Style and Syuzhet in The Sixth Sense

One thing that we didn’t really get to talk about in class last thursday that I really wanted to discuss was the relationship of Style and Syuzhet.  For some reason I find these terms to be really hard to seperate and I can’t quite get a clear definition of them.  I’ve looked over Bordwell many times, and he too admits that these terms are very interrelated, but for some reason it is still not clear in my head.  After seeing The Sixth Sense I think I can appropriately define what the style and Syuzhet are, but if I’m not quite right can somebody please let me know and tell me where I am wrong.

Ok, so here is what I think the style and Syuzhet are in The Sixth Sense:  the syuzhet is the story-world– everything that is shown to us.  It is the plot- all of the shots, sequences, colors, characters, actions, and everything that adds up to the plot.  It is the story of Malcolm realizing he is dead as he tries to fix his marriage, and it is the story of Cole trying to fix his problem of seeing dead people.

Therefore, the style is everything that M. Night Shyamalan adds artistically to the film.  It is the excess direction, style, shot order, color, lighting, sound, pace, and everything else that is not crucial to the plot but compliments and emphasizes it.  So, I think that the style in the film is that which makes the film scary and thrilling.  Often times the camera is on axis, with drained colors, scary noise, and shaky movement.  The shot sequence will cut quicker during scary scenes, often showing the rapidly dropping thermometer, or the top of the tent as the cloths pins are being ripped off.  In sum, I think that the style in this film all adds up to create the thriller, suspenseful feeling.  

Therefore, the style is used to reinforce the first, false fabula that these dead people are trying to hurt Cole and that cole is living in a really scary situation.  This is in fact false, as we later learn that the ghosts just want help, and that the story really isn’t scary– it’s just stylized to seem scary.  For example, when you watch the film for the second time you undoubtedly question why the ghosts approach Cole in such scary ways– it seems completely unnecessary, and you later realize that the film is just STYLIZED to seem scary.  Therefore, the style of the film is meant solely to reinforce the first, false fabula of the viewer.

On the other hand, there are certain things about the style that the viewer doesn’t recognize the first time watching, and are therefore meant to be exposed during the second or third viewing.  Two examples might be the fact that it only gets cold when ghosts are angry, or the whole red theme– that the color red only appears in the film when the red object has something to do with both the ghost and the living world.  I think both of these examples are part of the style that is not noticed until after the first viewing, and therefore the style does more than just reinforce the first, false fabula.

Ok, those are basically my thoughts on style and Syuzhet in this film.  Do people agree with what I said?  Do you think I correctly understand and analyze their relationship and application to The Sixth Sense?  Please let me know.

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