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The Sixth Sense

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Many critics have called The Sixth Sense a “psychological thriller.”  When reading this description one is invariably drawn to the word thriller rather than the word psychological.  While it can be effectively argued that The Sixth Sense is indeed a thriller, one wonders if the impact of the word psychological gets buried in the intensity of the word thriller.  This point is raised because it seems that the crux of the movie is built on the psychology that it employs rather than the thrill value that it imparts.  Although “psychological thriller” is the correct combination of terms to describe the action, critics could do the movie more accurate justice by describing it as an exercise in subjective/objective realities.  Despite the fact that this description does not have the ability to draw as large an audience as the tantalizing phrase “psychological thriller,” it is in fact a more accurate description of the film’s intention.

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the plot focuses on an award-winning psychologist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), whose work has brought him closer to dysfunctional children while leaving him somewhat disenfranchised from his wife Anna (Olivia Williams).  Returning home one evening from an award’s ceremony, Crowe and his wife discover that an intruder has entered their home.  The intruder is Vincent Gray (Donnie Wahlberg), a former patient of Crowe’s and one of his few failures.  After, what seems like senseless, rambling, Gray garners a gun and shoots Crowe and himself.

The Sixth Sense

The scene ends and the action abruptly picks-up “Next Fall.”  It seems that Crowe has recovered from his wounds, but the shooting has left an emotional gulf between he and his wife.  Crowe even goes so far as to suppose that his wife is having an affair.  In an attempt to escape his marriage, Crowe begins working with nine-year-old Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment).  Crowe finds Cole’s case particularly compelling because Cole exhibits the same symptoms displayed by Vincent Gray.  Crowe becomes focused on helping Cole as a means to assuage his guilt over Gray’s death.  Despite Crowe’s vast expertise, Cole’s case presents some difficulties because Cole sees and hears things that others around him do not.

Cole Sear’s gift is one that defies understanding by most adults.  The subjective view of the situation is that Cole is psychologically tormented, either by his father’s absence or by some deeper disturbance.  Physical bruises are believed to be either from other school boys (believed by his mother) or by the mother herself (suspected by a medical doctor, played in cameo by the film’s director).  Only Cole knows the objective reality; he is pursued by real demons, not in his mind but in his physical reality.

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