Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sixth Sense

One of the most pleasurable cinema-going experiences is seeing a film without any prior knowledge of it, not having read a review, seen a trailer or been exposed to a single opinion. You watch with a completely open, unprejudiced mind. You get to discover the film. If it has a startling plot twist or narrative development, or a sucker-punch ending, the effect is that much more powerful.

I saw 'Seven' first time round without knowing anything other than Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman were in it, and with a Sunday afternoon to kill, that was good enough for me. I remember checking out the poster in the cinema's foyer, squinting to read the director's name. David who? I wondered, and went and got my ticket and took my seat.

An ex-colleague told me he watched 'From Dusk Till Dawn' without the slightest inkling that it was going to turn into a vampire movie at the half-way mark. No idea! I wish I could have experienced it like that.

With 'The Sixth Sense', all I knew was that it had paranormal subject matter and there was a twist ending. Even knowing that was knowing too much. As the opening credits rolled, I thought to myself: Right, then, let's see if I can second guess it. Ten minutes later I was thinking to myself -


- Yeah, got it: Brucie's a ghost. And spent the rest of the movie being proved right. And didn't take much away with me when I left the cinema. A friend of mine has a diametrically opposite memory of his first viewing of 'The Sixth Sense': the twist blown by a blabbermouth DJ as he listened to the car radio while driving to the cinema.

Watching 'The Sixth Sense' for maybe only the third time over the weekend, I re-evaluated it and found myself wishing, like my friend, that I'd known the ending from the off. That way I could have saved myself a wasted two hours playing smartarse and being disappointed when the film-makers didn't deliver something beyond my educated guess. I could have appreciated how finely nuanced the performances are and what a generous actor Bruce Willis is in his scenes with Haley Joel Osmont, letting his young co-star set the pace; playing off him. How brilliantly Toni Collette nails the harrassed, nervy single mother, portraying not only her character's stressed brittleness, but her desperate affection for her troubled son. Alongside 'Japanese Story', this represents the finest work she has done onscreen.

I could have appreciated how atmospherically shot it is, Tak Fujimoto's autumnal cinematography setting the tone; Shyamalan's use of colours as clues remaining just the right side of clever-cleverness.

I could have appreciated how restrained and confident the direction is, Shyamalan taking his time establishing character and setting. If there's anything that redeems even his lousiest films (because, oh, the mighty was soon to fall!) it's his commitment to slow, calm, studied pacing. Compared to the frenetic MTV-style of chopping and splicing so beloved of that Satan of contemporary cinema Michael Bay - the venal epitome of a generation of directors who cut their teeth making music videos - Shyamalan's approach to film-making is thoughtful; careful. Old school.

Fortunately, over the weekend, I sat back and appreciated all of these things. And believe me, when I slid the DVD into the player, my thoughts were along the lines of: Right, then, let's see if this is really as good as its adoring aficionados make out. I now find myself thinking that, yes, it is. But not for the reason that most people remember it. The twist ending is the least thing 'The Sixth Sense' has to offer. Watch it for its craftsmanship; for what it says about family, memory and human frailty.

1 comment:

Chethana said...

Yes, there is probably a lot to appreciate in a movie apart from a surprise twist. Yet, I wouldn't complain if a strong story had a clever unguessable twist.

Shyamalan is old school for sure, not falling for the fancies of very rapid story-telling.