It is a rare case that someone would have been better off if the apocalypse had occurred during their lifetime, but this certainly seems so of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan. After all, if Y2K had been the civilization-crippling event it was projected to be, and 1999’s The Sixth Sense was being screened in front of a huddled collection of survivors in a dystopian auditorium on a jury-rigged projector, Shyamalan’s stunted career would be considered an artistic loss on par with the early deaths of Wilfred Owen, Janis Joplin, and John Keats.
As it stands, however, the director who Newsweek Magazine once labeled “The Next Spielberg” has churned out poorer and poorer examples of writing and directing over the years, and may have hit rock bottom with the consecutive failures of the laughable The Happening, the disappointing Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the clumsy After Earth.
Even if the tentatively positive reviews of his newer films are heralds of an upswing in the quality of his later career (which would be a twist worthy of a Shyamalan script), it is unlikely that anyone will ever put him on a pedestal again. Still, nothing that has happened in the last fifteen years has diminished the quality or achievement of The Sixth Sense, and what I would like to do is take a close look at Shyamalan’s early hit, and explore the many ways that this demonstrably bad writer and director got everything so very right.
The Unaccountable Masterpiece: