The Sixth Sense
by M. Night Shyamalan
Unspecified Draft - No Year
Psychological Drama, 108 pages
"You need to help them. Each one of them." - Malcolm
Growing up, The Sixth Sense was one of the first films that really blew my mind. A true psychological drama, I got caught up in all the twists and turns and did not see the mind-bending end coming. It was a delight to watch, and I was curious to see how it read on the page.
In looking through the script, a few elements captured my attention. First, Shyamalan lulls us into a false sense of security by inviting us to make assumptions. For example, almost immediately after the time jump to 1998, two years after the shooting, Malcolm says, "I have this injury from a couple of years ago and it just flares up every once in a while just so I won't forget it." We're never told that Malcolm recovered, but we assume he is a reliable character and, from the "facts" presented, jump to this conclusion as it is the most likely scenario. This theme continues throughout. For example, we see that the door to the basement is locked and see Malcolm search his pockets for keys, but we never actually see him find them or open the door. We just assume that's what happened as, the next thing we know, we're in the basement with him.
The brilliance of The Sixth Sense lies in all of these seemingly small moments having parallels.
At the midpoint reversal, Cole utters the now famous phrase, "I see dead people." Soon after, his eyes fill the frame and then:
"We see what he's staring at. Through Cole's hospital room window we see the adjacent wing of the hospital building. Rows of hospital room windows are visible. In the windows are patients... SOME OLD, SOME YOUNG... SOME ARE DRESSED IN MODERN HOSPITAL GOWNS... SOME FROM DECADES PAST."
From this point on, we can see what Cole sees, and that's when the parallels come into play.
In an early scene, we're given the impression that Cole has opened every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen while his mother was out of the room. He claims he was looking for pop tarts, but the Easter egg betraying this is in the action line, "Lynn glances to the kitchen table. Her gaze stops on the TWO TINY HAND PRINTS OF SWEAT formed on the table's surface," and in the fact that Cole seemingly forgets about the pop tarts when leaving the room. Once we are able to see the world through Cole's eyes, there's another visit and we discover what we weren't able to see earlier:
"The person turns. It's not Lynn. It's a strange woman. The woman's face is demented. A purple gash cuts across her forehead. ALL THE CABINETS AND DRAWERS ARE OPEN BEHIND HER."
(Incidentally, Shyamalan's use of all caps nicely directs the attention on the page, letting the reader immediately know what details are important and need to be tracked.)
The parallels also hold up after the mind-bending twist that Malcolm is actually a ghost, with the most evident one being the basement door. After his realization, he (and therefore we) are able to see its dead bolts.
The scene I was most interested in reading was the anniversary scene between Malcolm and Anna. In watching the film, I remembered thinking back and realizing that I relied on assumptions, as discussed earlier, when viewing it. I jumped to the conclusion that, since they were in the same room together and he had missed their anniversary dinner, Anna wasn't speaking to Malcolm simply because she was mad at him. On second viewing, I was able to see that she never actually sees him at all. This is the one major foible of the script for me as the duality does not hold up on the page due to its action lines. For example:
"That makes Anna turn back."
If something Malcolm has said makes Anna turn back, the word choice implies cause and effect. She is able to hear him. Similarly:
"Anna waits till he's done and rises from the table."
Here, the word waits is the culprit. If Anna is unaware of Malcolm - if he isn't there for her because he is a ghost and she cannot see dead people - he cannot make her do anything and she cannot wait for him. I think the actions in this scene could have been worded differently, and I think it would have made the script stronger as a whole as the duality on the page would have then been able to reflect the experience of the audience.
However, I only stumble on one plot hole in this intrinsically layered story. If people who do not share Cole and Vincent's "gift" cannot see ghosts, why are we able to hear one speak on Malcolm's taped conversation?
The Sixth Sense largely holds up almost a decade later, and I think it pushed psychological stories ahead. It brings its audience through an experience and can be viewed time and time again as there is a lot to learn and study once one knows the final twist. Interestingly, I also see this piece as a love story. It starts with Malcolm and Anna having a romantic dinner and ends with them "together" via their wedding video. The final line:
Malcolm: Anna Crowe... I am in love. In love I am.
And that, perhaps, is the real reason he couldn't leave.