You need not worry, I won’t spoil the ending.
I never knew what happens at the end of The Sixth Sense until either late 2005 or sometime in early 2006. I found out the ending of The Sixth Sense when I was reading an adaptation of the film that I’d found in my high school’s library when I was in my first year. I was 14, and more than a little foolish. I read the first 3 chapters of the book (perhaps a fourth, perhaps even more but I can’t recall), and was then hit with the idea that I had guessed the ending based on what I’d read. I flipped to the end of the book and read the ending, found my guess validated, then placed it back on the shelf and never looked back. Just last year I watched the film for the first time. Oddly enough, despite knowing the ending years prior, I somehow felt a sense of shock wash over me as I watched the scene unfold in front of my eyes. Watching it for a second time over this past weekend, the ending still held the same impact. Proof you can know the ending of a movie and still be surprised by it on more than one occasion.
I observed that The Sixth Sense isn’t much of a thriller it was pitched to audiences as being (not straight horror either), but rather a ghost story where good people fall prey to those who torment them from beyond the grave. The latest victim of ghosts is the young boy Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), who claims one night to “see dead people”. Many believe that children are more susceptible to seeing ghostly apparitions than adults, and Cole is no exception, scribbling or screaming the ravings of ghosts he has terrifying eencounters with. I don’t know who’s more afraid, he of the ghosts, or his mother Lynn (Toni Collette) for his safety and mental well being.
Cole’s psychologist becomes Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who we first meet at the start of the film when a former patient shoots Malcolm, then himself. Malcolm seems defeated these days, tired and worn out from work and life in general. His wife Anna (Olivia Williams) doesn’t seem to notice he’s even around, barely utters a word or gives a look in his general direction. Maybe she’s having an affair. Perhaps the trauma from that night was too much to bear for her. Maybe Malcolm was never the same after.
Malcolm seems to approach Cole and his predicament with a “Sure, whatever you say kid” demeanor. It seems fair to me that Malcolm has this attitude, he probably doesn’t believe in ghosts and is just going along with whatever Cole says because he knows he needs guidance, without ever appearing condescending toward him. I doubt I’d believe the root of the issue is ghosts either, just a troubled soul in need of nurturing. Malcolm shares the same perspective, and is more than willing to help where he can. In turn, Cole helps Malcolm a little too, telling him to talk to his wife while she sleeps, because “That’s when she’ll hear you.” I don’t know who my heart bleeds for most.
Haley Joel Osment showed us 18 years ago that he was a force to be reckoned with even as a child. He wasn’t playing the typical child role where you just look cute, act silly for the camera and get your lines out with some amount of authenticity. No, here in the Sixth Sense, he actually has to act, and convincingly plays a good kid plagued by appearances of gruesomely murdered ghosts. When he’s afraid, we believe he is. When he’s sad, our hearts break. Neither he nor Willis overshadow each other, and the two have a chemistry that feels authentic and adds layers to the nature of their relationship.
Bruce Willis is a rare down to earth actor, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. He doesn’t over play his hand here, he never gets wild or over the top. Again he’s down to earth, as well as honest and subtle. In my two viewings of the film, I have almost entirely forgotten at various points that the man on screen is in fact Bruce Willis, mostly because he’s not playing the typical Bruce Willis role. Gone is any sense of his star persona or real life personality. He is just Malcolm Crowe, and I believe it. Much of the best acting of Willis’ career can be found split between The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable (his second collaboration with M. Night Shyamalan after this film), and oddly enough the best acting I’ve seen from him comes in big reveals toward the end of each film. In the case of Unbreakable, it’s when David Dunn silently reveals to his son that he’s the lone saviour of two kids whose parents were murdered by a local psychopath.
Here in The Sixth Sense, it’s the sequence in which Malcolm comes to truth with some harsh realities, none of which I will spoil here. I’m sure you’re aware of what happens by now, and if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t know the famous ending, I implore you to give it a look, you just might love it. Willis doesn’t dip into manic theatrics or parody when the truth is uncovered (though he easily could have), he remains truthful to the performance he had been giving beforehand and to the character of Malcolm, which helps to ground the movie in a believable reality.
As for that ending itself, it’s one of the few Hollywood twist endings that works, and works well enough 18 years later to be considered one of the true great twist endings in film history. Admittedly, when I read it in that book all those years ago, I was surprised by the boldness of such an ending. It’s not very often a movie ends on such a bold note, in a way that pulls the rug out from underneath you, yet invites you to come back for another visit and see things from a newfound perspective. Maybe you’ll see dead people too.