In this article there are potential spoilers. Be warned.
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense is a movie which can be considered a masterpiece for a variety of reasons. It has all the necessary elements. The movie was initially advertised as a psychological thriller with mystery and suspense added. In each of those categories—thriller, mystery, suspense—there are certain events which need to come to pass. For example, without a question for the audience to answer, there would be no mystery.
The psychological thriller aspect of the film was found in the mind-bending advancement of the plot. An audience watching for the first time would find themselves thrust into a happy marriage nearly cut short, a mother / son relationship which is strained for reasons yet unknown, and what seems like a flashback. A simple clue is injected into the film for the sharper viewers: a patch of grey hair on a troubled man’s head—then again on an otherwise youthful head. The clue is beautifully planted, so the audience is (or, at least, those who notice are) left to wonder what the clue means. Was it the same person? Was it the thing that triggered the flashback in Doctor Crowe’s mind?
Malcolm Crowe is a psychologist who comes home from a night out with his wife. The two don’t immediately notice the signs of a break-in, until—the broken glass, the light on in the bathroom—too late. A much younger man exits their bathroom. In many ways he appears unhinged. He’s thin, undernourished, wearing only briefs, crying, or on the verge of crying. His name is Vincent Gray, but if the name is used, it’s only in passing, as a comment, or a sidenote in the tense conversation. Words flow from Crowe and Gray in doctor / patient fashion, the doctor attempting to make clinical sense of the disturbed young man’s anxious accusations. The doctor never helped this patient. Vincent tells him about it, tells him with words and the horror-filled look on his face. Then Vincent ends the conversation with two bullets: one for Doctor Crowe’s abdomen, and one for his own head.
The audience leaves the scene with the camera aimed at Doctor Crowe. Black blood issues from the wound on his right side. A shot in the liver, the audience might infer, and, of course, knowing the situation is deadly, the audience would be right to ask the question, “Will he survive?”
At this point in the film there should have been several questions rolling through the minds of those in the audience. The immediate one, the one we want answered most, “Will he survive?” is answered right away. Here he is again, looking like a psychologist on a park bench who quietly studies his patients, so it appears he did survive, but then…is this a flashback?
Soon Cole Sear enters the plot and the scene. Here he is with his patch of gray hair, looking like a wary city kid who always watches where he’s going and always checks who might be behind him. He’s a boy. Maybe he never walks. He runs everywhere he goes. Where’s he going? School, where other children call him a freak. Church, where no one else follows. The plot takes a slower turn. The doctor sometimes speaks to Cole. Cole acts like a boy whose mother made him see the doctor. He doesn’t even look Doctor Crowe in the eyes.
Does he want to be helped? If he’s not the same one from the near-death scene, he could be a similar case and the good doctor might only be trying to find more effective treatment than what he used on the failed case of Vincent Gray. Subtly, the question is altered for the attentive audience. No longer, “Will he survive?” but, “Will he help this troubled boy?”
Cole finds the doctor pacing him. Doctor Crowe shows up on the street, in the church, in his apartment, and other places. Cole’s mother, Lynn Sear, pays the doctor little attention. She seems to accept his presence, as if she invited him in the apartment.
Lynn is a devoted mother. She does what she can for her amazing son and with her single parent life. She is somewhat oblivious to her son’s life. He is a scared little boy, and she consoles him at times. At other times, she grows weary of Cole’s odd behavior. She doesn’t know he can SEE DEAD PEOPLE so she lashes out in tired parent fashion. He eventually proves to her, and Doctor Crowe, that he does indeed have the curse and the ability, to see the deceased.
This ability of his, and the reactions of the other characters in the movie to his ability, has an interesting effect on the audience. Repeat views turn the suspense into drama. Once the mystery of Cole’s talent is no longer a mystery, a viewer will tend to see the hopelessness of his plight. The audience can’t convince the other characters of his honesty. Cole doesn’t mean to twist his mother’s view of reality. It’s only a natural consequence of his desire to be real with her, and the audience knows it.
Likewise, the relationship he develops with Doctor Crowe, has more drama than mystery with repeated views of the movie. Malcolm Crowe doesn’t have any less skepticism than Lynn Sear, so his actions can frustrate the audience a little.
There are frightening scenes and gross-out scenes within this movie, but there are no unnecessary scenes and no amateur sloppy-camera. If you were undecided on whether to watch a slasher movie or a suspenseful psychological thriller this Halloween season, just do what Cole Sear does and see some dead people already. See them in The Sixth Sense.