The human psyche may only allow you to see what you want to see and not necessarily the facts or truth. Filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan, portrays this perfectly through the character Malcolm Crowe in the movie The Sixth Sense. Malcolm is a brilliant and successful child psychologist who struggles with his failed attempts to help a former patient and the neglect of his own marriage throughout his career.
Driven by guilt, Malcolm pours all of his time and energy into a new patient, Cole Sears, whose symptoms are parallel to those of his very disturbed former patient. Cole is a scared, anxiety stricken, and haunted young boy with a supernatural ability to see and communicate with dead people or ghosts. Due to Malcolm's deep commitment and extensive time spent with Cole, he alienates his wife who seeks comfort and companionship from a male employee.
Malcolm's desperate need to help Cole clouds his ability to perceive his true reality. It is through the journey of helping Cole that finally opens Malcolm's eyes to the realization and acceptance of his own death. As a result, he attains closure with his wife, redeems himself for past failures and is able to move on to the afterlife with a sense of inner peace.
Malcolm and his wife appear to share a deep love for one another even though she makes a comment early on in the movie that she is runner up to his career. Nonetheless, it is evident they have love and mutual respect for one another. Unfortunately, their happiness is abruptly disrupted when Malcolm is shot by his former patient, a boy whom he could not help. He does this because he feels as though Malcolm failed him and blames him for being a freak.
Following the shooting, we see Malcolm try to interact with his wife without success and her repeated failure to respond to him or acknowledge his presence in a room. She appears to ignore him and he views this lack of communication as anger and resentment that stems from marital neglect. This is shown in a scene where his wife is waiting for Malcolm at a restaurant to celebrate their anniversary and he arrives late because he is in a session with Cole- his new patient.
His apology is futile and his wife leaves angry and hurt. Malcolm's perception of the situation is inaccurate because of his inability to acknowledge that he is actually dead. Until this is revealed to Malcolm, he will continue to falsely interpret his wife's behavior and actions. This point is proven when we see Malcolm find his wife's bottle of antidepressants and his assumption that her depression is due to marital problems and not grief from his tragic demise.
At the suggestion of Cole, Malcom expresses his love to his wife while she sleeps and in that moment his true reality is finally realized - he his dead! It is abundantly clear that Malcolm's sessions and relationship with Cole are paramount in his ability to evolve and eventually say goodbye to his wife and have closure in their marriage.
Malcolm believes he is Cole's hired psychologist and desperately wants to help him. His motivation for doing so is fueled by his guilty conscience resulting from his failed attempt to help his former patient who ultimately shot him. Malcolm sees the similarities between the boys and wants the opportunity to get it right. At first, it is unclear if Malcolm can help Cole, but through a bedtime story everything changes.
He narrates this to Cole as a bedtime story that revolves around a character named Malcolm, "Malcolm who works with children and. although he loves his job, he makes a mistake when he is unable to help a young boy. That mistake changed his life forever. He thinks about him all the time and cannot get the boy out of his mind.
He then meets a new boy that reminds him of the other boy he was unable to help. This new boy is awesome and Malcolm wants to help him. If he helps this new little boy, it will be like helping the other one too". From this bedtime story, Cole discerns that Malcolm is talking about himself and this makes Cole more open towards accepting Malcolm's help. This breakthrough with Cole is the turning point in their relationship. Malcolm suggests that Cole help the ghosts that haunt him.
This proves to be therapeutic and we begin to see spiritual growth and improved quality of life for Cole, which directly affects Malcolm. Malcolm's guilt for failing his past patient lessens every day as he witnesses the positive changes in Cole. As a result of Malcolm's persistence and success in helping Cole, he is redeemed and closer to the eternal piece that awaits him.
When a person has unresolved conflict or lack of closure in a relationship it can inhibit his or her ability to move on to the afterlife upon their death. Initially, Malcom's perception of his mortality is suppressed by the desire for redemption and marital peace. His extreme guilt over the inability to help his former patient and his decaying marriage hold him prisoner in a purgatory type state.
Ultimately, through his gifted ability to help a disturbed child his eyes are opened and his soul is set free. Free from the guilt of failing a boy and his marital shortcomings, but filled with inner peace. This inner peace can be seen when he tells Cole he will see him tomorrow knowing tomorrow will never come and later that evening when he expresses his love and final goodbye to his wife allowing them both to move on.
In the end, Malcolm's spirit is free of guilt, redeemed, and living in eternal life. Through his character's portrayal we learn the importance of living a moral, regret free and family filled life. An important lesson much needed by many in our world today.
The Sixth Sense. M. Night Shyamalan, Hollywood Pictures, 1999.