Fight: The Sixth Sense vs Shutter Island

Shutter Island and The Sixth Sense are two films that may seem unrelated at first, but the more one contemplates the similarities, the more similar they become. The Sixth Sense is a 1999 thriller written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan about a therapist portrayed by Bruce Willis who attempts to help a young buy overcome his supposed mental disorder that allows him to see dead people. Shutter Island is based off of a book by Dennis Lehane and directed by Martin Scorsese and is a thriller about a detective portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio who attempts to help an insane asylum track down a missing patient who disappeared recently. Both are intense, both have thrills, and both have twists endings that make the film completely different upon a second viewing. This movie fight is going to be full of spoilers, so if you don’t already know what happens in these films, then go watch them and come back in about 270 minutes!

Now that you have seen both films, let’s briefly discuss their similarities and differences:

Shutter Island makes the viewer believe that DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels is actually a detective trying to solve a missing persons case regarding a patient in an asylum. At the end, when he is revealed to actually be the missing patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the film suddenly makes much more sense. The entire film is strange, choppy and mysterious because we are in the mind of Daniels- a patient of the asylum. This explains why everything has this tangible sensation of weirdness, some of the other character’s reactions are slightly off-putting, and we kept seeing visions and haunting visuals that might not have actually been there. This film got away with so much since our main protagonist was crazy, and that’s one of the best aspects.

Upon second viewing, and the audience is fully aware that Daniels is actually a patient; Easter eggs, hints, and missed plot points are now completely exposed. It’s almost hard to believe that I missed those hints upon first viewing, and one of the best examples of this is when Daniels is a scene in which Daniels and Mark Ruffalo’s Chuck Aule go around asking people about the last time they saw the missing patient; the patients being interviewed often give Aule a strange and confused look because they are confused why Daniels is looking for himself, whereas upon first viewing, they simply looked concerned or anxious upon mention of the missing patient’s name- as if the patient was dangerous or this was a conspiracy. The film is entirely different the second, and even third times.

The Sixth Sense is very similar in this way: Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe who is shot at the beginning of the film, and then goes through the rest of the movie therapeutically helping a young child named Cole (played by Haley Joel Osment) who claims that he can see ghosts. At the end of the film, it is revealed that Bruce Willis’ character was dead the entire movie, and the only person who could see him was Cole. Just like with Shutter Island, there are many small hints at this reveal, though they all go over the audience’s head or at least are interpreted differently in each viewing of the film; moments such as the anniversary dinner in which Crowe’s (widowed) wife says nothing to him is interpreted in the first viewing as she being mad that he was late for the dinner, whereas upon the second viewing we see that she doesn’t talk to him since she cannot see or hear him.

Cole explains to Malcolm, “They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.” This quote explains the entire movie, but the audience is so caught up in the horror/mystery aspect that they don’t even try to consider the fact that Malcolm could also be dead, and not just the other ghosts since they are portrayed to be terrifying- and since Malcolm is not, he couldn’t possibly be a ghost. It’s this genius-level misdirection that makes a twist like this possible in the first place; Shyamalan holds our gazed in one direction, while we’re being played throughout the film, from the first scene to the last. Dr. Malcolm Crowe is trying to help Cole overcome his fear of seeing dead people, while he is also dead without knowing it; Teddy Daniels is trying to help Chuck Aule track down the missing patient from the asylum, while he is actually the patient without knowing it.

Both of these stories are almost alike in that way: each character becomes the thing they were after the entire movie, and they become the thing that they feared, without realizing it. Films like this can pull off such a mind-blowing twist since they are masters at deception and misdirection. Directors M. Night Shyamalan and Martin Scorsese (even their initials are the same! Just kidding, while this is true, that doesn’t tie anything together. This isn’t a conspiracy essay) expertly tricked the audience, and made two films in one, since the second viewing is an entirely different experience. I’ll expand this into a much longer and more analytical essay in the future, including comparing the beats, sequences and scenes of each film to see just how similar they are, but for now, this is the end of this Movie Fight! So, which film reigns supreme? Well, that’s up to you! What do you think? Personally, I enjoy The Sixth Sense more, but that has been one of my favorites for years and I’ve loved it ever since the first viewing. As always, thanks for reading, share if you liked this and I’ll see you soon!

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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