M. Night Shyamalan’s classic horror movie The Sixth Sense has become a staple in the supernatural film genre, right down to its particlarly iconic line “I see dead people” stated by nine-year old protagonist Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment). The story focuses on child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who tries to help Sear with his ability to communicate with the dead. As everyone knows, the film’s big twist is that Crowe was unknowingly dead the whole time, having been killed by a vengeful patient named Vincent Grey in the film’s very first scene.
When you re-watch the film, you start to see various clues alluding to this ending. A big indicator is the color red. The movie gradually forms an association between the hue and ghosts or death motifs. When Crowe and Sear meet for the first time, it’s at a church with a large red door. Sear has a reddish school uniform, which he is often wearing when confronted by ghosts. The doorknob to Crowe’s basement, where his killer is alluded to have hidden, is red. Anna, Crowe’s wife, wears red on the day of their anniversary, after he’s already dead. When Seer confesses his clairvoyance, he’s wrapped in a red blanket. When Malcolm listens to a taped session with Grey and turns up the cassette recorder volume, the control numbers go from white to red. This is when he finally hears the voices of ghosts that used to plague Vincent as a child.
By making this connection between colors, we’re subtly being told by Shyamalan that Crowe is a ghost. The association also allows us to predict when other people besides Crowe and Seer are connected to death. An example of this can be seen with a young girl named Kyra. After she dies from an unexplainable illness, she goes to Seer for help. It’s revealed that Kyra’s mother, Ms. Collins, poisoned her. Before this fact is revealed, it’s hinted to us by Ms. Collins’ wardrobe choice at the funeral Crowe and Seer attend. While everyone else is wearing black or gray, she wears a bright red suite – thereby alluding to her guilt.
Throughout the film, Crow’’s clothes also allude to his shocking truth. His outfits possess only small changes to the clothes he wore the day of the murder, meaning he never actually received new clothes from the day he died. Crow also never leaves a shadow. Some scenes from the movie even highlight this feature, such as a close up on the floor as Crowe and Seer open a door that reveals only Seer’s shadow.
In general, Crow is unnoticed by other characters but Shyamalan utilizes clever cuts and methods of introduction to prevent us from ever really noticing this feature. When Seer first meets Crowe, the scene shows him walking in to find his mother sitting with him. We assume that Seer’s mom already knows Crowe and is aware of his presence in the room, even though she doesn’t even introduce the doctor to her son. In reality, Seer’s mother thought she was sitting alone in that scene. Other adults never ask Crowe questions about why he’s hanging out with a small child, even when he visits Seer at his school and walks around unattended. Typically, a grown man would never be allowed on the grounds of an elementary school without a pass of some sort or a kid with him at all times. Before, this would’ve seemed like a small plot error, but it turns out to be an indication of the twist the whole time.
Even the surnames of characters reveal their fates in the plot. Cole’s last name is similar to the word seer, which means “a person credited with extraordinary moral and spiritual insight.” Malcolm’s last name relates to the bird, which is often associated with death. Even a group of crows is called a “murder,” which is how he died earlier in the movie.
The biggest give away for the twist actually comes from the “I see dead people” line. When it’s first said, the drama and tension put into that scene doesn’t make a lot of sense. It comes in almost halfway through the movie, with Seer’s clairvoyance already being well-established. But we see Seer make emotional eye contact with Crowe, and tense music plays as the camera zooms in on his face. So why put so much emotion into that moment? Everything revealed in the scene has already been explained before – or so we think. In actuality, Seer isn’t just confessing his supernatural abilities. He’s trying to make Crowe realize the truth about himself – that he’s dead and in denial about it. The full line is “I see dead people… Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead… They’re everywhere.” He’s describing exactly what Crowe is going through, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.
Twenty years later, The Sixth Sense remains an eerie, tense, and incredibly clever film. Though its iconic twist has defined the movie’s legacy, the smart use of costume design, set design, music, etc. contribute to it beinga brilliant and well-made movie in general. M. Night Shyamalan’s success with future projects has arguably been shaky at best and awful at worst, but the genius and subtle craft he put into The Sixth Sense keep it timeless.