In 1999, the Indian director M. Night Shyamalan was not well known to the public, also for this reason, the film The Sixth Sense was a great surprise. We are talking about a supernatural thriller that still occupies a privileged place among those of its genre. The sixth sense has received the recognition of specialized criticism and the consent of the public; an excellent reception that earned him 6 Oscar nominations.
Shyamalan surprised everyone with a story that in addition to reading in a horror key, enriches with emotional references, rare for the genre, such as the fear of death and the pain of the loss of a loved one. Thus, the film takes shape through a story that does not betray expectations and maintains the tension, and then ends with a message or a moral that appeals to feelings.
The film was highly regarded for its surprising final twist ; Shyamalan has scattered several clues in the story and it was just a matter of playing with the pieces of the puzzle to make it all fit together.
For those familiar with the director’s filmography, it is not difficult to find the common thread; what he continued to experience in other films, such as The Village (2004) or Unbreakable – The Fated (2000). These endings have almost become a director’s trademark and represent an intriguing game for the viewer.
Sixth Sense is one of those easily recognizable and extremely popular films that has also been the subject of endless parodies. An example is the unforgettable phrase of Cole (Haley Joel Osment) “I see dead people”, which is already part of the collective imagination, also demonstrating that cinema is an important part of popular culture.
In this article, we will not dwell too much on these issues, but we will try to delve into the latent message of the film. Why does supernatural cinema have so many fans?
ATTENTION: if despite its great fame, you have not yet seen the film … we inform you that this article contains spoilers!
The sixth sense : a very real story
The sixth sense tells a paranormal story, but strongly anchored to its contemporaneity. Bullying and divorce are probably well-known topics nowadays, but this was not the case in the 1990s.
Let’s not forget that many countries, well beyond the 20th century, did not include divorce in their legislation. For this reason, many of the children raised in the 1990s were just starting to have friends with divorced parents or to experience this situation firsthand.
The number of divorces has increased over time ; what were once isolated cases are now part of the everyday landscape.
So when The Sixth Sense came out , divorce, although it was already quite common, was not perceived in the same way all over the world. Being relatively recent, it was not yet known what the consequences were for children, nor did we have many examples of this new model of family.
In the film, the idea of divorce manifests itself through one of the most current aspects: reconciling work and family life. This is what happens to Dr. Malcolm Crowe, who fears he has lost his wife because he spends too much time at work. However, his fear is nothing but death, which he denies in defense.
The sixth sense tells us about the daily life of Cole and his mother after the separation from his father, the problems and difficulties they encounter and how all this affects his school life. Cole’s mother has to struggle alone to raise a son who seems to be facing countless problems.
At school, Cole is bullied, unable to be with his peers and is the subject of ridicule. Analyzing the relationship with other classmates, and of the mother with other mothers, everything seems to point to family problems, but the reality is quite different.
The current bullying intervention is not the same as it was in the 1990s either. Today, both schools and families seem to be more aware of its impact and consequences. The sixth sense , beyond the paranormal plot, presented us with an often ignored reality. Similarly, much of society no longer sees people who go to a psychologist as crazy.
Our contemporary vision leads us to believe even more in what we see in the film, in suspense and in Cole’s relationship with death. A relationship that teaches all characters in the film the true value of life, the importance of remembering loved ones and, at the same time, letting them go.
Through perfectly constructed characters and supported by a solid script, Shyamalan has shaped a story whose context is fueled by reality itself and the suspense holds expectations until the last minute.
The paranormal as a comforting element
The belief in life after death, as disturbing as it may seem, actually responds to a specific desire. If we think, for example, of religions, we realize that the idea of eternal life is present in different forms: such as the existence of “another place”, reincarnation, etc. This idea seems to make our life more bearable, makes it less difficult to say goodbye to the dead and keeps alive the hope that, after death, we will be reunited with our loved ones.
Cinema and other artistic expressions such as literature have tried to play with the fear linked to the concept of the Beyond. In a sense, we are more terrified of the dead than of the living, because death represents the unknown, and the unknown is always scary.
However, the films that feed this fear presuppose, in turn, a kind of hope : it is true, there are evil spirits that can torment us, but this existence also means that we will never die completely.
As in horror films such as The Exorcist , the play of contrasts relieves fear. The idea of evil implies that of good; the idea of the afterlife translates into hope.
The sixth sense feeds on this fear and at the same time plays with hope. Not all the ghosts that appear to Cole are scary, even the grandmother appears to him, although she is never seen in the scene. Evil, at times, is just an appearance.
Cole will face his fear and discover his true mission in the world: to use his gift to help others. Help the ghosts find peace, follow their path into the afterlife. The imprint of the Hindu spiritual tradition directs Shyamalan in drawing this portrait of fear, anguish and pain, but also of hope.
It plays with our emotions, it takes us on a path of pain and tension to connect with our deepest feelings. We all fear death, we all mourn a loss and we all fear, whatever the nature of it. But life is just a road full of obstacles to face and overcome, just like the characters in the film.
Shyamalan’s staging is measured, except for a few scary twists. Gasps that, then, we will discover are not as terrifying as they might seem.
The sixth sense : beyond suspense
The tension is palpable from the first frame, the evils of the contemporary world take hold of the characters.
There is talk of suicide, loss, guilt, harassment and, ultimately, distress. But beyond all this, in addition to the suspense, The Sixth Sense is a story of friendship, love for neighbor and for all individuals. Not forgetting those who were part of your life, but who are no longer there; accepting their death, letting them go and keeping them alive in remembrance.
Cole and the psychologist will help each other ; they will both learn different lessons and end up forming a great friendship. Dr. Crowe will find his way into death and Cole into life.
The ending surprises and leaves an open door to the future; a promising future for both, albeit in different worlds. The characters overcome pain and obstacles, and they do so by verbalizing their conflicts, reconciling with loved ones and with themselves.
I remember that the first time I saw the film I let myself be carried away by the suspense, I concentrated on the terrifying story that was chasing little Cole. Years later, after seeing it again and knowing the ending, he was able to enjoy it in a different way, more distant from the terror and anguish.
The passage of time has not affected the film at all and its viewing is still very enjoyable, whether you know the ending or not. The story of Shyamalan is a revelation, a horror film and, at the same time, a beautiful story.