Bruce Willis is dead. With the exception perhaps of the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, there is no spoiler more present in the realm of pop culture than the idea that Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense is dead. If I spoiled it for you just now, don’t hate me too profusely. I promise you someone else would’ve done the same. The Sixth Sense is praised repeatedly for being a pinnacle of the thriller genre, constantly regarded as one of the best ghost stories ever told. M. Night Shyamalan being regarded as a genius whose fall from grace is perhaps the most famous vilification of a filmmaker on the internet-ever. However, whenever people revere this film so earnestly, they always praise it on one factor, and one factor alone: The twist. This has always deterred me from watching the film, as I’ve remained in wonder if the adoration for the film would be so vivid, without the twist? Well this weekend, I finally sat down to investigate this possibility to its furthest extent. And by that I mean, I watched the movie.
Allow me to begin by saying that The Sixth Sense, regardless of whether you know the ending, is very entertaining. The story of Malcolm (Bruce Willis) attempting to console a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who has the unique ability to see ghosts is one that yields to great entertainment potential. The interaction between the characters is engrossing and feels decidedly realistic. The ghosts are unsettling without being movie monsters. By that I mean they look like something that Cole could feasibly be seeing in his head rather than being some absurd nightmare that probably stemmed from indigestion. You believe him when he says he’s seeing dead people, rather than distrusting him as some silly little kid. Part of this should be attributed to M. Night Shyamalan, who accomplishes the difficult task of shifting the perspective of the film from Malcolm’s skepticism to Cole’s apprehension, and then back again. Of course the use of certain motifs, the classic color red and the drop in temperature, help to keep the audience in suspense as well as prove to us that these ghosts are very real and not to be trifled with. Of course the most important aspect of the film falls on the shoulders of Haley Joel Osment who delivers a great performance that would be talked about for years to come. He is earnest and affected, in a way that makes a perfect cinematic character. You can feel his pain and trauma in a way that you don’t often see in child actors. Bruce Willis is pretty good as well, though certainly not giving us his best work. He just sort of drifts from scene to scene (almost like a ghost), feeling very down on his luck. While he is by no means bad in the film, I just don’t think he is really giving us all he could be. I will say that my favorite performance in the film comes in the form of Toni Collette as Cole’s mom. I never hear anyone praising her for her role in this film, which is truthfully an injustice, as she gives the most depth out of anyone. Showing us the affects of single parenting, as well as what happens when your child is troubled in ways you can’t understand, she creates a fully realized and emotional character. That being said, all of these components add up to a very good movie, but not necessarily to a great one. Look, I get it. Even I found myself pretty engaged in the ending, when “the big reveal” presents itself to us. But I think if you take it out, you’re left with a really entertaining movie with par for the course performances that doesn’t really amount to anything substantial. I really don’t think The Sixth Sense is anything more than a spoiler. But is that really a bad thing?
The script is truly very well written. In theory you shouldn’t notice that Malcolm isn’t speaking to anyone other than Cole until the end of the film. The red motif is the kind of clever film technique that deserves its spot in the halls of cinema. And the ending is in all honesty a fantastic conclusion that feels like a necessary twist, rather than one that’s shoehorned in just to make you feel surprised. I think to judge it without the ending would be a little bit like judging a car without a radio. Sure, you can drive it around, but it really isn’t that entertaining or complete without the radio. It’s a genuine shame that I had this film spoiled for me before I got to see it, but that’s just the nature of the world in which we live. With so many people talking about movies on the internet, it’s just a consequence of the industry that The Sixth Sense gets ruined for so many people who might’ve really enjoyed it without it. While the movie isn’t as effective without the ending, it shouldn’t have to be. Any story without a conclusion will suffer, and that’s a simple fact. I suppose what I’m suggesting to you is: Stop spoiling movies. Just stop doing it. Don’t tell people how movies end, even if the movie came out twenty or thirty years ago. There’s a whole up and coming generation of movie fans like myself who want to experience film in the same way you did. So please, for our sake, don’t ruin the movie.
All images are from The Sixth Sense, from Spyglass Entertainment