The Sixth Sense: Shyamalan's film turns twenty-two

The Sixth Sense: Shyamalan's film turns twenty-two

The Sixth Sense

On August 6, 1999, Il Sesto Senso, a revelation film by M. Night Shyamalan, was released in American cinemas. In Italy the film arrived a few months later, on October 29 of the same year, preceded by an incredible fame. Critics from all over the world hailed him and made the director enter the Olympus of Hollywood showbiz. The welcome of Il Sesto Senso was so warm, both from the public and from the press, that in 2007 the American Film Institute placed it in 89th place in the ranking of the 100 best American films ever.

The Sixth Sense has changed thriller cinema, contaminating it with twists worthy of a horror film. Shyamalan's film was so revolutionary that it influenced many later works and gave fans of the genre a new look at a cinematic proposal that, at the time, was already starting to be stale and full of clichés. The film stars actors of the caliber of Bruce Willis, Toni Collette and an unforgettable (and very young at the time of the shooting of the film) Haley Joel Osment who terrified everyone with the famous line "I see dead people".

A Shocking Story

We have said that the story of The Sixth Sense rewrites the rules of horror cinema. To testify this there are also the Oscar nominations, a ceremony in which it is very difficult to see films of this genre involved. In fact, the film was nominated in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress (Haley Hoel Osment and Toni Collette respectively), Best Screenplay and Best Editing. In Hollywood history, very few horror films have had the privilege of being nominated for the Academy Award suit, and among them is The Exorcist.

The story told in The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan is quite complex. We follow the stories of a child psychotherapist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who, following a house raid by a former patient of his, is the protagonist of a shooting. The film then restarts eight months later, when Crowe begins meetings with Cole, a nine-year-old boy. The therapist will do everything to help this little boy deal with his "inner ghosts", and he is the protagonist of bewildering revelations.

The story, excellently constructed, is supported by unprecedented writing and a equally innovative staging. The film is governed by a slow succession of events, linked together by a thread that we apparently cannot see and that will be revealed only at the end. In all likelihood, the one of Il Sesto Senso is one of the best endings in the history of contemporary cinema.

M. Night Shyamalan, in the course of history, thanks to careful directorial choices, puts us in front of reality several times, both with the use of particular shots (have you ever noticed that after Cole's infamous line “I see dead people”, a nice close-up of Crowe is made?), and with the functional use of colors. For example, the use of the color red is a prerequisite for understanding some important passages in order to understand which are the dead and which, instead, the living.

The Sixth Sense, genesis of a myth

The origins of the story behind The Sixth Sense are to be found in a little-known Canadian TV series of the nineties, entitled Are You Afraid of The Dark ?. The episode of the show that inspired M. Night Shyamalan's film is called The Tale of the Dream Girl and follows the story of a dead girl, unaware of her passing, who tries to continue her love relationship with her boyfriend.

Sure, the format of the Canadian TV show is very different than the film, but we can see some parallels between the two products. Below you can see the complete episode, published on YouTube by the official channel of the TV series.

What we notice in this episode, lasting only about twenty minutes, is also a certain similarity with the shots of Il Sesto Sense . We immediately understand what struck M. Night Shyamalan, the directorial choices that highlight the loneliness of the characters, especially when they interact with the surrounding environment.

Another, very important aspect of the film is the presence of a young man actor, Haley Joel Osment who was eleven at the time of filming. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Osment reveals his artistic skills in a commendable way, giving viewers one of the best "baby" interpretations in the history of cinema.

It seems only right to remember that director Shyamalan chose just Haley to play the little Cole because the audition had already highlighted his great dedication to work. The boy, in fact, had spent sleepless nights studying the script and it is said that he had appeared at the audition wearing a tie. The frightened eyes and the sometimes desperate gaze of the young performer are, perhaps, that extra gear that the film had to enter the annals of cinema.

The legacy of M. Night's film Shyamalan

The Sixth Sense influenced much of the production of thriller and horror films of the first decade of the 2000s. A clear example is seen in the film The Hidden Truths by director Robert Zemekis with Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford. Here too the climax, that is the growing tension and the almost brutal twists and turns, are the leitmotiv of the whole film.

The great influence of Shyamalan's film can be found in the construction of the story. Now a horror movie no longer needs a crucible of jumpscare or repulsive figures, but can be built completely on the deep psychological analysis of the characters. The most fortunate films of the Indian director certainly belong to this trend, but also other quality productions.

Among these we cannot fail to mention, for example, Shutter Island, Orphan, The Descent and other films that have, like The Sixth Sense, a totally unexpected ending.

Shyamalan after the sixth sense

After The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan gives us some extremely good films, but none of them equal the debut in the big Hollywood industry. To remember is definitely Unbreakable and the trilogy he started. The 2000 film has, in fact, had two subsequent films, Split of 2016 and Glass of 2019. The trilogy is one of Shyamalan's best directorial performances and makes us forget some of his flops.

Acclaimed by audience and critics, the director, after some important tests, has made several missteps, one above all, directing Lady in the Water and After Earth among all. A "break from quality" that lasted almost ten years. What is undoubted, however, are his skills as a screenwriter, a failed novelist, in short, who has decided to tell, through images, those that are the most hidden fears of humans, coming, in his latest trilogy, to bring out the animal instinct present in each of us.

If you want to learn more about M. Night Shyamalan's cinema, we recommend purchasing this box (also containing The Sixth Sense) at this link.

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