THREE STARS - Disturbing

The fascination we have with death comes from our spiritual awareness that life goes on after death, that death is not the end.  But this intuitive sense of our continuing existence is incapable of answering our inevitable questions: If the dead have not ceased to be, then where are they?  Are they still here?  Is it their spirit or ghost that we sense, or have they gone on to another place, a place beyond our reach and perceptions, and our sense of them is only a memory?  Can we reach them and make contact with them through a “sixth sense,” a sense that transcends the physical senses?

Though various religions have answered those questions in often opposite and conflicting ways, the answer given by M. Night Shyamalan in his film “The Sixth Sense” is that not only can “dead people” communicate with the living but there are certain, gifted people who can see and talk with them:  people whose haunted souls consider themselves “cursed.”

The central relationship of the film is a result of a failure by prominent child psychologist, Dr. Malcome Crowe (Bruce Willis).  Confronted in his own bedroom by a young man who had been a patient years before as a 10 year old child, Crowe becomes a victim of his tormented anger as he tries to kill him and then takes his own life.  This event changes him forever.

Obsessed to help the next boy who comes to him with a similar need, Dr. Crowe finds Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment).  Cole has been described by his peers as a freak and by the doctors as suffering a mood disorder, the same label and diagnosis given to the young man who committed suicide.  Dr. Crowe sets out to both help Cole and redeem himself.  But the help Cole needs requires Dr. Crowe to explore areas about which his psychological training had not prepared him.

Cole sees dead people:  people who died in painful, violent or evil circumstances and who are not aware that they are dead or have some unfinished business to complete.

Cole is terrified by what he sees and hears.  He takes refuge in the neighborhood church as a sanctuary from their intrusions.

At first Dr. Crowe doesn’t understand this special ability of Cole.  He identifies him only as a child suffering from the damages of a violent father who hurt his mother before she divorced him.  But as time goes by, Cole becomes comfortable with Dr. Crowe and reveals to him his secret ability, his “sixth sense.”

Due to the intricate nature of the film and the ways Dr. Crowe and Cole come to understand the true reality of the situations they both face, we won’t reveal the resulting action, but the spiritual and theological questions raised by the film are of universal interest.

In most cultures of the world, the fascination with death and the longings of grieving persons to see and hear their departed loved ones have created a desire to identify people who can “contact the dead.”

Often called mediums, psychics, spiritualists or soothsayers, such people are believed to have a special sense, or “sixth sense” by which they are able to contact or “channel” the departed person’s spirit.

Although there is frequent evidence that many of these persons are charlatans and only deceive their clients, this is not the whole answer.  If such persons are all fakes, then the prohibition in the Bible against making contact with the dead would be unnecessary. 

In the Book of Leviticus, Moses writes:  “ Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.” (Deut. 18:10 -12)

This is where the film presents a very different message than Scripture.  Rather than presenting Cole as being a spiritual danger, the film presents him as having a beneficial ministry to the departed persons in helping them deal with difficult deaths.  Though he doesn’t perform a seance, he does carry a video tape to the father of a dead, poisoned girl made before her death and revealing her murderer. Additionally, by the end of the film, Cole has made peace with his ability and begins to tell others of what he can see and hear.  Although earlier in the film it was Dr. Crowe’s goal to stop the visions and voices, it is clear that now Cole will use his clairvoyant abilities.

The ending of “The Sixth Sense” and its twist which changes the meaning of nearly every scene in the film, is exquisite film making, but the answers it gives about death is dangerous.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, DISTURBING.