What Exactly Happened at The End of The Sixth Sense?

M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” remains one of the most compelling psychological thrillers of the late 20th century, not just for its haunting atmosphere and emotional depth, but for its masterful twist ending that left audiences reeling and rethinking everything they had witnessed. But what happened at the end and did it actually make sense?

Photo Credit: Spyglass Entertainment.

The plot

In “The Sixth Sense” (1999), young Cole Sear, played by Haley Joel Osment, is haunted by a chilling ability: he sees ghosts. Enter Dr. Malcolm Crowe, portrayed by Bruce Willis, a child psychologist who’s both intrigued and skeptical of Cole’s claims. As Crowe digs deeper, he discovers the boy’s gift is real, opening up a world where the dead linger, unresolved.

The film’s famous climax reveals that Dr. Malcolm Crowe has been dead since the beginning of the movie, a victim of a gunshot wound inflicted by a former patient in the opening scenes. This twist recontextualizes the entire narrative, as viewers come to realize that all of Crowe’s interactions have been with Cole alone, and his inability to communicate with other characters or affect the physical world suddenly makes sense.

The revelation

The genius of “The Sixth Sense” lies not just in the shock value of its twist, but in how meticulously it is set up throughout the film.

Shyamalan uses subtle clues and careful misdirection to build the illusion of Crowe’s living status. Scenes where Crowe is seemingly ignored by other adults are initially perceived as signs of marital strain or professional distraction. The truth, however, is far more shocking.

The revelation that Crowe is a ghost, unaware of his own death, serves as a poignant commentary on grief, denial, and the human need for closure.

Crowe’s journey mirrors a process of coming to terms with his own unfinished business, as he helps Cole confront and accept his unique ability to communicate with the dead. It’s a narrative device that turns the supernatural thriller into a deep exploration of loss and acceptance.

Iconic ending

The ending of “The Sixth Sense” has become iconic, influencing numerous films and becoming a staple reference point for narrative twists in cinema.

Its impact is twofold: it delivers a dramatic shift in the viewer’s understanding of the story, while also enhancing the emotional resonance of the narrative.

The realization that Crowe has been working through his own post-mortem denial adds a layer of tragedy to his character and deepens the film’s exploration of themes related to death and the afterlife.

Moreover, the twist encourages subsequent viewings of the film, inviting audiences to look for the carefully planted clues hidden in plain sight. This rewatchability factor adds to the film’s enduring popularity, as viewers delight in uncovering the subtle hints they missed on the first viewing.

In the wake of “The Sixth Sense,” celebrated author Stephen King lauded its “ingenious narrative and chilling revelations,” underscoring its impact on the horror genre. Roger Ebert, in his review, hailed the film as a “masterpiece of suspense,” particularly commending Haley Joel Osment’s “remarkably powerful performance.”