and a multi-birthday celebration over the weekend. Also, I spent over an hour looking for clips for this blog post that didn’t contain spoilers, but almost every clip I found can’t be shared outside of YouTube. Anyway, let’s get to it.
The Sixth Sense was a breakout film for several people involved. Although Bruce Willis had performed in dramatic roles before this movie, he wasn’t known for it at the time. This movie helped diversify his film catalogue for the next decade, as it led him to performing in other dramatic features. It’s also the movie that put both director M. Night Shyamalan and actor Haley Joel Osment on the map. Shyamalan is mostly known for his thrillers, especially his twist endings. Osment was 10 during the movie’s filming, and barely 11 when it released, yet he’s still fairly active in the industry today. Before this, he had previously appeared in Forrest Gump, For Better or Worse, and … The Beauty and the Beast Enchanted Christmas straight to DVD abomination.
It hasn’t been made clear when exactly Shyamalan wrote The Sixth Sense, but David Vogel, then president of production at Disney, loved the script. Without getting corporate approval, he bought the rights to the film along with the stipulation that Shyamalan would direct it. In retaliation, Disney demoted Vogel, and he left the company shortly after. Seeing how they didn’t want to waste the money spent, they sold the production rights to Spyglass Entertainment, while retaining distribution rights and 12% of the film’s profits.
Willis was cast in the lead role of Dr. Malcolm Crowe, partly as compensation for the studio’s unfinished romantic comedy, Broadway Brawler. Broadway Brawler partly filmed the year before the Sixth Sense released, but the project folded with too many unfilmed scenes remaining. The production failure was actually blamed on Willis’s behavior. To avoid a $17 million lawsuit, he agreed to take a three-picture deal with Disney at a reduced salary. The first of this 3 film deal happens to be the last movie I’ll be looking at this month, and the other is Disney’s The Kid, which I considered for this week’s movie instead. Of the two, The Sixth Sense is more interesting to talk about.
The most difficult casting was for Cole Sear, the young child with a fairly horrific secret. Michael Cera, also 10 at the time, auditioned for the role. Liam Aiken, 9 at the time, was offered the role, but turned it down. Shyamalan was reluctant at first after Osment’s video audition, saying he was “this really sweet cherub, kind of beautiful, blond boy.” He saw the role a bit too dark for Osment’s sweet nature, but later felt that he nailed it. “He was able to convey a need as a human being in a way that was amazing to see.” The only other major character I’ll look at is Cole’s mother, Lynn. She’s played by Toni Collette, who is generally more known for her work in TV. Marisa Tomei was considered for the role as well.
There isn’t too much other information about the making of the film out there, other than how most of the filming took place in Philadelphia, where the movie also takes place. One famous location seen throughout the film is St. Augustine’s Church.
With an overall budget of $40 million, the movie earned $672 million worldwide, making it a massive hit. The plot twist on its own has been talked about, and even parodied, for years since. It became only the second film to earn more than $20 million on five separate weekends, Titanic being the first. It also ended up being the second highest earning movie worldwide in 1999, behind only The Phantom Menace. As of the end of the year 2000, it was the second best-selling DVD of all-time, and also briefly held the record for the most video rentals of all-time.
The Sixth Sense also received widespread critical praise. Although it didn’t win any Oscars, it was nominated for 6, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Osment), Best Supporting Actress (Collette), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. It won Best Screenplay at the Bram Stoker Awards, and Best Director at the Empire Awards. Osment won several awards for his breakthrough performance, including the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards, The Saturn Awards, and the MTV Movie Awards.
In case anyone reading this hasn’t seen the ending before, I won’t spoil it. Willis plays a psychologist who mainly focuses on helping children. After he’s reminded of a harsh failure in his past … the same night he wins an award, he starts working with Cole. Cole seems to have similar issues as the doctor’s failed patient, and wants to help Cole to redeem himself and to reconcile with his wife, who is now distant and cold.
About half-way through the film, Cole reveals his secret to Dr. Crowe through the famous line, “I see dead people.” Before that point, the movie is careful not to let us see any of these ghosts wandering around, but after he reveals this, you see them pretty much every time he does. Most of these earlier moments are fairly intense, but some are actually kind of funny.
As much as the overall premise matches that of a horror movie, and there are some scary moments, The Sixth Sense isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a psychological thriller that in a lot of ways leans more towards drama than it does horror. Willis is very good in this movie, putting in a more subdued role than he’s normally known for. It feels like Dr. Crowe is filled with regret with his marital problems and his past failures, but he also shows a lot of curiosity towards Cole’s abilities. His dramatic performance at the end, which I won’t spoil, is also spot on. That said, Osment’s performance is a true breakthrough here. You believe him as a deeply troubled kid who is often scared, and freaks out from time to time. After he realizes that his abilities are a gift that he can use to help the ghosts, he becomes more confident and relaxed. From that point in, the ghost sightings become more charming, as they clearly appreciate Cole’s help.
As for the twist, I won’t reveal it, but it’s worth mentioning how it’s very well foreshadowed. There’s even a moment where the filmmakers were worried that it was far too obvious, but they left it in anyway. It turns out that the movie works so well from a dramatic standpoint that you won’t pay attention to the blatant hint. Another hint is how the colour red is used sparingly, and mostly only shows up on objects that are tainted by “the other world”, and to emphasize explosively emotional moments and situations. One example is the tent Cole sets up to hide from the dead. Other hints for the twist involve some of the clothing worn by the affected characters, and how people interact with each other.
I first saw this movie back in 2000, when I was 13. I haven’t seen it since my mid-teens at least. Even though the twist is not something you’ll ever forget, this movie still holds up fairly well as both a thriller and a drama. It works because the writing is very good, it’s fun to look for the clues when you know what the twist is, and the acting is strong all-round. The Sixth Sense isn’t the kind of movie that you want to watch too often, but if you haven’t seen it, and you haven’t been spoiled on the ending, it’s an easy recommendation. For those who have seen it, it is worth watching at least one more time.
Next week I’ll be watching one of Willis’s comedies. I haven’t yet decided whether it’ll be Red, The Whole Nine Yards, or Death Becomes Her. If anyone has a preference between those three, please let me know in the comments. I know which movie I’ll be closing this month off with, but I’d rather save that announcement for next week. For now, let’s just say it’s a big, dumb movie.