Saturday, July 29, 2017


(August 1999, U.S.)

I feel nothing but genuine pity for director M. Night Shyamalan. The poor bastard just hasn't been able to score a solid movie hit since THE SIXTH SENSE, his phenomenal movie "one hit wonder", as I've come to refer to it. Even in as much as I love the film, sometimes I still can't fathom just how he pulled it off and surprised us all to no end with a final resolution that I hardly consider original or groundbreaking. The shock of "they were dead the whole time" has been done before. Here's just a few examples that come to my mind...

THE TWILIGHT ZONE - Season One, episode sixteen (1960) - Nan Adams, while driving alone on a country road trip, is in an auto accident and seemingly survives without a scratch. Along her journey, she's haunted by an old man hitchhiker who is waiting for her at every step of her trip. We learn at the end the old man is the personification of death and that Nan did, in fact, die in the accident and has been dead all along.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) - Mary Henry survives an auto accident after a drag race. Traveling to Utah, she repeatedly experiences terrifying encounters when she becomes invisible and inaudible to the rest of the world, as if she's not there. Well, guess what - she's not. We learn at the end that she didn't survive the accident and has been dead all along.

JACOB'S LADDER (1990) - Jacob Singer returns home from Vietnam only to be plagued by demons tearing his life apart. Blah, blah, blah, blah...we learn at the end he actually died in Vietnam under the influence of a mind-altering experimental drug and has been dead all along.

You see what I'm trying to say here? Why were we all so shocked and astonished when we learned that Bruce Willis had been dead all along? It wasn't anything new...and yet, there was something completely fresh about the whole thing, and that was probably the fact that we given almost no obvious clues along the way. From everything we were able to ascertain, Bruce was alive and well and helping to ease the suffering of little Haley Joel Osment who announced to the world, "I see dead people."...

But even that claim is not without challenge, because the clues were there; we just didn't know how to look for them. Little Cole Sear (Osment) told Dr. Malcom Crowe (Willis) that the dead walk among us all the time, unaware they're dead, and "see what they wanna see". He also told us that those who remain often seek to complete unfinished business or ask for help from the living, in this case, Cole. Malcom, a once gifted child psychiatrist, is repenting over his failure to help another troubled boy who eventually grew up to be the troubled man who shot and killed him (we learn later that he, too, saw dead people, through a revealing tape recording). Malcom believes that by helping Cole, he can cleanse his own troubled soul for failing the other boy.

The prospect of the dead seeking help from the living rather than the classic motive of causing them harm is, indeed, intriguing. The little girl Kyra who provides Cole with a videotape at her own wake reveals to her father and family that it was her own mother that was keeping the poor girl sick and eventually killing her (what kind of sick parent does that???). Through this one act of assistance, Cole learns to live with the ghosts he sees and fit in better at school and in life. He can also further help Malcom by advising him to tell his wife how he really feels by talking to her when she sleeps (ah, here we go!). This is where Malcom realizes he's not been wearing his wedding ring the entire time and that he's been walking among us and seeing what he wanted to see (just like Cole said). Our hero doctor and savior of little Cole has been a corpse the entire time and we, the audience, were fooled! Like the resolution of an Agatha Christie film, there's something deliciously decadent about not only realizing that we've been the "victims" of a plot scam the entire time, but also finally being let in on the whole thing in the end.

Having recently watched THE SIXTH SENSE to gain a fresh perspective for this post, it's also the first time I've watched the film since becoming a father. It's a more disturbing film to watch now, in my opinion, not because of its horror elements, but because I find it emotionally difficult to watch a sweet little boy suffer so much in pain and agony. As a father of my own little boy, I long to reach out to Cole to ease his pain and tell him it's all going to be okay (I suppose if my own son starts seeing dead people, then I can exercise such paternal instincts!).

One final point I'd like to make. As careful and precise as the filmmakers were in making sure they covered their tracks in hiding Bruce Willis' true existence (or lack there of!), there is one moment in the film where I swear they've made a mistake. In the restaurant scene when Malcom seemingly shows up late to his anniversary dinner and sits across the table from his wife (widow), there IS a quick moment when she makes direct eye contact with him, as if acknowledging his presence in that chair. Watch the scene for yourself and you'll see it, too...

Sorry, M. Night...but you're busted! Still, I suppose you've been paying the price with your film career ever since your big hit of '99 with crap like THE VILLAGE (2004), THE HAPPENING (2008), THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010) and AFTER EARTH (2013). Honestly, I'm surprised the man can still get studio funding. Though, to be fair, I understand SPLIT (2016) was pretty good. I haven't seen it yet.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Cole Sear: "Grandma says hi. She says she's sorry for taking the bumblebee pendant. She just likes it a lot. She wanted me to tell you..."
Lynn Sear (scared): "Cole, please stop."
Cole: "She wanted me to tell you she saw you dance. She said, when you were little, you and her had a fight, right before your dance recital. You thought she didn't come see you dance. She did. She hid in the back so you wouldn't see. She said you were like an angel. She said you came to the place where they buried her. You asked her a question? She said the answer is..."Every day." What did you ask?"
Lynn (in tears): " I make you proud?"

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