A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"The Sixth Sense" isn't a thriller in the modern sense, but more of a ghost story of the sort that flourished years ago, when ordinary people glimpsed hidden dimensions. It has long been believed that children are better than adults at seeing ghosts; the barriers of skepticism and disbelief are not yet in place. In this film, a small boy solemnly tells his psychologist, "I see dead people. They want me to do things for them." He seems to be correct.
The psychologist is Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who is shot one night in his home by an intruder, a man who had been his patient years earlier and believes he was wrongly treated. The man then turns the gun on himself. "The next fall," as the subtitles tell us, we see Crowe mended in body but perhaps not in spirit, as he takes on a new case, a boy named Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) who exhibits some of the same problems as the patient who shot at him. Maybe this time he can get it right.
The film shows us things adults do not see. When Cole's mother (Toni Collette) leaves the kitchen for just a second and comes back in the room, all of the doors and drawers are open. At school, he tells his teacher "they used to hang people here." When the teacher wonders how Cole could possibly know things like that, he helpfully tells him, "when you were a boy they called you Stuttering Stanley." It is Crowe's task to reach this boy and heal him, if healing is indeed what he needs. Perhaps he is calling for help; he knows the Latin for "from out of the depths I cry into you, oh Lord!" Crowe doesn't necessarily believe the boy's stories, but Crowe himself is suffering, in part because his wife, once so close, now seems to be drifting into an affair and doesn't seem to hear him when he talks to her. The boy tells him, "talk to her when she's asleep. That's when she'll hear you." Using an "as if" approach to therapy, Crowe asks Cole, "What do you think the dead people are trying to tell you?" This is an excellent question, seldom asked in ghost stories, where the heroes are usually so egocentric they think the ghosts have gone to all the trouble of appearing simply so they can see them. Cole has some ideas. Crowe wonders whether the ideas aren't sound even if there aren't really ghosts.
Bruce Willis often finds himself in fantasies and science fiction films. Perhaps he fits easily into them because he is so down to earth. He rarely seems ridiculous, even when everything else in the screen is absurd (see "Armageddon"), because he never over-reaches; he usually plays his characters flat and matter of fact. Here there is a poignancy in his bewilderment. The film opens with the mayor presenting him with a citation, and that moment precisely marks the beginning of his professional decline. He goes down with a sort of doomed dignity.
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