Explainers

‘The Sixth Sense’ Ending, Explained

Updated July 20, 2018
13 min read

The Year 1999 was a remarkable year in cinematic history, From a generation-defining science-fiction-“The Matrix,” to a cult legend-“Fight Club”–People were treated with masterpieces, one after the other. When talking about Star Wars was cool again, and Tom Hanks was at the Top of His game, a relatively unknown director was knocking on the doors of Hollywood–and boy oh boy the world wasn’t ready for it. ‘The Sixth Sense’ was Written and Directed By M Night. Shyamalan and it stars Bruce Willis(Malcolm Crowe) and Haley Joel Osment (Cole Sear). Soon after the release of ‘The Sixth Sense,’ Shyamalan was proclaimed to be the next Steven Spielberg by many critics–Although this hasn’t worked out for him as well as he would have thought it will, still getting compared to Spielberg himself just after your debut film is a huge deal.

Apart from being a very suspenseful and a mesmerizing movie, ‘The Sixth Sense’ also has one the most compelling horror script ever seen. The Ending, in particular, leaves you questioning your ability to pay attention to details while watching something. An unexpected twist which knocks you flat upon first viewing. You feel like you have just got toyed around by a master working on top of his game, where he played with your intellect as he wished.

I saw this movie for the first time back in 2009 or something, and I saw it again yesterday for the preparation of this article, and I have to admit that ‘The Sixth Sense’ has aged very well. To this day the film is as thrilling as it was nine years ago, although you know about the twist ending, still it gets even better upon second viewing when you start paying attention to the details. Before we discuss the Ending, I’m going to break down the entire plot of this film. So, if you haven’t ‘The Sixth Sense’– First of all, where have you been, and why do you even watch movies if you haven’t seen ‘The Sixth Sense.’ I mean just why? Go and watch it ASAP and remember to come back here to discuss it with us. But if you are one of those few people who doesn’t care about Spoilers, well, in that case, go ahead.

Spoilers Ahead!

The Plot:

“Do You Know why you are afraid when you are alone.”

The Movie starts off with Malcolm, who is a child psychologist by profession and his wife Anna (Olivia Williams) are celebrating the fact that Malcolm’s work is finally getting appreciated as he has received a letter a recognition. As they go upstairs, they notice that someone has broken into their house. A weak boy, shabby in his appearance and not looking particularly healthy emerges out of the bathroom. After a very intense conversation, Malcolm finally recognizes the boy as he was a former patient of his, Vincent Grey, who suffers mental disorder and now he is holding Malcolm as one of the people responsible for his condition. All of a sudden, he pulls out a gun and shoots Malcolm in the stomach, also killing himself almost immediately after it. The scene cuts right there, and you don’t get to see what happened after that. Within the first few minutes of this film, Shyamalan captivates his audience as only he can.

“The Next Fall”

Immediately after the Previous Scenes where Malcolm got shot, “The Next Fall” Appears on the Screen, and we see Malcolm sitting on a bench. So, naturally one would assume that he had survived the gunshot and now he is back at helping troubled kids because he is reading something that appears to be a case file of a patient. Now we see Cole, a very young boy exiting his house and running off to a church immediately. Malcolm follows him there, indicating that Cole is his new patient. This is one of the first time Malcolm and Cole interacts, and Cole isn’t sharing much except for a Latin phrase which he murmured in the beginning–Upon translation Malcolm Finds out that the phrase actually means “Out of the Depth, I cry to you O Lord”—this has a significant meaning later in the film. Malcolm also notices cuts on Cole’s hand which immediately catches his attention. Cole looks like a kid who gets bullied a lot, someone who has trouble communicating or maybe he is hiding something.

The second interaction between Cole and Malcolm take place at Cole’s house, and this is one of the best scenes in the entire film. Malcolm and Cole’s Mother are sitting together when Cole enters the house. Cole’s Mother then goes to the kitchen for making “Triangular” Pancakes, and Cole and Malcolm are alone in the room. Cole is very reluctant to talk, and Malcolm tries to get Cole to open up a little by playing a game with him, in which Malcolm will read Cole’s mind and if Malcolm is correct Cole has to take a step forward otherwise he can step back. If he reaches the chair he has to sit down; if he reaches the door, he can go. Malcolm fails to get Cole talking, and the scene ends with a tense exchange of dialogs.

As the movie progresses we see a lot of meeting between Cole and Malcolm, with Cole opening up more and more with each session–Right till the moment when Cole trust Malcolm enough to share his big secret, We’ll talk about this secret a little later in this article.

A Caring Mother

Cole’s Mother, Lynn Sear, is played exceptionally well by Toni Collette. She is anxious about her kid and wants to know what is wrong with him. She is a single mother and working on two jobs to provide for Cole, who is a special kid that requires a lot of patience and attention. She loves Cole unconditionally even though she is struggling to understand him but continuously fighting to keep him safe.

Perhaps a Failing Marriage

Malcolm and his wife Anna don’t talk anymore which gives you hints about a marriage on the verge of ending–maybe something happened after Malcolm recovered from the gunshot. She is so ignorant of him that she doesn’t even look at him when he tries to talk to her. She is also interested in a guy from work or he’s is interested in her(something like that). Malcolm sees his wife hanging around this man and feels hurt and betrayed. It looks like that their marriage won’t survive much longer. She spoke only four times in front of Malcolm, that too without even looking at him—the sentences were: “Happy Anniversary,” “I miss you,” “Why Malcolm” and I will reveal the 4th sentence later. But clearly, Malcolm lost something when he was shot, something he doesn’t have anymore.

“I see dead people.”

Remember I talked about Cole’s big secret. Here it is, Cole has some Sixth Sense which allows him to see and talk to dead people. He reveals this to Malcolm in an icy-cold conversation at a hospital. He tells him that the dead people are everywhere, they don’t know that they are dead and don’t even see each other—they chose what they want to see. This conversation is directed and edited so craftily that you can cut the tension with a knife. You get a sense of vulnerability, a feeling that something is not right. You know the feeling that you get when someone good in a movie is about to be hurt, or he’s in some danger. That’s real horror, my friends, not to take anything away from jump scares and scary makeup, but this right here is the real deal–Although we rarely see a good HORROR movie these days. Shame, a crying shame.

Time for a little fun

Once Cole’s big secret is out in the open, Shyamalan decides to have a little fun and throws his audience right into the action. We get a night sequence where we see what coles have been seeing his whole life. This is the part where Shyamalan doesn’t hold back; he generates a very phobic environment in which you are just begging for a breathing space. It is intense, suspenseful and unpredictable, something which has since become a trademark of Shyamalan’s Filmography.

“What do they want?”

So, Malcolm now helps Cole to figure out that the dead people want to communicate with the world through Cole. Upon understanding this, Cole comes across a little girl who has died recently, and she wants to tell the truth about her death. The fact that her mother slow-poisoned her to death. Cole discloses that truth with the help of a videotape to her father, Imagine the atmosphere of the room when you find that a mother is responsible for killing her child. This further explains my point about real horror–it’s this feeling of pain, anger, and sorrow that creates an environment that cannot be topped by any jump Scare.

Cole disclosing his secret to his mother is probably the most powerful scene of the entire movie. He tells something his dead grandmother wants to tell his mom–an answer to a question she asked her at her grave. If your eyes didn’t get a little wet while watching this scene–tell you what, You are dead from the inside.  This scene feels like a very satisfying end to Cole’s story, now that he has told his mother everything, he will get better at dealing with all the other aspects of his life. You know that now he is in as good a condition as he can be, he can be honest about all the ghost stuff and tell her everything. I often say that this movie has two climaxes, this is the first one. It’s like in a typical zombie movie, once all the zombies are dead, and you feel like everyone is safe now but suddenly of them gets up and kills your favourite character. Same is the case with ‘’The Sixth Sense’–there more to come, and you may wanna prepare yourself for it.

The Ending:

You finally get to see Malcolm with only a few minutes left in the runtime of this movie, and you feel like now he’ll be able to make everything right with his wife. She is on a couch, sleeping–partially, murmuring. All of a sudden, she drops a wedding ring, Malcolm looks at the ring and immediately checks his hand–indicating that it was his wedding ring. He quickly gets up in shock and BAAM!! Shyamalan drops a bomb on his audience. Remember I didn’t disclose the 4th sentence that Anna spoke to Malcolm–the words were; “Why did you leave”. Malcolm has been dead the entire movie, he died in the first scene where Vincent Grey shot him, and only Cole could see or hear him. Malcolm flashes back to everything Cole has told him about dead people and Shyamalan cleverly connects it all together and everything starts making sense. This was a very clever twist, and enough hints were dropped throughout the movie, but we weren’t paying enough attention.

You don’t see it coming upon first viewing, just like it was in ‘The Usual Suspects’–but to tell you the truth, I just knew there was something wrong with Kevin Spacey’s Character. Not in the case of ‘the sixth sense,’ this ending knocks you flat, and you start questioning your intellect as an audience. We as an audience, tend to anticipate what’s going to happen next in a movie–and this tendency develops from the endless times we have guessed correctly. Shyamalan just takes advantage of this tendency and knocks this one right out of the park.

Points to Note:

Now that I have disclosed the ending, let’s look at some of the hints that were dropped throughout the movie–these little moments which makes the end possible in the first place. You can observe these things upon second viewing because you are specifically looking for them.

  • Remember I told you about that patient file that Malcolm was reading while sitting on a bench immediately after the first sequence. Well, we see reports of two patients, one is Vincent Grey, referred on Jan 19, 1989, and the other is Cole Sear, referred on Sept 1998. This means that Malcolm has been talking about a case throughout the movie which hasn’t even happened yet. Of course, the date doesn’t mean anything, and of course, Cole wasn’t referred to him–who will refer their depressed kid to a dead doctor, sounds like a bad idea to me.
  • Malcolm doesn’t talk to Cole’s mother, never, ever, not even once. Despite him being her son’s Psychologist, she never asks him any question. At one point we do see them sitting together when the camera rolls, and we assume that they were having a conversation before. Again, our tendency to anticipate things makes up certain things that aren’t even there.
  • Anna, Malcolm’s wife doesn’t even look at him for the entire movie. She never responds and doesn’t even acknowledge that Malcolm is speaking to her–and we just assumed that they were having marital problems.
  • No one ever talks to Malcolm. Not one person in the entire movie ever has a conversation with him except Cole.
  • Malcolm never lifts or move anything in the whole film except for a penny, and that too was in front of Cole—and he can see Malcolm, so it doesn’t make a difference. I noticed this last night when Malcolm goes to a restaurant where his wife is already sitting, and he sits in front of her. Carefully Observe that nothing moves, not even the chair he is sitting on. Shyamalan was very careful with this as he didn’t want his smart audience to raise suspicion like “Well if he’s dead, and people cannot see him, why aren’t they freaking out with these things moving on their own” –and he was very sharp at it because Malcolm doesn’t move anything in the entire movie.

Final Word

In the end, doesn’t matter how many times you have seen ‘The Sixth Sense,’ it’s one of those movies that gets better and better every time. Haley Joel Osment’s portrayal of this young kid is fantastic and is one of the best child performances ever. Toni Collette gave probably her best performance; she is so real in this film that you even forget that he is not Cole’s actual mother. Her portrayal is as accurate as it can get. ‘The Sixth Sense’ is a unique movie to see Bruce Willis in, but holy goodness he was good in this movie. This is probably the best I’ve seen him act, yeah ‘Die Hard’ was cool, so was ‘The Pulp fiction’ but this is my favourite version of Bruce Willis.

This has already been a very long read, but I cannot finish without mentioning M Night. Shyamalan, Listen I know his career has gone south since ‘the sixth sense.’ But you can probably imagine how hard it must have been to follow up the heights this movie achieved. ‘Unbreakable’ was good,‘Signs’ is one of the most underrated movies ever, he made a big comeback with ‘Split,’ and ‘Glass’ promises so much. All in all, the guy is a fantastic director and probably needs one or two hits like ‘Spilt’ to win over his critics again.

Read More: Split, Explained

 

2 comments

  • This is an incredibly powerful film. Awash with emotion but never stopping to sentimentality this is the story of one frightened little boy you will never forget.
    Awesome breakdown by the author of this article. Really enjoyed reading it out.