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“I’m Ready to Communicate With You Now”: The Millennial Anxieties of “The Sixth Sense”, and Feeling Alone in the City of Brotherly Love…

This Saturday, I’ll be discussing The Sixth Sense on The 250, the weekly podcast that I co-host discussing the IMDb’s Top 250 Movies of All-Time. However, I had some thoughts on the film that I wanted to jot down first.

What do you think these ghosts want when they talk to you? I want you to think about it, Cole. I want you to think about it really carefully. What do you think they want?

Just help.

That’s right. That’s what I think too. They just want help, even the scary ones. I think I might know a way to make them go away.

How?

Listen to them.

The Sixth Sense is a remarkable film, for many reasons.

These days, The Sixth Sense is perhaps best known for its central twist. The film’s powerhouse emotional ending has become a pop cultural touchstone, anchoring jokes in everything from Fifty First Dates to the viral video sensation Jizz in my Pants. Of course, this also complicates the legacy of The Sixth Sense by serving as ground zero for director M. Night Shyamalan’s subsequent dependence upon these sorts of twists in movies like The Village or The Happening. Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has endured in the popular memory as one of the rare twist-driven films that stands up to repeat viewings.

A Cole’d open.

However, it is much more than that. Even beyond that, The Sixth Sense is a lavish production that looks beautiful. Of course, Shyamalan’s ego has done his reputations few favours, from his own cameo as a writer-messiah in The Lady in the Water to his role in a Sci-Fi Channel documentary The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan to the famous Newsweek cover crowning him “the next Spielberg.” Still, The Sixth Sense is visually stunning. Although it is tempting to think of The Sixth Sense as a “small” movie by modern standards, it was actually produced on a budget of $40m.

Rewatching The Sixth Sense twenty years later, it is amazing how much of the film’s visual storytelling lingers. Shyamalan might not have been the next Spielberg, but he had a wonderful eye for composition; that shot of a red balloon drifting up the inside of a spiral staircase, those eerie sequences of Malcolm and Cole wandering through a surprisingly quiet Philadelphia, even the conversations at that church with Cole towering over Malcolm from the balcony as he plays with his toy soldiers.

Pew pew!

However, even more than all of that, The Sixth Sense remains the rare film that is both specifically rooted in its cultural moment and profoundly universal. The story that drives The Sixth Sense is surprisingly straightforward – helpfully encapsulated in Cole’s trailer-friendly assertion that he sees “dead people.” However, Shyamalan understands that ghost stories are about more than just the recently deceased. Ghost stories translate a sense of longing and regret, of disconnect and isolation. The Sixth Sense is fundamentally a story about how difficult it is to meaningfully communicate in the modern world, with or without a pulse.

The Sixth Sense is a story of existential ennui, wrapped up in a set of late nineties anxieties.

M. Night Shyamalan had to eat Crowe on his next few films.

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147. The Matrix – Summer of ’99 (#18)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Alex Towers, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: 10 Things I Hate About You, The Virgin Suicides, Run Lola RunElection, Cruel Intentions, Fight Club. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

Thomas Anderson lives a fairly ordinary life; an office drone by day, a computer hacker by night. However, Anderson’s life quickly begins to fall apart when he finds himself drawn to a mysterious hacker named Trinity. It soon becomes clear that Anderson’s life (and his very reality) is not at all what it appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked 18th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #14!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle and Luke Dunne from Film in Dublin to discuss the week in film.  As usual, we talk about what we watched this week, including an in-depth discussion of Unicorn Store, the charm of Grosse Point Blank, a reflection on the two sequels to The Matrix, the power of Little Woods and the inevitability of remaking Akira. In terms of film news, the big news of the week is the launch of Criterion Channel, which is now streaming classic movie content online. There is also the passing of veteran character actor Seymour Cassel. And a nice bracing dose of tax reform, with revisions made to Section 481.

All of this plus the top ten and the new releases.

The top ten:

  1. What Men Want
  2. Five Feet Apart
  3. The Sisters Brothers
  4. Missing Link
  5. Captain Marvel
  6. Us
  7. Peppa Pig: Festival of Fun
  8. Pet Sematary
  9. Shazam!
  10. Dumbo

New releases:

  • Wonder Park
  • Hell Boy
  • Don’t Go
  • Little
  • mid90s
  • Wild Rose

Star Trek: Voyager – Unimatrix Zero, Part II (Review)

To be fair, the clue is in the title.

It is hard to overstate just how big a cultural impact The Matrix had. The film was the fifth highest grossing movie in the United States, the fourth worldwide and the highest-grossing R-rated film of 1999. The Matrix immediately entered the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 movies of all-time at in the twentieth position, and only climbed from there. The Matrix was the first movie to sell more than one million copies on the the nascent DVD format.

Can’t see the forest for the trees.

More than that, The Matrix became a cultural shorthand. Phrases from the film (and its production) entered the popular lexicon; “I know kung-fu”, “the woman in the red dress”, “the red pill”, “bullet time.” Quentin Tarantino named it as one of his favourite movies of the previous quarter-century. The film lives on a context beyond its original production, its language coopted by fringe groups like incels or men’s rights activists or the alt-right. This just speaks to the impact that the film had upon an entire generation of young men.

To be fair, The Matrix did not necessarily articulate anything new, instead bringing together a wealth of science-fiction tropes with an Asian-influenced action aesthetic. After all, it was just one of a wave of films dealing with similar thematic ideas around the same time; The Thirteenth Floor, Pleasantville, The Truman Show, Dark City, eXistenZ, Harsh Realm. Even Star Trek: Voyager had riffed on similar ideas in stories like Projections or Course: Oblivion. Nevertheless, The Matrix seemed to speak to a particular millennial anxiety at the end of the nineties.

Love across light years.

The Matrix was the story of a future in which humanity had been enslaved, in which human bodies were treated as batteries for a vast and uncaring system. In order to keep humanity docile, this system fed mankind a shared illusion of life at the end of the twentieth century. This illusory world was reality for those dreamers trapped within it, touching on various anxieties about reality and unreality in the context of the late nineties. The Matrix packaged up a host of ambient fears about capitalism, virtual reality, illusion and the end of history in a clever and exciting action film.

It seems inevitable that Voyager would offer its own take on this concept. After all, the series had been playing with similar ideas dating back to its own first season. The fragility of reality and the dangers of convincing simulation are a recurring motif. Indeed, Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II are not even the only episodes that draw heavily from The Matrix. There are shades of it to Work Force, Part I and Work Force, Part II. Nevertheless, Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II are undoubtedly the most overt examples of this.

Unimatrix reloaded.

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Harsh Realm – Leviathan (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The first three episodes of Harsh Realm are an interesting combination, and not just because they were the only three episodes of the show to air before cancellation.

All three episodes are written by Chris Carter. The first two are directed by Daniel Sackheim. Taken together, they form a loose triptych. They are effectively three separate stories that come together to form a three-part pilot for the show. It is only by the end of Inga Fossa that Thomas Hobbes (and the audience) fully accept the virtual world into which they have been placed, embracing the hero’s journey that lies ahead. It isn’t until Kein Ausgang that the show really offers the audience a sense of how it might work on a weekly basis.

Fading out...

Fading out…

This is not to suggest that the events of The Pilot flow elegantly into Leviathan, nor that the events of Leviathan bleed over into Inga Fossa. All three episodes of television are discreet and individual; foreshadowing the format that the show would take in its relatively brief life. Interestingly, Carter does not take advantage of the show’s video game structure to enforce more rigid serialisation. If anything, most the nine episodes (particularly the back six) are rigidly episodic.

Leviathan is particularly relaxed in its structure. The Pilot offered all the spectacle and exposition necessary to establish Harsh Realm. In contrast, Leviathan is a bit more focused on mood and atmosphere. There is an impressive action sequence to close out the episode, but there is a larger sense that Leviathan is about establishing what day-to-day existence must be like in this virtual world.

General problems...

General problems…

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Harsh Realm – Pilot (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XIII

Harsh Realm is essentially a war story, or a collection of war stories.

To be fair, there are other themes that bleed through the show’s short nine-episode run; a critique of late-stage capitalism, a healthy dose of Chris Carter’s patented nineties existential spirituality, an exploration of American masculinity. The show plays on all sorts of genres across its short lifespan, from horror story to western to modern noir film. However, all of these unfold against the backdrop of a world locked in total warfare. The opening scenes of The Pilot unfold against the Siege of Sarajevo, setting the tone for the rest of the series.

Tom's not here, man...

Tom’s not here, man…

Carter tends to wear his cinematic and televisual influences on his sleeves. The X-Files was a spiritual successor to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a little bit of The Parallax View and The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. Millennium launched in 1996 and owed a lot to the look and feel of David Fincher’s work on se7en. Harsh Realm owes a lot to the resurgence in war movies towards the end of the twentieth century, coming less than a year after Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line both scored Best Picture nominations.

On the commentary for The Pilot, Chris Carter notes that the show’s protagonist was named for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Carter cites that Hobbes’ most famous observation is that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The same might be said of the life of Harsh Realm.

Fading out...

Fading out…

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Millennium – Closure (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Closure is the first time that Emma Hollis has come into focus.

The character has been featured in the opening credits since The Innocents, but has mostly existed in the background. The Innocents and Exegesis made it clear that Hollis was a young agent who could act under her own initiative, but she was very much a secondary figure in a narrative largely about Frank trying to work through the loss of his wife. She played a significant role in TEOTWAWKI simply by virtue of being able to work with both Frank Black and Agent Barry Baldwin. It was hard to get a read on her character beyond the very basic elements.

"Closure" in one word.

“Closure” in one word.

The opening scene of Closure makes it quite clear that his will be a Hollis-centric episode. While a senseless murder in a cheap hotel provides the sting leading into the credits, the teaser opens with Emma Hollis wandering through a graveyard and narrating to an unseen character. “I spend my days looking for reasons,” Hollis narrates. “The reasons people do what they do. It’s my job, it’s my way. I want to know why. Why it’s like this. Why good people die.” So it is quite clear where Closure is going from the outset.

Closure works reasonably well. It is much more modest episode than something like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, … Thirteen Years Later or Skull and Bones. It is an episode that feels like a conscious attempt to pull the show back towards the first season, hinting at an efficient serial killer procedural. Closure feels like a first season episode, and not just because of the procedural element. The decision to give Hollis a childhood trauma as motivation feels like a rather lazy way to flesh out her character. It is efficient, but it does feel a little too easy.

Smile!

Smile!

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