Cuts We Love – The Sixth Sense
Editor Andrew Mondshein, ACE, (Desperately Seeking Susan, American Made) says he and director M. Night Shyamalan were interested in making an old-fashioned psychological horror in the mold of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby as opposed to the slasher films that the genre had become.
“It’s relatively easy to make an audience jump when they are tense, but we resisted all fake scares – no cat-jumping-out-of-the-closet kind of jolts,” explains Mondshein. “We felt it imperative to earn the audience’s complete trust before yanking the rug out from under them in the end.”
Unusually, The Sixth Sense had a huge existential issue at the beginning. “If the audience figured out that Bruce was dead, then we had no film. Until our first preview, we were truly unsure if one of the clues would give us away.”
As originally conceived, the final scene stays with Willis while he slowly walks around the house putting all the clues together. Unfortunately, the first preview audience couldn’t fathom what was going on. “They started asking questions: What happened?
Is he dead? We were losing our audience at the precise moment we thought we would be stunning them.”
Mondshein and Shyamalan revisited the scene. “We needed an ‘aha!’ moment,” Mondshein explains, “when the entire audience would simultaneously realize that Bruce was dead. So, after [his wife drops the wedding ring], I cut in a flashback of Cole [Haley Joel Osment] saying, ‘I see dead people, they don’t know they’re dead.’
“Secondly, we needed to show our audience flashbacks of just enough clues that they would say to themselves, ‘I can’t believe I missed that, and that too!’ so that they stay involved in watching the rest of the movie.
“That solved our problem except for one issue,” he continues. “One of only three notes we got from the studio was that they wanted Bruce to kiss his wife [played by Olivia Williams] goodbye. Unfortunately, our rules were clear that as a dead person he couldn’t touch anybody. We solved this problem by dissolving into the final fade-to-white kiss from their wedding video.”
The iconic line, ‘I see dead people,’ was in the script and shot as ‘I see dead people, I see ghosts.’ Mondshein says he convinced Shyamalan that they should lose the more traditional ghost reference and focus on the “hauntingly precise, childlike perspective of seeing dead people.”
He adds that the film actually went against a number of modern conventions. “The film was deliberately paced, had no sex, no real on-screen violence, long dialogue scenes, a child as the protagonist [not just an object to be saved] and we ‘kill’ the star at the end – or was it at the beginning?”
The editor suggests this is reminder not to be overly constrained by group thinking in telling stories – “or as the great Japanese filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, said: ‘You must betray your audience’s expectations, in order to fulfill them.’”