Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Haley Joel Osment), Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette), Best Director (M. Night Shyamalan), Best Original Screenplay (M. Night Shyamalan), Best Film Editing (Andrew Mondshein)
SUMMARY: Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) is a child psychologist in Philadelphia, who has just been honored for his work. That evening, as he is celebrating with his wife Anna (Olivia Williams), a man breaks into their house; Malcolm finds him in the bathroom. Although he doesn’t recognize the man at first, Malcolm eventually realizes that the man is Vincent Grey, who was a patient as a child. Vincent is obviously very disturbed, and claims that Malcolm didn’t help him. He then shoots Malcolm, then kills himself.
The next fall, Malcolm begins seeing Cole Sear, a 9-year-old boy who reminds Malcolm very much of Vincent (which strengthens Malcolm’s desire to help him). At home, though, Malcolm is having a lot of trouble: his wife essentially ignores him. Cole is initially very hesitant to talk to Malcolm, and refuses to tell him his “secret”. Strange things seem to happen to and around Cole, including some seemingly unexplained injuries. After one of these occurrences, Cole is hospitalized. When Malcolm visits him, Cole finally reveals his secret: he sees dead people, who walk around like live people, unaware that they are dead. At first, Malcolm doesn’t believe Cole, and thinks about transferring him to another psychologist. Before he does so, Malcolm digs up his old files on Vincent, and finds a tape of one session. During that session, Malcolm leaves Vincent in the room alone for a short time; when he returns, Vincent is crying. When he examines the tape more closely, Malcolm is able to hear a man’s voice begging for help in Spanish. He realizes that Cole is telling the truth, and that his case is indeed very similar to Vincent’s. To help Cole, Malcolm suggests that he listen to what the ghosts have to say. That night, a ghost appears in Cole’s room, and though he initially flees, he returns to his room and asks the ghost if she has something to tell him. The next day, Cole and Malcolm go to the girl’s funeral reception, and with the help of her ghost, is able to discover the real cause of the girl’s death. Cole begins to be able to deal with the ghosts, and this success is reflected at school, where he starts to fit in better: he also seems to be happier. Malcolm decides that Cole has progressed sufficiently, and no longer needs his help. Before they leave each other, Cole suggests that Malcolm try to talk to his wife while she is sleeping, since she will be listening subconsciously.
Later in the same day, as Cole rides in the car with his mother, he tells her about the ghosts. She doesn’t believe him, but is convinced after he reveals details about his grandmother that he has no way of knowing, she realizes that he is telling the truth. That night, Malcolm returns to his house to find that his wife is asleep. He begins to talk to her, and in a dream state, she asks Malcolm why he left her. She then drops his wedding ring, which has always been shown in his hand. Malcolm suddenly realizes that he is really a ghost: Vincent killed him that night, and he has been dead for the whole time he has been working with Cole (which explains why his wife seems to ignore him). Malcolm realizes that his work with Cole has allowed him to be at peace: he wasn’t able to help Vincent, but did help Cole. Malcolm tells his still-sleeping wife goodbye, then seems to disappear.
MY TAKE: This movie has one of the most famous twists of all time – everybody has heard the quote “I see dead people” (it’s No. 44 on AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Movie Quotes list), and knows that Bruce Willis is actually one of them (No. 60 on AFI’s 100 Years. . . 100 Thrills list). While I wish that I could have seen this movie without knowing that (I imagine that the initial audience reaction was complete shock), knowing all along that Malcolm is a ghost (and that this is Cole’s problem) allowed me to notice a lot of small “clues” in the movie that I might otherwise have missed. For example, Malcolm only ever talks to Cole and his wife, and the only one who responds is Cole: his wife never even really looks at him, which is suspicious. Also, when Cole and Malcolm are together, they’re usually not in public. If they are, Cole doesn’t speak when there are other people around (since they can’t see Malcolm, it would look like he is talking to himself). Even though I already knew what the twist was, I still really enjoyed the movie. The fact that nobody around him knows Cole’s secret keeps the tension up, and the randomly appearing ghosts (frequently in rather bloody states) can scare you if you’re not ready for them. Best of all, the ending is happy. Malcolm is able to help Cole: as we see from Vincent, kids like that who do not receive help have huge problems. Cole is also so young and small that you can’t help feeling sorry for him. He lives in a state of constant terror, so it was great to see the improvements he was able to make by the end of the movie. Malcolm is able to work through whatever issues he had, and redeems his failure with Vincent through his work with Cole.