When The Sixth Sense was first released to audiences in 1999, it was a film that truly introduced M. Night Shyamalan’s unique style of cinema to the public. The film starred Haley Joel Osment as the adorable young boy that audiences remembered from the 1994 film, Forrest Gump. It also starred Bruce Willis, Donnie Wahlberg, and Mischa Barton to name a few. While it may seem like an odd mix of characters, each actor played their part to the best of their ability and was able to tell the story in a way that engrossed the audience. Yet, it wasn’t the acting that made the film stand out from all the other horror-thriller films that have graced the box office.
M. Night Shyamalan’s cinematic prowess was at the height of its heyday during this time. Audiences were left in shock over this famed director’s affinity towards surprise endings and mysterious storylines. While there were some that were able to figure out the mystery long before even Bruce Willis had his epiphany, most moviegoers were left shocked and stunned by the end of the film. The film grossed over $650 million worldwide and helped to solidify M. Night Shyamalan as one of the most innovative directors of our time. Although most of M. Night Shyamalan’s latter films didn’t receive nearly as high of praise, The Sixth Sense was a victory for the director that people still remember and think of with a chill in their bones. Check out our list of the 15 things you never knew about The Sixth Sense and see what you might have missed when you first watched the film
15. Metaphors Through Reflective Images
One of the cinematic themes that M. Night Shyamalan tends to use in his films is the use of reflective images to help tell the story. This can be seen in a number of his films, with each scene depicting a poignant part of the storyline. In Unbroken, M. Night Shyamalan used the reflection imagery to show how Elijah felt disconnected from the rest of the world. From the distortion of his reflection in the TV set at 13-years-old to the glass frame reflection when he was an adult, the viewer has to see the false image of him as he is seen by those around him. In The Sixth Sense, these reflected images help to tell the story but they also offered a few hints to the viewers. In the beginning of the film, Bruce Willis and his wife can be seen in the reflection of the plaque award. This is a symbolic scene that foretells how Willis will spend the rest of the film as a false reflection of his former living self. This can also be seen when Willis walks into the bathroom while his wife is showering. He looks at her through the vanity mirror, which takes on another meaning since this is a false image as he is looking at her as a non-living entity.
14. Hints Toward Bruce Willis Being Dead
Throughout The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan offered a number of hints to tell the audience that there was something a little more mysterious surrounding the Dr. Malcolm Crowe character, played by Bruce Willis. When Malcolm and Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment) enter Kyra’s bedroom during the wake, there is a scene where both can be seen standing in the bedroom. When the camera spreads to the floor as the door opens, only Cole’s shadow can be seen. Also, the doorknob has a reflective property (which is a classic cinematic trick for M. Night Shyamalan) and the camera zooms in to focus in on the reflection. Yet, the reflection only shows Cole’s face. There is a hint of Malcolm standing beside Cole, but his face is completely obscured and cannot be seen. These are small little references when watching the film but in retrospect, these little tidbits are interesting little breadcrumbs that lead the audience to the surprise end to the film.
13. Malcolm Never Touches Anything
As just another hint that M. Night Shyamalan intentionally put into the film, the Malcolm character played by Bruce Willis doesn’t actually touch anything after the initial scene involving the shooting in his bedroom. From that point on, contact with key elements in the film is explicitly taken out. For example, when Malcolm goes to the restaurant to presumably meet up with his wife, he never touches the chair that he sits on at the restaurant. When he reaches for the cheque at the table, his wife grabs it instead. This is the same for other moments in the film. Malcolm never opens a door and yet, the film is shot in a way that makes the audience not really notice this little tidbit in the film. Instead, Malcolm just appears in certain circumstances, which makes the audience infer that he must have opened the door or he must have touched something along the way.
12. Symbolism Entangled In The Color Red
While there are a few hidden hints in the film that go pretty much unnoticed during the first viewing, there are some that are glaring statements that practically gave away the plot of the movie for the more observant audience member. The use of the color red was specifically not used in the majority of the film, in order for it to have a special significance during key moments. For example, the doorknob to the basement is bright red, the balloon Cole follows is red, Cole’s sweater is red and his “special” tent is also red. In a 1999 interview with Entertainment Weekly, M. Night Shyamalan explained that the color red is used for “Anything that’s tainted from the [ghost] world or has a connection to the other side.” The video that was given to Cole in Kyra’s bedroom, showed that it was actually the mother that poisoned her. During the wake, the mother could be seen wearing a bright red ensemble with matching lipstick. For those with a keen sense of intuition, the fact that she would wear a red suit to her daughter’s wake was a definite eye-opener to viewers that were already guessing on the mystery ending.
11. Cold Related To Death
One of the aspects of The Sixth Sense that has puzzled viewers is the seemingly sporadic cold temperature that occurs when there is a non-living entity present. The notion of a change of temperature isn’t exactly a new concept. In fact, even modern day ghost hunters use intelligent EMF temperature devices as part of their paranormal detection equipment. A disturbance in the temperature suggests that an entity is present but with The Sixth Sense, it’s a tad more intricate. While some audience members felt that the ability to visibly detect the cold temperature through the breath of onscreen characters was mistakenly used sparingly. Perhaps they felt that it wasn’t used at every occurrence because it would have let the audience know that Bruce Willis was, in fact, dead. However, M. Night Shyamalan actually had a reason for this effect being used sparingly. It’s only when the non-living entity is upset that the temperature drops. This can be seen at the end of the film when Malcolm becomes distraught and notices the temperature drop by the breath of his wife.
10. Shyamalan Played A Character In The Film
It isn’t a new concept for those behind the scenes to try and sneak themselves in front of the camera lens, even if it’s just a small cameo. Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in 39 of his major motion pictures, even if it was just an anonymous person in the background. Even Stan Lee partakes in a few cameo appearances in blockbuster Marvel films, so it shouldn’t be so surprising that M. Night Shyamalan would include himself in his films. Oftentimes, he would cast himself in a role that was a happy middle between a completely anonymous non-speaking role and a full-on character of the film. In Unbreakable, he was the man being patted down by Willis when he was first getting hold of his powers and in Signs, he was the community member that was responsible for killing Mel Gibson’s wife. In The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan played the role of Dr. Hill. However, he was reportedly dissatisfied with how well he played the part, so most of the scene was cut from the film.
9. Changing Of The Rings
Oftentimes, actors must make certain changes to their regular behavior in order to be completely believable in the character they are trying to become. Many people understand that actors adopt a number of physical changes in order to accurately portray a character. From an actor dyeing their hair to get a part to an actor adopting a particular accent or speech, these are typical things an actor can sometimes need to worry about when obtaining a part. In the case of Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, he adopted more than just a hair piece for his role as Dr. Malcolm Crowe. In the film, there was a scene where Willis had to be seen scribbling onto a pad. However, Willis had to adopt the ability to write with his right hand since he is naturally left-handed. Willis couldn’t be seen writing with his left hand because the film needed to hide the fact that he was no longer wearing his wedding ring. This was a crucial part of the film that only revealed itself at the very end when Malcolm’s wife dropped his wedding band. She was presumably given the ring upon his death and chose to keep it with her, rather than have it buried with him.
8. Cole Could Have Been Played By Other Actors
It’s almost impossible to envision the role of Cole Sear being played by anyone besides Haley Joel Osment. He did such a stellar job in relaying his performance in seeing “dead people,” that it became blatantly obvious why M. Night Shyamalan ultimately chose him for the role. Yet, after the role took in such a huge amount at the box office and became iconic in the eyes of viewers, the public began knowing a bit more about who was being considered for the role of 11-year-old Cole Sear. One of the actors that was being considered for the role was Liam Aitken, who is best known for his role in Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events. Yet, Aitken turned down the role, reportedly due to the dark storyline surrounding death. Another actor that came out and spoke about how he had once auditioned for the part of Cole was Michael Cera. Obviously, it would have been a completely different film since Cera is mostly known for his comedic performances and even stated that during the audition, he played the character as much more upbeat.
7. Donnie Wahlberg’s Standout Appearance
While Donnie Wahlberg was the favorite for millions of young girls when he was a member of the boy band, New Kids on the Block, he wasn’t exactly considered on the same level as a movie star as his brother, Mark. In 1999, there really wasn’t much on the horizon for Donnie in regards to stellar acting roles and reportedly he had to sell himself to M. Night Shyamalan prior to getting the role on The Sixth Sense. Regardless, he definitely proved to audiences that he had acting chops worthy of being considered as more than just a former boy bander. Although his role as the troubled, Vincent Grey, was quite short, it made a huge impression as the opener for the film. Wahlberg went the extra mile to transform on the big screen and reportedly lost 43 pounds. This was probably his way of showing the world that he was serious about pursuing an acting career. While it didn’t translate into instant success as a film star, he did eventually gain notoriety as an actor through the TV series, Blue Bloods.
6. Wearing The Same Clothes
Another aspect of the film that has bothered some audience members is the fact that Bruce Willis is supposed to be dead the entire time after the beginning scene where he’s shot and killed by Vincent Grey. Yet, he seems to change his attire throughout the film. The other non-living entities that are depicted throughout the film, seem stuck in the ensemble they were in when they died. While it may not seem as noticeable with the housewife that committed suicide in her night robe or the biker that is seen still wearing her helmet shortly after her death on the road, it’s definitely more noticeable in other scenes. For instance, the hanging corpses in the school are seen wearing period-style clothing. Yet, what audiences may not have realized is that Dr. Malcolm Crowe is wearing an altered version of everything he touched on the night of his death. From the overcoat to the dress shirt to the slacks and vest, the film expertly swapped around portions of his ensemble to make him appear as if he were changing his clothes regularly.
5. Not A Completely Original Idea
M. Night Shyamalan wasn’t just the director to the film but was also the writer. Reportedly, when he pitched the idea, he described the storyline as a mix between The Exorcist and Ordinary People. While it would be far more appealing to believe that writers come up with their storylines completely on their own accord and through the magic of their own imaginations, it’s inevitable that people will find inspiration in a myriad of different things. Whether it’s childhood memories, a favorite book or even another film, inspiration comes in all forms. In the case of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan reportedly said that he was inspired by an episode entitled, “The Tale of the Dream Girl” from the TV series, Are You Afraid of the Dark? about a boy who was unaware that he was dead until the end of the episode. Another correlating storyline was with the film, Casper. In fact, Shyamalan felt that moviegoers wouldn’t be able to attach themselves to two separate ghost films and decided to put The Sixth Sense on the sidelines for awhile before delving into it again.
4. Best Picture Nod At The Academy Awards
Typically, a horror film doesn’t get recognized at prestigious award ceremonies. It’s difficult to compare films like Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer with other more poignant films like Saving Private Ryan. Yet, the year following the release of The Sixth Sense was huge at the Academy Awards. At the 2000 Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Although the film or any of the actors didn’t take home the Oscar, it really was enough just to be nominated in this case. It was one of only four other horror films that were ever acknowledged at the Academy Awards. The other three horror films were The Exorcist, Jaws and Silence of the Lambs. Finding it within the company of these three iconic films isn’t something to scoff at.
3. Similarities Between Cole And Vincent Grey
During the beginning of the film, audiences were introduced to the troubled former patient, Vincent Grey. Presumably, the reason why Dr. Malcolm Crowe wanted to help Cole so badly was because he wasn’t able to help Vincent. M. Night Shyamalan described both Cole and Vincent as “spirit spotters” and wanted to correlate these two characters for the audience. Vincent is who Cole would later become if he didn’t receive any meaningful help. The film continued to drive this notion home to the audience in various aspects. One of them was that Shyamalan chose to put in a portion of white hair into both Donnie Wahlberg and Haley Joel Osment. This was a way for both of the “spirit spotters” to have a similar physical characteristic. Within the film, there was also correlating scenes between these two characters with both of them appearing in their underclothes seen through the bathroom door.
2. Problems With The Film
If the public has learned anything from watching Entourage, it’s that there is a lot that goes on in the background when a film is in talks of being made. From negotiating the price of a script to seeing what director they can get to sign on, sometimes a film takes a ridiculous amount of time to even get to the beginning stages of production. In the case of The Sixth Sense, there were a number of issues that surrounded the film even before the first camera started rolling. At the time, David Vogel was the president of Walt Disney Studios and purchased the rights to The Sixth Sense while simultaneously signing on M. Night Shyamalan as the director but didn’t consult any of his superiors. Vogel’s boss didn’t agree with this choice and the company tried to get Vogel to relinquish part of his control as president and was ultimately fired in July of 1999. Another issue that helped bring The Sixth Sense to the public was when there were issues onset on The Broadway Brawler. It resulted in Bruce Willis being required to act in two movies for Disney. One of them was The Sixth Sense and the other was The Kid.
1. Toni Collette Confused Onscreen And Off
In the film, Toni Collette plays the role of Cole’s mother, Lynn Sear. While it’s obvious that she’s trying to handle the situation with her son the best she can, there are some glaring issues that arise once fans realize that Bruce Willis was a ghost the entire time. Although the film made it seem like he was interacting with other people throughout, in actuality, it was only Cole that could actually see him. In the scene where Willis is sitting across from Collette, the audience is made to think that Willis had been having a conversation with Cole’s mother, presumably to help him through these troubling times. Yet, there was no conversation, so basically Cole’s mother never did a thing to help her son at all. This puts things into perspective, especially since at least Vincent Grey was actively seeking out treatment for his “spirit spotter” issue. What’s interesting is that Toni Collette reportedly had some confusion offscreen, as well. Collette stated that she was so wrapped up in the high emotions surrounding the storyline that she didn’t even realize that it was a horror film until after all of her scenes were done filming.