(EDIT: Please do not steal this for your film school final thesis. Especially if you are in Los Angeles. You will be found out, trust me.)
If you think I spend too much time pondering Godzilla's representation of U.S./Japanese relations, or just too much going into things altogether, I warn you, this one was quite tricky even for me. However, if you liked my Harville Hendrix post, I think you will like this one.
I’ve seen THE SIXTH SENSE numerous times. Like many people, I went to see it a few times when it was out in theatres. And every time I have seen it since, I see something else. A new angle to it.
The movie opens with the grown man, Dr. Malcolm Crowe. He is finally getting the recognition that he deserves for all the work that he does. And this man's work is helping to heal children. He has a beautiful, adoring wife that he loves very much, and she loves him, but oh—what was that? She feels second fiddle. She is glad for his recognition because now, finally, he can focus on other aspects of their life together, which probably means their relationship, and more specifically, her.
We follow them to the bedroom where the lovely wife begins a charming strip tease for the object of her affections. This is going to be a night of supreme lovemaking. But someone has broken in. Someone has shattered glass and made a mess in the bedroom. Someone that has no regard for this night or this fine moment-- this turning point toward a bright and prosperous future for the grown man.
It is another man, a young one. A man at another turning point, an earlier one, and a very crucial one. And we know that it is a turning point that Dr. Crowe survived. He went from youth to maturity and arrived (not without hard work and sacrifice, but arrived nonetheless) to this lovely spot in his life. But we have no hopes for the young man, Vincent Grey, who has broken in. Perhaps he is eighteen or perhaps twenty one. Whatever age it is for Grey it is one of torture, and there is no brightness or looking forward in him. He is already a ghost, living only in the past.
Dr. Crowe failed to help Grey as a child. Perhaps the Doctor’s failure came when the Doctor was Grey’s age, or perhaps a bit older. But it has been awhile, and Grey has grown from a child to a man. A wounded, aching man. And he blames Dr. Crowe for not healing him. And what do we humans do, to the one who fails us? We hurt him back. Grey shoots Crowe. And since the Doctor was the only hope Grey had, and it was a hope that died before the bullet was fired, Grey shoots himself.
And now our only hope, our only salvation, lies in the man as a child, and that is a difficult journey indeed. Crowe must find a way to go back and heal Grey (or his own Younger Self, as the case maybe). He must heal the boy who killed him and all of his dreams. He must forgive him and the only way to do that is to see through the child's eyes. And surely Cole would have grown to be Vincent Grey, we can surmise later in the film, after we have learned more about Cole, the man as a child. (A writer suspects that he won't, however. There is a clue about their destinies in their names. Cole and Crowe are alliterative and share their first initial. That is a writer's secret.)
(And I wonder if there wouldn't be some sort of connection to the whole metaphysical idea of the controlling younger self, ego middle self, and God-head/Observer higher self? Where middle self, the ego, must be destroyed so that our true inner nature can emerge, that is, our inner selfish child, so that we can balance with completely unselfish higher self. I have even heard this described as the first, third and sixth or seventh chakra, for those of you that may be interested in that sort of thing.)
Like the audience during the first viewing, Crowe doesn’t know that he is dead. (He doesn't even realize that he is a shaman.) He refuses to see it. In order for the shaman/doctor/healer to make the journey into the past and change it, he must pass through the land of the dead. He must leave behind this world thoroughly, and in this viewing of the movie (story) I saw that metaphor very clearly.
Time only exists in this world, as a measured rate of decay. All cultures that have glimpsed, recorded or prophesized about "the other side" report that there is no time. There is eternity, but that is not the same as "time." And Crowe has lost track of time. He is always late. This owes a debt to other horror films as well, such as CARNIVAL OF SOULS (one inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). The dead do not live by time. (Another nice touch in the film was Cole's father's watch, which is broken and no longer tells time. The watch was abandoned and left behind in a drawer. No longer needed.)
Shamans would piggy-back on an animal spirit sacrifice, or even a human sacrifice. And the grown man, Crowe, follows Grey's spirit into the land of the dead. Back to the roots of Grey’s psychosis, and if all three men represent the same archetype, as I understood it during this viewing of the story, back to the child. (And an interesting twist here, that the Shaman's journey is reversed for the child. The dead come to him.)
The child! Usually I identified with the boy when watching this, as many do. We all suffered in childhood. And even if you were just a tiny bit “different”, or if you moved around a lot, or were a minority, or had a physical feature or a funny last name, you probably did suffer some isolation and loneliness, because the schoolyard can be more terrifying than any horror movie or ghost.
Painful childhood memories make even the well-adjusted adult shiver. But what if your “difference” was truly horrifying and completely outside of your control? (And isn't almost everything in any child's world outside of his/her control?) In the movie the child, Cole, sees ghosts-- hideous tortured ghosts bearing the marks of their suffering and deaths. No child should have to see these things. And, worse, they can manipulate his reality. They can lie in wait for him, move things, cause problems for him, torture him. He can’t share the horror with anyone, not even his loving but uncomprehending mother.
I saw this as a metaphor for the child who lives in a nightmare. Alcoholism, abuse, incest, etc. I really noticed the ghosts this time. The abused wife/mother who commits suicide; the dying daughter, poisoned by a parent-the mother, but easily this metaphor could have represented incest or any other abuse as well; people who were really tortured at the school, standing in for the ghosts of all the children who didn’t fit into the schoolyard hierarchy. Ghosts of those that were hanged when the school was a courthouse (a place of judgement), or when the school caught fire (ignited with rage?), burning and disfiguring at least one woman.
There are the spirits of the fallen soldiers, that Cole weeps for in the churchyard. (Especially the new father, who never got to see his infant daughter, recited to and by Cole as weight and apgar measurements.) Cole mourns the fate of his gender and his manhood. Because men have always fought. Men spill their blood on the battlefield, not in childbirth. All men, regardless of whether they are born into a peaceful world (has there ever been one?), and regardless of whether they have served in the military, all men are haunted by the ghosts of war.
(And this insight owes a real debt to Chairbourne Stranger. Honestly, if you only have time to read a few blogs, bump mine and move his further up the list. Especially if you are American, and regardless of how you feel about the reasons for the war or the Bush regime generally. His blog is raw and honest and powerful and beautifully written.)
The archetype of the soldier: the powerful protector, the defender of all that is good and right, and also the fierce destroyer of that which is evil, is the strongest male archetype there is. Stronger than the archetype of the father, which is the only archetype missing in this movie, save the father of the dead girl. And he has no sons. Cole’s father is gone. M.I.A. A broken watch and glasses without lenses.
The one boy ghost I saw this time—if I have forgotten that there were others, but I don’t think there were—was the boy who walks through Cole's house. “Come on, I’ll show you were my father keeps his gun.” And we know how that boy died without being told. And more importantly, we know that this anonymous ghost-boy’s father also failed him. Even if the father was not guilty of any other crime, he did not protect his son from deadly negligence and lack of caution. (The soldiers are male, but we never see them. We only see Cole interacting with them when his "older self" is present, that is, when Dr. Crowe is present.)
Even God the Father is not a very good protector. (And there is no mention made of what He did to his own son. Regardless of whether Jesus was the saviour of all mankind, as far as being a father goes, Jehovah did not protect His son. In fact, in this light, He sent him here to suffer. I think the cruxification should not be taught until children are old enough to understand all of these horrible things. ) God's protection is weak against the ghosts and the horrors. Cole hides in a church, but even there, the dead find him, even if they are gentle spirits speaking Latin, they are still there, whispering to him and preventing him from being a normal little boy.
And God the Father is not all encompassing, anyhow. God does not walk him home or check under the bed for monsters. And Cole has plenty of monsters after him. And more horrifying, his main source of strength and comfort and nurturing is actually his greatest weakness. The fatherless little boy must protect his all-powerful mother against the evil world he lives in. Because to reveal it to her would be to expose her and leave her vulnerable. In a world of horror--supernatural or familial--the man that the boy needs to become must be honourable to women. He must be a true match, in Freudian terms, for "zee fazzer." Otherwise, he cannot heal his family or redeem himself from his father's broken legacy.
And Crowe himself is still here because he so desperately needs to reconcile with his wife. He needs her to know that it was not, nor has it ever been, that she is second fiddle to his work. But he had hurt, fatherless little boys to save. And if he didn't save them they would kill him and themselves, just as Cole fears the ghosts will kill him. And I suppose this is feminist film theory or something, but I did notice during this viewing, as I think I mentioned before, that the ghosts Cole rescues are female, but the ones he saves, the ones he heals, are males.
(There is a beautiful piece of storytelling in an almost throwaway scene: The teacher that Cole humiliates by dragging the teacher back to his own tortured, stuttering childhood, is able to be a true paternal figure to him later, in getting him the part of Arthur in the school play. The unspoken apology and forgiveness between them, not at all subtle, but still very beautiful and very beautifully filmed as well, as they go up the stairs together, the teacher putting an arm around Cole's costumed shoulders. And then there is a whole other tangent that could be taken, in discussing the use of a "play" as a metaphor for a traumatized and isolated child's healing. For the child to be allowed to be, to be able to be, a child, finally, and play. And there is hope too, that Cole, now freed of the burdens of his father and his brother and his older self, etc., might find a true father figure in the "real" world. Maybe it will be someone that he has lashed out at and hurt, as children are sometimes apt to do those that love and care for them.)
And Crowe needs Cole to save him. Because the therapy is only complete when the child is really heard and believed. We shush the children in ourselves. We don't believe them anymore. We have made them stupid for fearing the monster under the bed. "That wasn't real. I was just a child." And worse, as we grow older we don't want to admit--I think even moreso if we don't come from broken or abusive or obviously dysfunctional homes-- that Daddy's absence, real or emotional, or Mommy's need to have all of the attention, is the reason we are unhappy with our lives or ourselves. We blame our parents, because, really who else is there to blame? We were just kids. But you can't really blame your parents for your weight or your drinking or your kleptomania or your three screwed up marriages. Not really.
Crowe needs to listen to the child. We all must listen to the ghosts of our childhood and our inner child. Crowe is only helpful when he accepts the parameters of Cole's reality and offers an explanation that Cole, the child, can acccept. And Crowe is right. Cole is able to communicate with his ghosts and even save them. And then, when the child is healed-- and all children believe that they are all powerful when they are truly whole-- Cole can save Crowe's marriage, and heal Crowe.
"Talk to her when she is sleeping. Then she will be able to hear you." Because, of course, Crowe is just a ghost. Whether he is the ghost of man who died in the past or the man that Cole will become doesn't matter. He is a ghost, and the only way he will be heard is in dreams, when the conscious mind is sleeping.
(And perhaps here, there is nod to the whole idea that men and women alike believe--deep down, whether it is admited or not-- that our romantic partners, like our parents, should just "know" what we need. They should know how we feel and we should not have to tell them. And when we finally do tell them how we feel-- perhaps it isn't rational, perhaps it is some deep rooted childhood need that is speaking that makes no sense in the waking world, in the daylight--it does makes sense to the dreaming. The heart will understand and hear us. Especially, I think, for men, because they have such a hard time articulating their feelings. The dreaming woman--is she Jung's animus or anima?--will hear you and respond.)
The spirits of the past, like the spirits of the dead, really can't hurt you. They can go bump in the night and give you a good scare, but they can't hurt you. But the little child in all of us doesn't know that. (And the adult has learned all to well that there are many dangers that there is no protection from.) The ghosts of the past will scare us. They will jump out at us even when things are going well.
But all they really want is the same thing everyone wants: to be listened to. To be heard, to be acknowledged. Dead or alive, child or adult, it is the human spirit's greatest need: for there to be an honest acknowledgement of one's true existence. Or perhaps, more importantly, for one's own perception and experience, whether that acknowledgement is for "yea or nay". We all need to be validated and accepted.
"It just went in and out, it doesn't even hurt anymore," the man tells the wife. "I think it's okay now. It just went right through me." But, no, it is too late. He has bled to death, he just wouldn't admit it. She turns him over gently and weeps as the blood spills out of him. She mourns for him because he cannot. He is the stoic protector even as he dies.
But on the other side of town, the boy tells the mother "I'm ready to communicate with you now." He is saved, and he can now save her, too. The ghosts will not come to kill him, and she will not have to mourn him.
(There is another tangent here, that I think about. Men fear humiliation and failure in the eyes of a woman. But women's fear of men is mostly physical: rape, murder, control of property and our bodies, until recently. I always wonder if we are weaker or if they are just more emotionally fragile than they want to admit?)
Yes, Crowe dies, but that's okay with us now because he got the chance to fix things. Death comes to us, and we all accept that on a deep level. What we don't accept is that we may not be able to make everything right and repair the lives of ourselves and our loved ones. I believe that much of the creative urge owes itself to this. Not to "death= beauty" and the artist making peace with death through the creation of some (hopefully) lasting work. But I think sometimes we just want to take the bits and pieces of our lives and sort them into something meaningful. Perhaps in sorting ourselves we will sort another. Maybe we will find something beautiful and inspiring in rearranging the rubble.
The ghosts are still around Cole, but now he has adults who see his reality and have validated his experiences. We can live with anything if it is honest and it is validated by those we love most. And now the ghosts can't hurt him. In fact, he is their saviour.
The man dies. But there is simple metaphor here too. When a man becomes a father, he must leave behind the old wounds and the old arguments. Because he doesn't matter anymore, his son does. And Cole lives, and he will live well and happy, and be able to reassure his mother, and protect her from the ghost of her mother-in deed, he can comfort her, that she is as is good as her mother was. That she has not failed her son. No child, male or female, fatherless or fully parented, wants to be something that his/her parent's fail. The man, Crowe, in giving up his own life, has made way for his son and his younger self to be whatever it is they need to be. He has made the ultimate sacrifice.
Or maybe it was just a movie, and I am thinking too much about my own father, and what I will say to him when I meet him, and how hard it is to forgive him for leaving us. But how very determined I am to do just that.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, TOODLE ON!!!