"The Sixth Sense"

Sensation or sham? Either way, M. Night Shyamalan's thriller-romance strikes a chord.

By Bill Wyman

Published June 13, 2000 10:23PM (EDT)

"The Sixth Sense"
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Buena Vista; widescreen
Extras: Extended ending, deleted scenes, storyboards, "Rules and Clues," more

By now you know the big-deal secret of "The Sixth Sense." (If you don't, and don't want to know it, stop reading now.) The DVD lets you watch it again with knowing eyes. Leaving aside for the moment the ending, a second viewing lets you appreciate some of the little things that helped this uncommonly effective romantic melodrama earn its nearly $300 million in domestic grosses: the moody, static shots of found friezes and bas-reliefs in its Philadelphia setting, the chilly lighting touches and lots and lots of silence. While "The Sixth Sense" must be classified as a horror film, it's really a romance, and one without a happy ending. Only the irredeemably cynical would sneer at its simple organizing themes -- loss, regret and the specter of unfinished business -- and the grim purpose with which it leaves children to cope with the consequences of death and protects adults from the same realization.

OK -- but were the filmmakers playing fair? Amid the voluminous extra material, which includes an extended ending, lots of storyboarding info, a handful of nice deleted scenes and several featurettes, the filmmakers make their case that they were. (There's no commentary on the film proper, however.) Shyamalan and the film's producer and writers provide a short documentary, "Rules and Clues," to explain the constraints they worked under. Critics have noted a lot of inconsistencies -- why doesn't Bruce Willis cause the air to go cold the way the other dead characters do? For a dead guy, doesn't he change his clothes a lot? And how did he break the window? Shyamalan and company take on, and answer, these questions -- sometimes persuasively, sometimes less so. Decide for yourself. Just as interesting is Shyamalan's discussion of the movie's subtler touches, like the flashes of red that mark certain scenes or the streaks of white in some characters' hair.

Some viewers distrust the film's sentimentality (and its grosses), but the evidence here is that some not-untalented people tried hard to put some rigor, depth and sophistication into a decent entertainment. We all know Hollywood's capable of a lot worse.

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon and National Public Radio.

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