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Successful child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe (Willis) is shot and injured in his home by a disturbed former patient of his; the disturbed man commits suicide immediately following the shooting. Months later, a still-shaken Malcolm comes across the case of ten-year-old Cole Sear (Osment), who is exhibiting exactly the same symptoms of his former patient: frequent panic attacks, social withdrawal, and unexplained injuries. Seeing a chance to redeem himself by helping Cole, Malcolm takes a special interest in — and begins counseling — Cole. Learning the secret behind Cole's condition, however, only makes things stranger than Malcolm could have imagined.
Osment was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film.
The film is famous for its twist, for people ruining the twist, and for no longer being a twist at this point. If you've somehow managed to avoid any of the spoilers for this movie, and you ever plan to watch it, you should probably stop reading this page now (when this film was new, the Twist Ending was genuinely a startling surprise for most viewers who hadn't encountered spoilers beforehand).
Warning: Spoilers Below
This film contains examples of the following:
- Creator Cameo - M. Night Shyamalan as a doctor the kid sees at one point.
- Creepy Child: Cole, early in the movie.
- Cute Ghost Girl: The poisoning victim.
- Cut Himself Shaving - Subverted. The kid is repeatedly assaulted by ghosts. People assume he's abused by his mother, and she can't figure out what's happening to him.
- Dead All Along - The famous twist ending.
- Dead Sparks - Malcolm and his wife's relationship, or at least that is what it seems like at first.
- Evil-Detecting Dog - The family dog runs away right before the kid who shot himself appears to Cole.
- Fade to White: How Malcolm exits the film.
- Foreshadowing: After watching this film the first time through without spoilers, it is almost impossible to watch it again without seeing obvious foreshadowing.
- Forgotten Anniversary - Malcolm shows up late to an anniversary dinner with his wife at a fancy restaurant; she barely acknowledges him before leaving.
- Kind of hard to acknowledge someone you can't see or hear. You know. 'Cause he's dead and all.
- Full-Frontal Assault - The opening scene.
- Well, not exactly. He's still wearing underpants.
- Ghostly Chill
- Hey, It's That Guy! - too easy... Toni Collette for a start
- I See Dead People - Trope named for the line by Cole.
- Jacob Marley Apparel - all the ghosts. Malcolm isn't the exception; throughout the movie he is wearing items that he had with him that night. We never see the gunshot wound because he is wearing his jacket over his shirt or the camera angles just don't reveal it when he has it off.
- Kids Are Cruel - Thanks to Cole being a Creepy Child, he's bullied and hated by his peers.
- This turns around at the end, as seen in the play the class puts on - Cole plays the stableboy who becomes king and the leader of the bullies plays the village idiot.
- Mandatory Twist Ending - Practically spawned the twist ending for the new millennium. Also a strange variant of The Ending Changes Everything: everything we saw previously is true, but much of it means something completely different from what it seemed to mean.
- Also Lampshaded when Malcolm is telling a bed time story to the kid.
- Made of Iron: Seems to play it straight with Crowe - he's shot in the stomach, which in Real Life is a death sentence - but is seen walking around just fine the next fall. Then it is subverted in the end - it turns out that reality ensued after all.
- Meaningful Name: Cole Sear, get it? He sees things.
- Combined with his first name: he sees dark things.
- I Am Not Leonard Nimoy - There are a lot of people who refer to Cole as Haley Joel (Osment).
- The Lost Lenore: A rare male example of the trope in that, um, Surprise! Malcolm's wife isn't surly and depressed over a neglectful husband. She's grieving for a dead one.
- No One Could Survive That - Crowe is gut shot in the opening scene. The rest of the movie is not a flashback. Inverted or Subverted at the end, depending on how you look at it.
- Offing the Offspring: Kyra's mom kills her by regularly poisoning her lunch for two years. And after Kyra dies, the mom starts to poison Kyra's younger sister too. Kyra gets justice by giving filmed proof of the clandestine act to Cole, who gives it to Kyra's dad, who watches the video along with the guests at Kyra's wake.
- It's implied that the death was accidental...the poisonings were done as part of an insurance scam or possibly as an example of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Doesn't make it any less callous or horrible, though.
- Once More, with Clarity - After it becomes apparent that the viewer has One Side of the Story.
- Playing Against Type: Bruce Willis, notably. But Donnie Wahlberg has to be mention as he was primary known for being on New Kids on the Block. He appears in the opening scene where he plays an unstable patient of Malcolm's who kills Malcolm and himself.
- Psychic Powers: Cole's most prevalent ability is Mediumship.
- He also demonstrates Retrocognition, somehow knowing his teacher was nicknamed "Stuttering Stanley" until high-school.
- The Reveal: Malcolm is dead. His wife isn't cheating on him, she's trying to move on, and she doesn't respond to what he says to her because she doesn't know he's even there.
- Rule of Symbolism - The colour red. Pay close attention to any scene with red in it. It means something important.
- Sanctuary of Solitude - Cole is sitting in a church by himself when Malcolm goes to talk to him.
- Sassy Black Woman - Malcolm's wife's friend on their wedding video. It's a bit jarring.
- Scare Chord - More subtle than in some movies but definitely there.
- School Play - Brief scene at Cole's school. Also a trick some bullies play on him.
- Sexless Marriage - Malcolm and Anna. If you've seen the movie, you know why.
- Spirit Advisor - Malcolm just doesn't know it yet, and then Cole learns to become an adviser for spirits to help them move on.
- Spooky Photographs
- Stan Winston - Responsible for the special effects.
- Stood Up - Malcolm's anniversary with his wife.
- Talking in Your Sleep - The only way Malcolm can get his wife to talk to him. Somehow, Cole knew this would work for Malcolm when nothing else would.
- Tampering with Food and Drink: one of the dead people Cole sees was a small girl poisoned by her mother putting cleaning fluid in her soup.
- There Are No Therapists: A very interesting aversion. From the standpoint of everyone else in the movie, Cole does not have a therapist. But he does. Stands out the most notably when the doctor is having Cole checked to see if he is being abused, and Malcolm is just sitting there - when a real therapist would surely be adding his two cents.
- Tomato in the Mirror
- Trailers Always Spoil - The fact that Cole can see ghosts isn't revealed until the halfway point of the movie, but everyone knew thanks to the trailer.
- Undead Child - The ghost of Kyra, the poisoned girl.
- Unfinished Business
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot - Kyra's first appearance to Cole.
- Weirdness Censor - A variant: it applies to the ghosts. "They see what they want to see," doing the same things they did in life.
- Wham! Episode: The Reveal at the end.