Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Sixth Sense Question

Warning: If you are one of the very few who haven't seen The Sixth Sense and/or don't know about its ending, please don't read further.


The Sixth Sense had a whopper of a twist at the end. I think the film's screenplay was almost a lesson on how a big twist should be incorporated into a film. The open-endedness of the opening scene where Bruce Willis was shot and the core theme of the film("I see dead people!") should have made the final twist predictable. But the screenplay was gripping enough that one forgot the suspense regarding Willis' death. So the big revelation truly caught us unawares. While a surprise twist usually decreases the interest in repeat viewings of the film, the twist here dragged me to the film again to see how we were duped until the twist(I realized only on the second viewing that Willis never interacted with anyone other than Haley Joel Osment) and how the rest of the movie held up now that we were aware of the twist.

Now to the actual point of this post... Its pretty clear that Willis didn't know until the end of the film that he was actually dead. An interesting question was raised in Roger Ebert's Answer Man column this week about whether Haley knew Willis was dead or not. My immediate answer was that he did not, since if he did, he would've been scared of him. But according to Ebert, Haley knew that Willis was dead and the reason he offers is that Haley says "I see dead people". He may or may not be right about Haley's knowledge about Willis but I think the reasoning is wrong since Haley doesn't say "I see only dead people"! Since he sees his mother and other people who are alive, couldn't he have assumed Willis was alive too?

But now that I've seen the question, I'm real curious about whether Haley knew Willis was dead? Was there anything in the movie that indicated this one way or the other?

26 Comments:

At 11:14 PM, Blogger skanda said...

i had some doubts about the film. it's strange that Bruce is well dressed for a ghost. The 'ghosts' who appeared the way the had died. but not Bruce. it's also strange the boy never told his mom about the meeting with Bruce despite telling her, he has 'seen' everything else...

 
At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think haley wasnt positive if willis is dead or not...since in the begining when willis saw haley for the first time, haley seemed to almost run away from willis...so at this point it could be inferred that he was scared of willis at this point, but then he may have been confused later on through their meetings..i dont really know...haha
-Bharath

 
At 12:56 AM, Blogger Srijith Unni said...

There is a scene in the movie, when haley`s mother, willis, and haley are sitting in the drawing room, and the mother seems totally ignorant of Willis`s presence, so I guess Haley must have realized at that point itself.

One of the major things that makes it difficult for us to establish that fact at that point is that Willis was a doctor and Haley was a child with problems, so we automatically assume that whole sequence to be a flashback and think that Haley`s mother has brought Willis to try to cure the child, but we dont keep note that the mother does not even look or speak to Willis., which I believe Haley might have realized then itself.

Not completely sure, because it`s a long time since i saw the movie, but i remember reasoning out the same doubt back then.

 
At 1:47 AM, Blogger Srivatsan Sridharan said...

There is a scene in the movie, when haley`s mother, willis, and haley are sitting in the drawing room, and the mother seems totally ignorant of Willis`s presence, so I guess Haley must have realized at that point itself.

Srijith is correct, things should have been clear at that point itself :)

But then after watching Vijay films like ATM, such questions hardly strike me these days (with any film ofcourse)

 
At 4:16 AM, Anonymous ATM cynic said...

Prior to watching ATM , a friend of mine requested me to keep my brain outside the theatre , I tried...but after watching the movie, I realized that inorder to watch ATM one should completely forget that he/she has a brain.

 
At 4:43 AM, Blogger Veer said...

Haley knew that Willis was dead.

But I think your question is, could he distinguish between the dead and alive.

I think he was able to when he saw them. The reason being, he never talks to the living people about the dead, until willis asks him and promises to help him.

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Zero said...

Very interesting question, this one, on an interesting film. I think the most compelling perspective here is that Haley knew that Willis was dead all along. Haley's condition is most consistent only if this was the case as he's never shown to have had any problem in identifying ghosts otherwise.

Here's a discussion page that talks about some things about their relationship that would make more sense on subsequent viewings of the film.

I easily prefer Shyalamalan's Unbreakable though. It's more engaging and rewarding as a whole film.

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

skanda, not sure if these r inconsistencies. the other ghosts were dressed too. and the reason why willis didn't appear the way he died is that he didn't know that he was dead while the other ghosts did. and if the answer to my question is that haley knew willis was dead, that would explain why he never told his mom about him :)

bharath, i guess u and I are in the same boat :)

srijith, yes the fact that will is a psychiatrist and haley has seen other psychiatrists b4 makes us assume that willis was arranged by somebody too. that assumption doesn't make us think too much about willis being dead or alive :)

veer, "could he distinguish between the dead and alive?" - thats a good rewording of the question that makes the answer easier i think. if he could always distinguish betn the living and the dead, then he would've surely known that willis was dead. i guess the ALWAYS is the key part of that question and the movie doesn't really answer that :)

zero, thanx for the link. would take a while to read all of them but comment #6295 kinda answers the question well by describing the key point of the story, which is that cole is there to help dead people fulfil their wishes. going by that, he does know that malcolm is dead. not completely convinced but leaning towards that now :)

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Zero said...

Balaji,
While you're at it, recall Cole dryly saying, "I didn't know you were funny." When Malcolm shows him some nobrainer trick. And, the way Cole asks Malcolm, "how are you going to do that?" When Malcolm tells him that he really wants to talk to his wife. :)

 
At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Shwetha said...

I don't think Haley realized that Willis was dead. Like Balaji says, the kid was scared of the fact that he could see dead people and Bruce Willis was the one who helped him overcome that. If he'd known W was a dead man himself, he would not have bonded/ confided in him. Even towards the end, IMHO the kid takes it that Bruce Willis has moved on to another patient, because he learnt to cope up and is s ready to take into confidence, his mother. Nowhere did I feel the kid guaged BW was dead.

 
At 6:00 PM, Blogger KayKay said...

I go with the fact that Haley did NOT know Bruce Willis' character was dead.
Interesting to watch the DVD with the commentary on. The director claimed that the producer was appalled when he shot the scene where Haley tells Bruce "he sees dead people" and that "the dead don't know that they're dead". The producer felt this was a throw away clue alerting viewers to the fact that Bruce Willis was in fact a ghost and didn't know he was one.

And ATM cynic, bringing up a Vijay movie in a discussion about Sixth Sense, is like discovering a stray strand of hair in an otherwise sumptious meal:-)

No offense man. Couldn't resit that one:-)

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger Babu said...

Balaji,

I think Cole (Haley) knew Malcom (Bruce) was dead (Sixth Sense means he can identify the others), directors take pleasure in giving clues all the way to the end and making the audience guess and yet not find till they want to reveal it....narration at its best...
the trick is how they show it and we fall for it.....

I can substantiate my argument based on many films, obviously only on repeat viewing we realize this ;-)

I loved "The Prestige" in this sense and even read the novel after watching the movie (fantastic read, would highly recommend it), all the way there are many clues as too how the trick was being performed but we never see it.....the whole movie starts saying "Are you watching closely"...simply brilliant..
the book has a different twist but not as good for the movie hence the adaption was different and excellent....

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous gee said...

sir im reali waiting for your diwali film reviews. I hardly watch most films without reading your review first. So waiting for the following reviews:

1) Om shanti om
2) Saawariya
3) Jab we met
4) ATM
5) Vel
6) Stardust
7) Rendition

 
At 9:16 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

zero, "I didn't know you were funny." was mentioned in one of the comments on that link. but now that i'm leaning towards cole knowing the fact, in hindsight, "how are you going to do that?" seems like a bigger clue :)

shwetha/kaykay, i was in ur camp b4 but as my prev comments show, i'm now leaning towards the other side.

shwetha, the point about cole being scared is explained nicely in the nitpickers link. they say he was not scared of dead people per se but dead people who looked ghastly(like in those split-second views we get) and those who hurt him. he wasn't scared of dead people cos he'd been seeing his grandma before... and he was initially scared of malcolm but gradually warmed to him :)

kaykay, yes that was defly a throwaway clue but for me only in hindsight :)

babu, agree with u on "narration at its best". loved 'prestige' though i thot it was unnecessarily complicated in some spots :) havent read the book though...

gee, thanx for the vote of confidence. ATM review will be up tomorrow. 'vel' next week since they're screening it next weekend. no idea about the others :)

 
At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Asokan said...

Well, if you ask me, Cole didn't know that Malcolm was a ghost and never actually realizes it during the film, 'cause to Cole the dead and the living aren't readily recognizable as such, unless of course they look really deceased or horrifyingly disfigured in some way.

Note that Malcolm was shot in his belly in the first scene and he keeps wearing clothes throughout the film, where that part of his body is covered up. So Cole can't actually make out that Malcolm is one of the undead, 'cause the cause of Malcolm's death isn't readily apparent on his body. And Cole doesn't know from the start of the film, that he is supposed to help these dead people, but only finds out throughout the film.

To him, as to us, Malcolm just turns up at his home and seems to be some therapist his mother must have appointed for him. That he never actually talks to her about Malcolm is one of the blind spots of the script.

And, gotta agree with Zero, "Unbreakable" is Shyamalan's best film so far - which isn't much of a stretch, given the diminishing quality of his later output...

 
At 7:19 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

To me a more intriguing question was as to why Willis didnt realize who he was even earlier. No one talked to him for weeks together besides Cole and that included his wife although they lived in the same house. So the fact that the realization came only at the end is a little questionable. Although hardcore sixth sense fans will argue that ghosts will see and believe only what they want to, as per the director, and use that as an excuse :-) Maybe I am just nitpicking here.

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Orange Fronkey said...

Interesting post. I watched the movie wondering what all the hype was... it was ok.. Shamalan's movies are a lil too weird for me. And after that crap of a movie called "The Village" I'm staying away from his stuff.

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger Anu said...

The whole beauty of the film to me was that Cole always knew that Malcom was dead.If you remeber the scene where he walks into his house and Malcom is looking at his mother and she islooking elsewhere. Being a die had Sixth sense fan ,thats my take

 
At 11:42 AM, Anonymous ram said...

while all of you engage in a serious discussion, here's a lighter take:

vanakamge, naan thaan Vijaya T. Rajendar M.A. pesaren. "aararivu oar uravu" ngara thalaippula inaikki naama "aruvai arangam nadatha porom.
sethavanukum mathavanukum ena yaa vidhyaasam? sethavan aavi, mathavan munnera paakuravan aduthavan mela thaavi...idhula enaya aalaluku thirunaayvu nadathureenge...
asokan, bruce belly-a paakardhu romba silly aana nee sonna matter enamo gilli...
skanda, nee avan thuniya gavaniche aana naan avan kazhuthula irukara maniya gavinichen...
orange, village paathu nee aana kadupu...veerasami-la therium paaru mumtaaz iduppu...
anu, die hardukku neenge periya fan...aana, indha TR kashta pattu saavadikara super man...
kadaisiya BB,
neenge kudutheenge oru vidukathai
adhu ipo aavudhu oru thodarkathai
en padathuku arasaangam vidhithathu oru thadai
enaku irupadho 120 kilo idai
naan nadandhaal adhu yaanaiyin nadai
kuralarasan thinnuvan yegapatta vadai
en vaarisuku ullathu gadhai pondra thodai
un vidukathaiku illaiyapaa oru sariyaana vidai...

 
At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Hal said...

This was obvious, I thought. Haley knew Bruce was a ghost! BTW, this is just an impressive debut, but nothing prepares us for the excellent "Unbreakable", underrated film on all counts. It would ultimate for Night to better it..

 
At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Prin said...

ROFL Ram

another classic haha

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger skanda said...

So Balaji, what do u think about the 'twist' at the end of "unbreakable"? That also was kinda shocking as i never knew that was a villian in the story. but that was kinda straightforward and made lots of sense unlike the twist in "sixth sense"

 
At 6:32 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

asokan, i guess the main point in the camp of those who think Cole knew about Malcolm is that he could distinguish between the dead and the alive - and not just if they looked 'dead'. maybe it was the cold, that they showed when malcolm went home to his wife.

vijay, i think that was just some distraction on the part of the screenplay. if u think about all the other times malcolm spent apart from what was explicitly shown on screen, there seems to be no way he couldnt have known he was dead :)

merino, good that u didn't see 'lady in the water' then :)

anu, looks like ur take is the more widely accepted one :)

ram, that was hilarious. esp. since its been awhile :)

hal, guess it wasn't so obvious so many of us :)

skanda, i've seen 'unbreakable' only once. at that time i thot the end was kinda forced and was added cos shyamalan thot that a twist ending was what people would expect from him after 'sixth sense' :)

 
At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please do watch Nicole Kidman's "The Others"

After seeing that film, Some how i could suspect the story of the Sixth Sense from Scene.

But both are equally GOOD.

 
At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still, i dun tink cole knew malcolm was dead at all. Or he would have freaked out and not have asked malcolm for help.

 
At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't Cole run to the church and also when he was there Malcolm referred to a “sanctuary” where in the medieval times it would be a sanctuary from an attack.

 

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