Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


Style and Sjuzhet in The Sixth Sense

I’d like to continue the discussion of style from Scott’s post:

As Scott discusses, The Sixth Sense achieves a sense of self-awareness not only through the careful presentation of the sjuzhet, but also through its distinct style—the prevalence of the red motif.

On our first viewing, we don’t notice the red motif at all. Red seems to be just a scary color in a scary movie. (the red tent is especially freaky). Then on subsequent viewings, it’s semi-clear that the film surrounds red around the presence of ghosts and around Malcolm, inviting us to put those pieces of information together. But just as we don’t question the unexplained gaps in The Sixth Sense the first time, we also don’t wonder, “Why is there red everywhere?” Indeed, following the red clues simply would have taken too much cognitive energy.

Here is where the self consciousness of the style compliments, even exceeds, the self consciousness of the sjuzhet. The red motif is unbeknownst to the characters; they don’t recognize it as a clue. To them, red has no significance or value within the diegesis (unless somehow ghosts impact the color of things around them). The red motif thus functions as a means for the filmmaker to communicate to the viewer. The filmmaker implies, “here is another thing you missed because of your assumptions.” That is, the first time we watch, we assume that if the red color was directly relevant to the construction of the sjuzhet, its purpose would be revealed explicitly by the story or by the characters’ own detective work. If there is no indication that the style might be crucial to our comprehension of the film, we cognitively give it a back seat to narration. (at least I do) Yet in The Sixth Sense, style is not just a supplement to the sjuzhet, but an element that explains its construction. It heightens the experience of the second viewing as we monitor how we could have figured out the ending.

Thus, resembling the authorial expressivity of art cinema, the red motif illuminates the subjectivity of the narrational process because its significance and interpretation is intended solely for the viewer on subsequent viewings. In this way, style, in addition to the controlled presentation of the sjuzhet (and a cameo from the filmmaker himself), contributes to a sense of artificiality and self consciousness in the narration.

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