It contains one of the all-time great final twists, but M Night Shyamalan’s supernatural thriller ‘The Sixth Sense’ is more than just its last ten minutes – it’s a superlative piece of work that tells you exactly what’s going to happen, if only you know where to look. Here are the clues that teased one of the greatest twists ever – and it goes without saying that spoilers await…
Bruce Willis dies in the very first scene
Well, obviously. We see Dr Malcolm Crowe threatened in his house by a manic former patient with a gun, played by Donnie 'New Kid’ Wahlberg. And he’s shot. Badly. In the stomach. There’s blood everywhere. The movie is over before it has already begun. And then, suddenly, the film skips forward a year, and Dr Crowe is alive. We are led to assume that he survives the incident, by virtue of the fact that he is, indeed, still breathing. But of course, if this isn’t the first time you watch the movie, you’ll know that he is… dun dun duuuun: a ghost. Spoiler alert! (For a movie released in 1999. You really ought to have watched it by now. Why are you even reading this?)
Malcolm always wears something from the night he was killed
You’ll notice that throughout the movie, Willis’s Doc is always wearing a slight variation on the clothes he was wearing on that faithful night. The slate grey shirt is almost ever-present, as are the trousers – the jacket and the waistcoat make multiple appearances too. All because ghosts don’t consider fashion to be particularly high on their agenda.
Scenes of supernatural crossovers are signposted by the colour red
Every time the dead cross over and interact with the world of the living – that’s pretty much every time a ghost interacts with Cole, the little kid who can see dead people – M Night Shyamalan throws the colour red in the scene. You’ll notice that most of the scenes between Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment are drowning in red – see the door of the church, the robe of the statue, the red balloon. Shyamalan wanted the visual motif to be obvious in hindsight, even going so far as removing the colour red from scenes that didn’t feature any supernatural shenanigans.
The entire restaurant scene
The anniversary dinner scene between Malcolm and his wife is a masterclass of clever blocking and misdirection. As we know, Malcolm’s wife cannot see or interact with her dead husband, but Shyamalan doesn’t let us know that. We’re led to believe the lack of communication between the pair is because their relationship has gone frosty (yeah, stone cold); Anna looks in Malcolm’s direction but only when we hear raucous laughter at his end of the restaurant; and with retrospect, her sign-off line, “Happy anniversary”, underscores the scene as it is meant to be seen: sad Anna is revisiting the restaurant she and her husband used to visit back when he was alive.
I see dead people… yeah, you
Director Frank Marshall allegedly wanted this scene altered, because it seemed like too much of a hint towards Malcolm’s fate. When little Cole whispers “I see dead people”, the camera immediately cuts to a close-up of Dr Crowe, completely oblivious that Cole was talking about him. HOW DID WE NOT NOTICE THIS.
Bruce Willis became ambidextrous to hide his lack of wedding ring
Granted, it’s not a clue that you were likely to spot, unless you have a scary specific knowledge of Bruce Willis’ physiological abilities, but it’s another ingenious bit of misdirection. Throughout the film, Bruce Willis uses his right hand to write, despite the fact that he is left-handed – this is to throw you off the scent, because as a ghost, he’s no longer wearing his wedding ring. Willis had to learn how to write with his wrong hand to stop the lack of bling being obvious. It all pays off when the ring/penny drops.
Malcolm never interacts with anyone
This is the killer, really: once you realise it, the jig is up. For the entire movie, post-gunshot, Dr Crowe never once interacts with any people around him – no opening doors for anyone, no tables or chairs, no direct conversations, no touching anything that isn’t a) something on his person, or b) the floor. The only person he touches is Cole. During dinner with his wife, Malcolm reaches for the cheque, only for Anna to grab it just before he gets his hands on it (or not). Being on a different physical plane ain’t easy.
People get cold around him
It’s a fairly traditional symptom of being a ghost, this, but only recognisable if you look for it. A ghost’s presence is usually symbolised by a sudden chill in the air, and this is true for Malcolm throughout the movie. People have clearly been directed to act cold – there are lots of intakes of breath and people donning jackets in Dr Crowe’s vicinity. Anna’s breath turns cold in the air; Toni Collette’s character even shudders, zips up her jacket and turns up the thermostat. Again, so obvious in retrospect but in the moment it’s behaviour that’s so easy to ignore.
In the hospital scene, Cole looks at Malcolm’s wound
It’s just a subtle nod, but it’s definitely there. While recovering in a hospital bed after his incident in the cupboard, Cole listens to Dr Crowe attempting to tell a (terrible) bedtime story. While he does, Cole frequently moves his gaze away from Malcolm’s eyes towards his midriff area – because as we will later find out, he’s able to see his gaping stomach wound. It’s nothing more than a look, but it happens too often and too deliberately to be a coincidence.
His basement door is always locked
Frequently, we see Malcolm attempt to enter his home basement, where he keeps his tapes, but every time he turns the (red) doorknob, it appears locked. He always makes it into his basement, but we never see him find the key. This is because he’s a ghost – he needs no key, he just unconsciously glides through the obstacle that being a spirit has presented him. Later, at the film’s climax, when Malcolm is in full on 'revelations’ mode, he glances at the basement door and notices it is actually jammed shut behind a desk of books – presumably Anna didn’t want anyone going down there.
The last song on the soundtrack is literally called 'Malcolm Is Dead’
1999: not a good year for soundtracks spoiling their movies. Not only did we have to contend with John Williams’ score spoiling the fate of a major character with the track 'Qui-Gonn’s Funeral’, there was The Sixth Sense soundtrack that dropped the g-bomb right there in the tracklisting. It’s not even cleverly worded or subtly alluded to, it’s written clear as day, track 25: MALCOLM IS DEAD. What could it mean? Is it a clue? Damn you Shyamalan, you master of mystery!