20 years ago, I saw dead people, you saw dead people, we all saw dead people. Dr. Malcom and Cole graced our screens and what we witnessed is an unmatchable classic horror till date. Even though it’s 20 years since The Sixth Sense released, it still has its feet firmly in phantom.
The reasons for The Sixth Sense’s mass appeal were obvious- no one saw the ending coming; sure Dr. Malcolm wore the same shirt, his wife never acknowledged him and it was cold all the time. And there was certainly a lot of red stuff as well, but none was enough to truly expose the A-bomb ending. Not just that, Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment’s authentic performances won everyone’s curiosity, their roles as Dr. Malcolm and Cole Sear became iconic overnight; and the grief-related side-plots through Cole’s mom and Dr. Malcolm’s wife brought heart and soul to the proceedings that horror movies sometimes lack. The marks that the movie left on pop culture weren’t just momentary as they’ve since proved impossible to erase, and against all odds, watching The Sixth Sense today is just as affecting as it was in 1999.
However, even though The Sixth Sense did everything right, the real reason why it’ll never be outdone has a lot to do with what Cole’s character actually represents. In the movie, he is an isolated and bullied kid who is unable to fit in ‘society’. Cole isn’t picked on because other kids know he’s psychic; he’s rather picked on simply for being perceptibly different. And this predicament is unfortunately painfully similar to anyone who has suffered through a similarly miserable adolescence. Further Cole is not just about misfits and minorities; he’s also those individuals who are surviving abuse. The kid is dealing with both physical and mental abuse from disturbed spirits and his ‘sixth sense’ also exposes Cole to the horrors of domestic violence alongside the gory and tragic fate of various children. When you witness such traumas, it’s impossible to interact on the same level as your peer; hence Cole suffers in silence, like so many real-life survivors do.
While The Sixth Sense offers understanding to survivors who are hesitant to speak up, the film is also dedicated to encouraging them try anyway. Cole’s delicate relationship with Dr. Malcolm is a symbol of rescue, redemption and recovery. The bond is meticulously designed to demonstrate a message to abuse survivors- While not everyone will believe or understand what has happened to you, seeking assistance from someone still remains worthwhile. The Sixth Sense tells us, one person who believes you is all it takes to get on the road to healing. In return, it asks us to accept assistance and learn to trust another person.
Further, the movie tells viewers to believe in survivors and also, through the tragic figure of Vincent Grey, warns about the damage that can follow when they are not taken seriously. Ultimately, The Sixth Sense is our guide on how to transform darkness into light, pain into healing, and trauma into love. Its influence in society was overlooked in 1999, but, 20 years on, we need its lessons more than ever.