The Sixth Sense, if you do not already know and have decided to venture from your cave in the Adirondacks to find a computer and check out this awesome blog, is about a 12-years-ago version of Haley Joel Osment (unreasonably cute and hitherto largely unproductive) who can see ghosts. That is the movie's subject; the narrative follows the character of Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) who is a successful child psychologist that attempts to help Osment's character, aptly (albeit rather dully named) Cole Sear-as in, a one letter difference from a word denoting "one who sees things". Cole See-er is appropriately terrified of these ghosts, none of whom realize they are dead, many of whom are violent or angry, and all of whom need the help of an eleven year old boy to pass on to wherever. Eventually, Dr. Crowe suggests Cole fight his fear and listen to the ghosts to see what they need, thus helping him process the terror and making it bearable and (by the end) quite warming. Oh, also, Dr. Crowe's dead. Big time. Oops, SPOILER ALERT. There.
The aspect of the mise en scene which I shall be exploring is fairly obvious when it comes to this film and all the reputation it has developed since. Throughout the film Dr. Crowe is portrayed as a remarkably passive individual. There are more intentional scenes wherein the viewer sees the world ignore (or more accurately, not notice) his actions or words. Most of these instances are interactions between he and his wife which he interprets to be a sign of the two of them growing apart. But he also continues to try and open a closet door in his house which refuses to budge despite there not being anything obstructing it. After the viewer watches the film, sees Cole come to terms with his gift and begin feeling good about it-and opening up to his helpless mother-portrayed by the fabulous Toni Collette- the viewer has his or her mind blown by the killer twist that he has been dead this whole time. The mise en scene, which very successfully provides the power of this twist, does so not by hiding the fact that he has been dead (in fact it seems impossible the second time through to not notice something is strange) but by allowing the focus to rest on Cole-a seemingly odd decision to make considering Crowe is technically the protagonist. Almost every scene he is in promotes this idea of him as a passive character, the focus of the movie and plot always being on Cole. Most notably, there is a scene wherein he and Cole are at the wake of a young girl (Kyra) who died and asked Cole to deliver a message to her father. This is the moment of the film where Cole gives Crowe's suggestion a try and ignores his fear to listen to her. Cole and Crowe are in a house full of mourning family members, navigating to Kyra's bedroom and then finding the father. While Cole remains at the center of the camera's focus, Crowe can be observed walking through the crowd of people in the background. When Cole addresses the girl's father and delivers the message, Crowe is out of focus observing. The character blocking in this scene signifies their character dynamic and creates a more dramatic twist by emphasizing Crowe's passivity. The plot is propelled by Cole's character, Crowe does not directly affect Cole's life in any other way than to suggest that he begin listening to the ghosts. It is always Crowe that comes to find Cole, at the church, at his house, or at his school. It is always Cole who leads when they walk, Crowe simply follows and converses.
A significant element to the mise en scene in terms of costuming and props is that Crowe only wears or carries things that he was wearing in the scene of his death. He does change clothes, but only from his jacket and dress shirt to the gray sweatshirt he put on in the opening scene. Another thing to note, though this may fall more inline with cinematography, is that Crowe is never seen from the back. At one point the camera looks over his shoulder, but he is always seen walking towards the camera. This does two things, it emphasizes him chasing after his life, feeling that he is losing his grip on it. This example is most evident in the restaurant scene wherein he runs to the table very late. Secondly, and more importantly, it hides the bloody mess left by the exit wound of the gunshot that killed him.
Finally, the color red is very significant in this film. Shyamalan uses two visual signifiers for the presence and interference of ghosts, one is more obvious than the other; cold (mist breath) and the color red. Cole describes the chills he gets when ghosts are around, and frequently the viewer sees him breathe mist. Crowe's wife, in the final scene, talks to her in her sleep while she shivers and breathes mist as well. The color red is a little more subtle, but it is left out of most scenes and used intentionally for items or environments that have been interfered with by ghosts. Cole is wearing a red sweater when he is locked in the attic and abused, later his mother finds a tear in it with scarring on his back. The doors of the church he finds shelter in are bright red-a place where Crowe intrudes. The tent which Cole hides in whenever his house is haunted is red and is later torn open by Kyra. Finally, the numbers to the volume dial on Crowe's voice recorder wherein he hears a spanish ghost's voice repeating "yo no quiero morir" are blood red.
The Sixth Sense is a brilliant movie, the twist's impact is created by keeping the viewer's focus on one plot point and thereby hiding something quite obvious. The passivity of Crowe is apparent even when the viewer is not looking for it, Crowe is always following Cole, coming to meet him, or waiting for him. The viewer feels a disconnect around him that is uncomfortable. The character blocking, costuming, and props all provide subtle suggestions towards this twist that make it painful to watch again and wonder how they were not noticed.