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Final thoughts: “The Sixth Sense”

Last week, we read the script and analyzed The Sixth Sense, written by M. Night Shyamalan. Participants in the series did a fantastic job in breaking down the story. Here are links to the entire set of posts and comments:

General Comments

Structure

Characters

Themes

Dialogue

One of our readers Mike Montgomery even did a shot-by-shot breakdown of the movie’s trailer.

I thought it would be a good idea to allow folks one last chance to post observations about the script and movie, perhaps some insights you gained in the process of analysis, either macro or micro.

I wanted to follow up on one area of discussion that arose last week: Which of the characters — Malcolm Crowe [Bruce Willis] or Cole Sear [Haley Joel Osment] — is the story’s Protagonist?

Caveat: Stories are organic and any categorization we do is simply a tool for analysis, there is no right or wrong because characters exist within their story universe as living, breathing beings.

After thinking about it, I came up with this take: Malcolm is the story’s Protagonist while Cole is the story’s Central Character. Most often the two characters are the same, but there are cases in which one character’s goals, wants, and needs create the spine of the story’s plot while not filling the function of a Protagonist. For example in Little Miss Sunshine, it is Olive’s goal — to compete in the LMS beauty pageant — that drives the entire story, but she is not a Protagonist. Her father Richard is the lead Protagonist followed by Frank and Dwayne, each of whom goes through a significant metamorphosis involving the theme of what it means to be a success or a failure.

In my view, The Sixth Sense has a similar dynamic. The focus of the story is on Cole, the revelation of his psychic powers and his journey to come to grips with them. Malcolm is intimately connected to that process as he projects his failure in counseling Vincent Grey onto Cole, thereby seeking to cure Cole and gain some sense of ‘redemption’ in the process. He also has to confront a failing relationship with his wife Anna and the big twist that he is, in fact, dead.

So my take on the five primary character archetypes with Malcolm as the Protagonist is this:

Protagonist: Malcolm

Nemesis: Vincent

Attractor: Anna

Mentor: Cole

Trickster: Death

You may hit the link for Character above to read my analysis in comments.

However Cole goes through his own metamorphosis, driven by his want to be normal and his need to resolve his issues surrounding his ability to see “dead people.” If as an exercise we switched Protagonists and looked at the story universe through Cole’s eyes, here is what we may find:

Protagonist: Cole

Nemesis: Psychic Ability

Attractor: Ghosts

Mentor: Malcolm

Trickster: Lynn [Mother]

What confounds Cole and creates his world of hurt is his psychic ability. His existence is one in which he is at odds with and conflict against that very same ability. Hence Nemesis.

One measure of his metamorphosis is going from fear of the ghosts he sees to an acceptance of what they are and why they appear to him. This accommodation is a key part of his emotional development and therefore an Attractor dynamic.

How he comes to understand what the ghosts want is through his relationship with Malcolm who is, after all, a ghost. What Malcolm does is provide a ghost with whom Cole can talk, get to know and realize the truth: Ghosts are souls with unfinished business and they come to Cole so he can help them find resolution. That is a Mentor relationship.

And his mother Lynn [Toni Collette] provides an ongoing test to Cole, someone who loves him, but gets exasperated by her son’s aberrant behavior, so that sometimes she is warm and welcoming to him, while other times harsh and judging of him. This creates added tension in Cole’s life because he would like to share his secret with his mother, but he is afraid to do so because he doubts she will be able to accept what he says as truth. Eventually he does, based on what he’s learned in his relationship with his Mentor [Malcolm]. Thus I think we can look at Lynn as a Trickster, switching from ally to enemy, enemy to ally, and testing the Protagonist.

Again I am not saying Cole is the story’s Protagonist, rather he is its Central Character. But as with all characters, we can switch Protagonists and see the story through their perspective. It’s one of the great values of working with character archetypes.

How about you? Any insights you gained about The Sixth Sense during our week-long analysis? How do you like this new approach: One script per month? What suggestions do you have for the next script to read and analyze?

Finally I want to thank all of you who participated in the series. Great work!

Spec Script Sale: Untitled Goffigan Project

Lava Bear acquires an untitled thriller spec script from tyro scribe L.D. Goffigan. From Deadline:

They are keeping the logline under wraps. It’s the first sale for the writer, who has been working as an assistant. Three offers materialized when the script went out under the title Intrusion.

The interest in thrillers continues unabated.

Goffigan is repped by CAA and manager Jewerl Ross.

By my count, this is the 9th spec script sale of 2011.

Last year at this time, there had been 1 spec script sale.

That means at the moment, spec script sales are up 800% over 2011.

Of course that rate of sales can’t continue, however 9 spec sales in January, typically a pretty slow month, is remarkable.

Alyssa Talking Backward

This girl has got to be able to parlay this into some sort of career. If not, it’s a great name for an indie movie: “Alyssa Talking Backward.”

How about this song by the late, great Steve Goodman “Talk Backwards”:

And then, of course, there’s this:

At the very least, why not play around with a character who insists on talking backward? Could be a conscious thing like Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine who refused to talk at all or perhaps it’s some kind of mental quirk.