Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, and Donnie Wahlberg.
Directed By: M Night Shyamalan
Where I Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: Descriptive Video Service
Description Written By: Alice Austin
Narrated By: Peter Hayden
The Plot: Sent from another planet to eradicate all forms of human life, a young space child (Haley Joel Osment) is forced to use his Sixth Sense of telepathy in order to communicate as he was born without the power of speech. All of that changes when he meets Bobo (voiced by Bruce Willis), a talking Giraffe at the Bronx zoo that teaches him the importance of love, friendship, and rock and roll as they both join an all female rock group fronted by a pair of lesbians (Collette/Williams) who are on a quest for a sperm donor in the form of any member of The New Kids On the Block. This seething meditative drama takes place in the 1990’s at the peak fandom of NKOTB. It’s also spoken entirely in Dutch.
And for whatever reason, Haley Joel Osment sees dead people.
What Works: So, maybe I’m assuming that most people know what The Sixth Sense is by now. That’s a good thing, because I’m not bothering with spoiler nonsense here. This film has been out forever, and we’re diving right into the good, the audio description, and the “how can we enjoy this film?”
But while I’m still here in What Works, I remember all the way back to when this film first came out, and no one knew who this director was. We weren’t looking for twists in all of his movies, and the sheer concept that he tricked most of us with this film was amazing. The week-to-week retention at the box office goes to show just how strong the word of mouth was with this film, and how everyone wanted to see it before it was spoiled for them, even in a time when social media wasn’t a thing.
That’s how legendary this ending is. Sure, It’s been stripped down over the years, with every single person seemingly claiming they saw it coming from a mile away. Half of them are lying. Most people were shocked, that’s the whole reason this film works. This film wasn’t a massive box office sensation because Bruce Willis was such a massive star that all of his films were huge hits. Just look at the returns on Mercury Rising.
It was the twist. And anyone who tries to act like a Nostradamus of film is probably lying. Did a few people maybe guess what was happening? Sure. But not nearly the number of people who claim now. It was especially nice to look back at this film considering where Bruce Willis is at now with his career, having to retire early from acting. This was probably the closest he came to an Oscar nomination, and is easily one of his best performances. He’s not required to punch, shoot, or blow anything up. He just offers advice to a child for the majority of the film, which feels rather tame for most of the roles in his career.
And this fil introduced us to Haley Joel Osment, and he was granted an Oscar nomination for his work here. Of course, he’s good, but he would go on to deliver a much more nuanced performance in AI. And sadly, overlooked for that role. The real star here is Toni Collette, who was still very early in her career, but does so much with this role, trying her best to keep her little boy safe, while being constantly concerned with his behavior and some of the things he’s been saying.
Having already seen this film a couple of times, rewatching it for the first time from a blind perspective put the film in a very new light for me. However, I was still revisiting the films greatest moments, images that are still stuck in my head. I remember the opening sequence, I remember the cold breath coming from Cole’s mouth, the shocking ghost images, and the scene with Misha Barton’s ghost in particular. The audio description helped bring it all back, and just when the boy says :Let me show you where my dad keeps my guns.” I remembered what had happened to him, and the audio description came right in and just perfectly nailed it.
There’s a reason many people follow the career of m. night Shyamalan, and it has a lot to do with this film. Maybe, Unbreakable would have still happened, but this was his moment. I don’t think there were enough Wide Awake fans in order for that to count. This launched a career for one of the few directors whose name appears in a movie trailer and fans get excited.
I scoff at the idea that this film doesn’t work, isn’t good, is outdated, or has no rewatchability once you know the twist. I’ve seen this film at least 3 times, maybe 4 or 5. It’s always fun to revisit the choices Shyamalan made as a director, as well as the performances. And this audio description is on point.
What Doesn’t Work: I operate on the idea that in 2022, you’ve either seen The Sixth Sense, or you just aren’t going to. I know that kids are born all the time, and they become film fans, and they jump back and view some older titles as part of their film education, and this should absolutely be one. What I’m about to say will only truly impact the few people who have never seen this film, and those moving forward who are blind and will attempt to watch this film.
The audio description can’t fix this film for you. The visually angled get a different experience than you, and all that over analyzing of Shyamalan’s choices and whether or not you can see the ending come basically have a lot to do with visual cues that if added into the audio description would telegraph far too much to a first time viewer. Unfortunately, what people won’t tell you is that you can’t have the same experience, no matter the quality of the description, because there are so many visual cues and choices. For many scenes in the film, Shyamalan sets each scene with Bruce Willis very intentionally. While he often has him positioned in a way to suggest that he’s a part of conversations being had, or that Cole has just entered a room, and we’re left to believe that Willis and Collette were just having a conversation, it’s all sleight of hand. They never make eye contact. She always looks past him, around him, and never addresses him within the direct context of the film.
He appears consistently, even with his own wife, in completely normal sequences. There’s a dinner scene, but I remember there was nothing on his side of the table. It’s a small thing to notice, but it would be odd to throw in the description. So basically, those people who claimed to pick up on the twist, or go back and analyze, they are looking at these visual cues, camera angles, and the way certain scenes are set up to see how M Night Shyamalan played us all along.
If you’re coming at this for the first time, all you get is the opening sequence, which we’re never directly told he survived. you might pick up on the fact that the only person who seems to directly respond to him ever is Cole, and there’s Cole’s line in the film about the dead not knowing that they are even dead.
However, he does so much misdirection, it’s hard to pick up on it. The lingering question of why every single ghost that Cole seems to meet is in some sort of horrific manner, yet Willis is not bleeding profusely from his wound, and has a presence of mind that the other ghosts don’t seem to have immediately, will throw you for a loop. It’s not until Cole starts asking these nightmarish ghosts what they actually want that he realizes some of them are just getting past their “unfinished business”, and by that point, we’re so close to the end of the film, and the revelation that he’s been dead this whole film, that it doesn’t really matter.
I’ve thought long and hard about this. It’s a great film, it’s a well described film, but there’s no way for you to have the same experience as someone who can see because adding all the visual cues into the description would ruin the ending.
The Blind Perspective: While it is my belief that the experience we get is very different, I know that because of my unique circumstance of having sent he film before, and now listening to the audio description track and processing this entire experience. For me, as someone rewatching the film, the audio description really helped flesh out a film I remembered pretty well, and I’m sure it will do the same for anyone whose vision has gone since this film came out in 1999, or whenever you saw it.
And for a first timer, the ending of this film has been spoiled to death over the last 23 years, which is one of the reasons I just decided to talk about the thing head on. Chances are, it’s next to impossible to watch this film from a neutral perspective this late in the game, unless you are like a six year old child or something. If you do dive in, and you’re looking for all the tell tale signs, I can tell you they aren’t there. They were directorial shots, camera angles, and the way scenes are set up, and choices the actors made. A lot of great detail was made to make us believe that he was present to all in every scene, but he was only ever seen by Cole. And that’s hard, even with this fantastic audio description, to understand without someone telling you.
I found this experience enlightening and fascinating because I was reminded of how crafted this film is. How for a great portion of the movie, you don’t see any of the ghosts, you just see Cole’s reaction. Which makes him look a little crazy. And the audio description does a great job through all of that, and when the ghosts do appear to us as well, the description does a great job letting you know the horrors about each individual ghost.
But what it can’t do is reveal that the people in the scene with Willi’s psychiatrist can’t see him. Just Cole.I believe this film is more than just a twist. I believe this film is just a great story, full of amazing performances, and a complex tale of a boy given a gift that is very much not something he would have wanted to receive, but over the course of the film, Cole finds his purpose. We always talk about the twist, but not enough about Cole’s journey.
Final Thoughts: I’ve long been a fan of The Sixth Sense. To this day, i still wrestle with the idea that this might actually be Shyamalan’s best film to date. Because every time after this, we associated his name with a twist ending. But there was some magic the first time around, in not knowing what to expect from him, and he delivered on a promise we didn’t even know he had made to us.
Cole can see dead people. And 23 years later, we’re still talking about that.
Final Grade: A