- The Sixth Sense
- Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
- Starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment
There are rules for these things. The pieces must fit the puzzle. So many “thrillers” are all end-pieces with nothing to hold the jigsaw together. The Sixth Sense follows the rules, somewhere between childlike obedience and fanatical reverence and still manages to defy the most jaded moviegoer’s sleuthery.
The hints are numerous and, more impressively, blatant. Three minutes into the prologue, we know what the great secret is, and yet it slips through our fingers. Maybe we are a little distracted by Bruce’s hair or maybe we are just waiting for the kid’s performance to degenerate into the over emotional “look at me, I’m ACTING” shtick that has become so prevalent in today’s films. But, as sure as this child star avoids that, so do our attempts at unraveling this mystery.
The story is brilliantly spun, compelling and utterly satisfying. The filmmaker knew what this movie was going to be about. This may seem to be a simple thing, but, unfortunately, most thrillers only know what the setup is and who is going to be left standing ate the end. How they get from point A to point Z is only of passing interest to them. This film is all about points B, C and X.
What I was reminded of, as I was leaving the theater, was the Branaugh film Dead Again. While that film didn’t completely work, it was made up of fascinating pieces, each one fitting into the overall story. On paper, it probably was successful, as a movie it suffered from some questionable choices by the actors involved and a certain uneasiness to its tone. But, it tried to give us a great thriller. The Sixth Sense attempts the same and succeeds.
Somewhere along the line, Hollywood decided it was necessary to dumb-down all of its movies. This particularly damaged the thriller genre. Comedies can be dumb and still be funny. Action movies generally benefit from an overall simplification of their stories. But for a thriller to provide the big payoff, at the end, there needs to be cleverness. For a number of years, what has been passed off as cleverness, is more commonly known as deceitfulness; lie to the audience for ninety minutes, give them a series of misleading clues and then, pull out the rug in the final act. Pin the gun, the fingerprints and the motive on the sister and then give us the brother as the killer. Effective, in it’s own shitty way, but, and I can’t stress this enough, not fair! Rules, there are rules for these things.
Then came Basic Instinct and the game plan changed. Now, instead of lying to the viewer, you just need to confuse the hell out of them. Give everyone a gun, a motive and a flimsy moral standing and just pick a name out of the hat at the end. Oh, and did I mention, throw in a lot of sex and cops-gone-bad.
This film is a throwback, I guess. Honest, intriguing, and a huge amount of fun. Everyone that leaves the theater is asking themselves the same question, how could I have missed it?
The answer is easy, Hollywood decided, a long time ago, that you weren’t smart enough to follow a complex story. And sometime after that we all started living up to their expectations. Much gratitude to the filmmakers that still take a chance on our ability to think for ourselves.