A films narrative is quite a vital element to any film, without a good narrative we are left with a jumbled piece of film that does not adhere to a plausible chain of events, leaving us the viewer with no sense of the writer or director’s intention. Our initial narrative expectations before we view this film clip ( 06:35 – 11:35) would have been limited at the time of the films release. The reason for this is that the film The Sixth Sense (1998) was the Writer/Director M.Night.Shyalaman’s first real major mainstream film. However being just over ten years since it was released, we are now more familiar with his narrative style, for example we are more aware that there is going to be some kind of plot twist in a thrilling/ supernatural or even mild horror format. Also for this particular film clip the previews give us a clear indication that the film is a supernatural thriller, from the hushed tone of voice to the cold beats between dialogue, that lead us up the path of conclusion.
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This particular five minute sequence begins with the protagonist (Malcolm) and his wife entering their bedroom, slightly intoxicated having just celebrated together, setting up a feeling of safety and security that most associate with retiring to the bedroom. This feeling is instantly subdued by the director’s decision to input the sound of the phone beeping, having been knocked off its receiver it gives us a real sense of emergency that helps the viewer to relate to the situation immediately. Having now set the situation that leads to Malcolm being shot, and unknowingly to the viewer, killed. Shyalaman has created a catalyst for the film’s progression, although unlike a typical detective films narrative such as Sherlock Holmes, which tend to be more omniscient, we are not aware of the true facts that are occurring, so we are unable to begin piecing the plot together. Thus unusually we do not realise just how pivotal this five minute scene is at the time. With most other films we are invited to piece together clues slowly until we discover the truth, normally around the same time as the protagonist, Bordwell and Thompson note:
We make sense of narrative, then, by identifying it’s events and linking them by cause and effect, time, and space. As viewers, we do other things as well. We often infer events that are not explicitly presented, and we recognize the presence of material that is extraneous to the story world. In order to describe how we manage to do these things, we can draw distinction between story and plot. (Bordwell & Thompson, Pg 80).
This I feel is a well organised, intentional event that the director chose to do, increasing the impact of the affect at the end of the film (even if Shyalaman later admitted that Malcolm actually being dead, was not added until the fifth draft of the films script).
The only information we are privy to as a viewer in this clip, is the story duration which takes us back ten years to 1989, it is the events from the protagonist’s past that have a major connection with what is happening in the present and it is this story progression that we actually see, although the plot point itself is disguised as a fade to black into the next scene, revealing that Malcolm is seemingly alive and well with the written legend Next Fall, South Philadelphia.
But Secretly the narrative has changed, the character that has acted as an agent and made this change possible is Vincent Gray, it is his emotional issues related to his childhood that connected him with Malcolm that ultimately leads to the event that takes place, subsequently altering the potential path of the protagonist.
The spacing of such events are well defined, as in such a short amount of screen time we are exposed to the the back story dating back ten years, gradually building the story until we reach the plot point at the end of the clip. Finally establishing the mood of the film and creating it’s supernatural tone, which typically of Shyalaman’s style, frequently tends to have Philadelphia as it’s backdrop which creates a cold and creepy diagesis, or it could just be he was raised in Philadelphia, either way it works. We also feel as though we are witnessing the events from Malcolm’s point of view, even though there are only a couple of shots from his angle. This could be because when we are not seeing what he is seeing, we are viewing his reaction to everything. Something I find very important to the story of any film, forming a certain type of bond with the character. Syd Field shares the importance of this in his book, Screenplay: The foundations of screen writing,
When you think about it, underneath this skin of ours we’re really the same, you and I; certain things unite us. We share the same needs, the same wants, the same fears and insecurities; we want to be loved, have people like us, be successful, happy, and healthy. (Syd Field, pg 63).
M.Night.Shyalaman establishes most of these things that unite us, in this five minute clip as such things a fear, stress, anger, disappointment and abandonment enter the script, we instantly gain a rapport with the main character. This is something I find with Shyalaman film’s, his style is not just the plot twist like he creates in this clip, but he subtly creates this bond between the protagonist’s of his films and the viewer, although having said that, the genius or salient technique of this film clip would have to be the way Shyalaman uses his narrative writing skills to disguise the twist throughout the film, Jennifer Van Stilj explains the comparison of Shyalaman’s genius with that of Sigmund Freud,
Shyamalan’s script is a masterful dance between Freud’s concepts of the conscious, that information the audience is aware of knowing; and the unconscious, that information it is unaware it knows. It is Shyamalan’s use of the unconsciousness, specifically that part that Freud termed the preconscious, which produces the psychological roller coaster ride we experience.
(Van Stilj, Jennifer. www.writersstore.com).
Such acclaim for Shyalaman’s clever use of narrative is quite widespread with many critics sharing this opinion, so much so, Shyalaman has now made his reputation in his field and created a narrative expectation for his audience that he did not have before.
The most important role that narrative plays in this film and especially in this five minute clip is the creation of almost a second story line running along side the one we are viewing, Erlend Lavik puts it, We come to realize the presence of another fabula running parallel to the first one but “beneath” it, hidden from view. Once we become aware of it, though, everything in the syuzhet takes on new meaning. We are instantly compelled to return to the outset of the story and, based on our remembrance of the account given, try to follow the correct fabula this time, the one that was invisible to us at first, even though it was present all along. (Lavik,Erlend.p55-64). Therefore the importance of the this narrative technique makes the whole film what it is, without it we would have a simple yet entertaining supernatural thriller that would have otherwise caused less of a fanfare with critics. The web is full of reviews, blogs and even forums dedicated to this single, clever piece of narrative writing that leaves us thinking and even scrutinising any possible flaw or opinion of the film, Shyalaman himself quotes, I think that even with The Sixth Sense from that first weekend, the films are not seen the way they are. They are seen through some aberration, some wavy glass. I can just hope that the glass gets clearer over time. (M.NIght.Shyalaman, TimesOnline). So as important as we may feel the narrative is in this or any film, the definitive thing is how we interpret what the creators have given us, what we feel was important may not of been the intention, instead we each have our own criteria of importance for what makes the film work.
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