Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie Analysis: The Sixth Sense (or, Sixth Sense's Lessons)

Scriptshadow (the website and the book) offers several lessons from The Sixth Sense, such as "avoid dual-column dialogue" and "don't hang your story on a twist ending" and "hide your plot points." Which are fine comments and some of the lessons are even technically useful, such as "if your scene takes place in a generic location, like a church, don't waste time describing it, just say INT. CHURCH."

But there's several other lessons we can take from The Sixth Sense--and at least one way that we can see Scriptshadow's reading as a little off, if not exactly wrong.

  1. Start with stakes: the movie's opening shows 
    • a troubled marriage (with his wife telling Dr. Crowe how work is first and everything--even her--comes second for him); 
    • the consequence of Crowe messing up, with Donnie Wahlberg shooting Crowe and then himself.
    • Which sets up an unsolvable conflict: if he concentrates on work more, he'll lose his wife, but if he concentrates on her instead of work, he'll end up getting shot again.
    • And we see how the situation with Cole mirrors the situation with Wahlberg from the opening. Can the doctor fix this kid in time to avoid getting hurt again?
    • Though the film doesn't make much of this, we can squint and kind of see how Cole could turn out to be a school shooter or other "villain," just like Wahlberg in the beginning. In a later scene, Shyamalan shows how Cole doesn't do so good at school when he uses info from the dead to answer a question, which leads to a confrontation with his teacher where the teacher calls him a "freak." Which is, we're led to believe, the worst thing you could call someone. BUT! Leading up to that climax, Cole has been yelling at his teacher about his (the teacher's) childhood nickname and bullying issue. Though Cole seems like the victim here, he also comes off like a monster-in-the-making.
  2. Increasing weirdness and delay: considering that the trailers had "I see dead people" and it has become something to be parodies, it's interesting to watch the movie and see how late this admission comes and how long the movie plays with weirdness.
    • Weirdness: A little kid speaking Latin.
    • Weirdness: All the cabinets opened in a second when mom is out of the room, with Cole not moving from his chair.
    • Weirdness: In photos, Cole is accompanied by a strange distortion.
    • Weirdness: The thermostat can't keep the room warm.
    • Weirdness: Cole is forced into a closet that cannot be opened--until it can.
    • Reveal: "I see dead people" comes around 48 minute mark.
    • Weirdness: He has bruises on his body--which adds to the stakes of the ghosts.
    • Weirdness: The dog runs away from a ghost (old cliche).
    • Weirdness: Strange sound on the tape of an interview with a disturbed child and Crowe noting how cold it is (which we know the meaning).
  3. More delay: Shyamalan sets up lots of questions and makes us wait for the answer.
    • We see the outside of Cole's secret fortress tent, which looks like a normal kid tent--and only much later do we see that the inside is covered in sacred objects and images of saints.
    • Similarly, we see how the tent protects him from a ghost, so when the tent starts to fall apart and a ghost gets in, it comes as a nice shock.
    • And we don't get to hear what that ghost tells him, as the movie jumps forward to the funeral where Cole unmasks the killer mother.
      • Bonus cinematography: at the funeral, Cole walks through a sea of adults who are taller, their dialogue reduced to moody whispering--until he sees the dad, who is sitting down and therefore more at Cole's level. When Crowe comes into the frame, the three of them make a perfect diagonal line with their heads.
    • Cole tells his mom what his grandmother says, which is an answer to a question, and only after mom breaks down crying do we hear the question.
  4. The family drama: if you take out the ghost angle, this story still would have some power as a conventional drama. You have the single mother trying to deal with her strange child; and the strange child trying to deal with his social alienation.
    • Shyamalan emphasizes how good things can be between Cole and his mom, showing her physical support (cleaning his clothes, feeding him) and emotional support.
    • It's especially nice to see them in just playful moments, like when she races a shopping cart that he's in--a scene that does nothing to advance the plot, but emphasizes their warmth.
    • But then we also see their hardships and troubles, often in contrast; so, for instance, mom asks Cole if he took this precious pennant and he says no--and he can't admit to his mom that it was a ghost.
      • Bonus cinematography: the happy cart-race scene shows both of them in one shot; the dinner argument over the pennant has the camera pan from one to the other, reminding us that they are separate.
    • When Cole tells his mom that his grandmother loves her, we see how this affects Toni Collette, which shows us how important this is to her.
  5. Characters discuss themselves: though Scriptshadow says that the plot points are hidden (well, sort of), the characters explicitly discuss all their character issues. Which makes it a really easy film to watch since we're not usually uncertain about people's motivations or reasons.
    • So Crowe's wife reads him his award for being a Super Child Psychologist.
    • In their first interview, Crowe and Cole discuss Cole's story--how the divorce affected him, how he does in school, etc.
    • Crowe specifically asks Cole what he wants to get out of this therapy.
    • While Crowe, to get closer to Cole, confesses to his own fears and worries about growing apart from his wife.
    • Cole starts a conversation with his mom with "I'm ready to talk now."
  6. Scenes that turn: there are a couple of scenes that start out one way and end up another, which is a nice way to twist the knife a little. 
    • For instance, Crowe comes home to find his wedding video on the TV--and then to find his wife in the shower--and then... then he finds her Zoloft. So what looked like it might be a reconciliation is just a reminder that we need a reconciliation.
    • Similarly, Shyamalan will show us a happy scene between Cole and his mom before an unhappy scene.
    • The video that Cole gives the dad starts off with the dead girl playing with marionettes, which gives him a warm feeling--and then the video shows the mom poisoning her food.
      • Note: This whole sequence doesn't involve Cole (or Crowe) and he's probably not even there, but we watch it all, which is one break of the film's deal--we follow Cole, Crowe, or Cole's mom. But by this time, the movie may have earned one break.
  7. Repetition of theme: so much of the movie is about communication, so it's no wonder that:
    • The school play is The Jungle Book, introduced as a story of a boy who can talk to the animals.
    • Crowe's wife in the antique store talks about how objects talk to people.
  8. Repetition of theme, part 2: so much of the movie is about parents and kids, so 
    • even the stupid cough syrup commercial is about that;
    • and the killer mom poisoning her daughter is clearly about that (and in contrast with the suspicion that Cole's mom is abusing him).
  9. Helpful revision: if you look at the script, you'll see that Shyamalan streamlined the second talk in a church: it's shorter, has more natural dialogue, and doesn't put any emphasis on the danger of the ghosts (which would be a red herring here, which is kind of late). 
  10. Laying it on a bit thick: when Cole has figured out how to use his gift, EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL. This is a bit much, with Cole
    • getting the lead in the play;
    • being friendly with the teacher he bullied before;
    • beating out the kid who got the cough syrup commercial (Merlin says to this bully, "Silence, village idiot");
    • and leading all the kids in a funny moment.

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