“The Sixth Sense” was not M. Night Shyamalan’s debut feature, but it is the film that made him the renowned director that he is. This horror thriller, starring Bruce Willis, garnered critical acclaim and has become one of the most popular horror films to come out in the 90s. The performances from the cast and the iconic twist at the end made “The Sixth Sense” one of the top films of all time, especially among horror/thriller aficionados.

Speaking of the twist, there is plenty to unpack when it comes to “The Sixth Sense.” Let us delve into its story and discuss its ending and other plot points.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Things quickly change for psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) when an ex-patient of his visits him, armed. The patient, Vincent, accuses Malcolm of being unable to help him. He then proceeds to shoot Malcolm and kills himself. A few months later, we see Malcolm, seemingly recovered, taking on another case. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment), a nine-year-old boy, is troubled. His mother, Lynn (Toni Collette), is worried. When Malcolm visits Cole, he drops the iconic bombshell. He claims to see dead people.

Malcolm wanted to help Cole and pacify his own guilty heart in the hope of reconciling with his wife, Anne (Olivia Williams). Anne, as it appears, has become withdrawn from Malcolm since the shooting. As with any other psychologist worth their salt, Malcolm also figures that Cole may be Schizophrenic. As Cole reminds Malcolm of Vincent, Malcolm pulls some of Vincent’s old audiotapes. In one of the tapes, he notices someone talking in Spanish when Vincent is verifiably alone. Malcolm slowly opens up to the idea of Cole seeing ghosts.

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Cole, meanwhile, encounters the ghost of a young girl, Kyra (Mischa Barton), who desperately wants to convey an important message to her father. Now on board with Cole, Malcolm accompanies him to the girl’s funeral home. There, the young ghost gives Cole a videotape to be given to her father. The videotape shows Kyra’s mother, Mrs. Collins, poisoning Kyra for a continued period, thus disproving the theory of Kyra dying of a chronic illness. Kyra wanted to show the tape to the father because Mrs. Collins was now doing the same to Kyra’s little sister.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Movie Ending Explained:

What Has Happened to Malcolm?

“The Sixth Sense” has a magnificent twist from director Shyamalan, executed seamlessly with misdirection. Cole said that dead people do not often realize they are dead. After helping Kyra, Cole asks Malcolm to talk to his wife when she is sleeping. Malcolm returns to his home to find Anne asleep. It seems she was watching her and Malcolm’s wedding video before falling asleep. In her sleep, she drops her hand, and a wedding ring falls off. Malcolm realizes it is his wedding ring.

The Sixth Sense (1999) Movie Ending Explained
A still from The Sixth Sense (1999)

The realization hits like being smacked by a frying pan. Malcolm realizes he does not have the ring on his finger. He realizes he has a gun wound, and he remembers Cole saying that the dead do not often realize they are dead. Malcolm understands that he is also dead. He has been from the very first moment we see him after the shooting. Vincent’s shot killed him. He did not survive. Anne has not been cold and distant. She was grieving his death.

Why Did Malcolm Stay Behind?

It was implied that the reason Malcolm stayed in the limbo between the real world and the afterworld, i.e. being a ghost, is to help. Vincent not only killed Malcolm but also put his soul in a guilt spiral. At that moment, Malcolm did not know he was dead, so he felt guilty about Vincent’s death. The guilt stopped Malcolm from closure. In “The Sixth Sense” world, the dead stay behind as they often have some important job left to do; for instance, Kyra wants to warn Mr. Collins so her sister can be saved.

For Malcolm, it was to be helpful to someone. To fulfill the role that he could not successfully manage with Vincent. And Cole was the perfect person to be helped. Cole had struggled to connect with anyone as his ability (the titular sixth sense) made him an outcast. He struggled to establish a healthy relationship with his mother, Lynn, as well. Although not felt by anyone else, Malcolm’s appearance helped Cole find stability. We would eventually see Malcolm getting helped by Cole as much as he helped him.

How Did Cole Recover?

Incredibly, Cole and Malcolm needed each other not only to be helped but also to help. Malcolm guided Cole to accept his ability and not fear it. He showed Cole what he could achieve if he embraced his ability. It is helping people, both the living and the dead. Cole’s encounter with Kyra and then saving Kyra’s sister put him on the path of acceptance and, thus, recovery. Cole allowed his ability to help him as well. A ‘ghost’ director helps him act superbly in his school play.

The final stage for Cole’s mental peace came when he bridged the gap between him and his mother. He finally told Lynn about his ability. Lynn doesn’t believe immediately, but Cole then tells her about his grandma’s ghost (Lynn’s mother). Cole tells her stories that could only be known to Lynn and her mother. The shocked Lynn saw no way but to accept that Cole was telling the truth.

Why Did Mrs Collins Kill Kyra?

It is unclear whether Mrs Collins was Kyra’s stepmother or biological mother. Understandably, Mrs Collins, being a stepmother to Kyra, would be a little less dark. However, Shyamalan likely went for the darker twist. Mrs. Collins seems to be both Kyra’s and her sister’s birthmother. The likely reason that made Mrs Collins poison Kyra is the condition known as Munchausen Symptom by Proxy (MSP). It makes a caregiver, in this case, the mother, intentionally keeping the person in question, in this case, Kyra, in a perpetual weakened state so that they would need the help of the former.

So, Mrs Collins poisoned Kyra to make her always in need of her mother. The motive for MSP is not always clear. It is often assumed that the caregiver does this to get attention in any form. So, it is possible Mrs. Collins wanted to feel important in her circle or garner pity by posing as the overwhelmed mother of a troubled child

Read More: Every M. Night Shyamalan Movie Ranked


The Sixth Sense (1999) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Cast of The Sixth Sense (1999) Movie: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Haley Joel Osment
The Sixth Sense (1999) Movie Genre: Mystery & thriller, Runtime: 1h 47m
Where to watch The Sixth Sense

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