Mise-en-scéne’ is a French term that means “to put into scene”. Every element of mise-en-scéne has an important role within a film and serves extensive meanings. It is not only a visual representation of what to observe during a scene and how it evolves, but it also creates clues to emotionally engage the audience. There are four key aspects of mise-en-scéne: the settings of how each sequence is staged, costumes and make-up to illustrate a character’s image, lighting which conveys the tone and the mood of the scenes or characters and lastly, figure expression and movement that display the character’s behaviour and emotions.
Each of these mise-en-scéne components are introduced into M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense with its opening sequence and prepares the audience for the remainder of the film. The lighting has a significant role for developing the plot and builds up anticipation. For instance, within the first few seconds a naked light bulb gradually heats up within a dark setting through a close-up shot. This prop, sparking to life, gives out a hint with a symbolic idea of the presence of ghosts and implies the extraordinary attributes of Cole Sear to see them. The light within the opening credits maintains an eerie and surreal atmosphere which builds up suspense. The first staged scene takes place where Anna Crowe, a young woman in a wealthy dress, enters a cellar to get a bottle of wine. The harsh lighting as well as Anna’s figural expressions when she turns round and shivers indicate the mysterious atmosphere in the cellar and viewers grasp that chilling effect. This pattern of harsh lighting and cold temperature continues throughout the remaining suspenseful scenes.
Another important element of mise-en-scéne in The Sixth Sense is the implementation of the colour red. Red is a very strong colour that can be associated with positive and negative emotions. In the majority of the opening scenes, the colour red is represented as a symbol: the filament of the light bulb just before it entirely lights up, the red wine and Anna’s lipstick. Director Shyamalan’s intention of frequently using this colour within the opening sequence is to highlight specific props to provide information and to warn the audience for forthcoming events.
Furthermore, other specific red props significantly prepare viewers for what is coming. First, the candles and some of the cards are represented in two different ways, which illustrate the nature of red. Like the light bulb, the small balls of fire within the candles hint out a presence of ghosts; whereas the hand-made cards and their decorations suggest the innocence of children. These props signify Cole Sear’s character as someone with the extraordinary ability to see dead people. Another substantial prop is the award that Dr. Malcolm Crowe received for his work as a child psychologist, which indicates he has a successful career.
However, the award is in a red frame. This already serves as a warning to both Malcolm and Anna that danger could be heading their way, especially during the reflected close-up shot of the two. It also raises the question as to why this prop appears slanted on the chair. The hint behind this is that although it is a tender and rather romantic moment, there is something not quite straight. This suggests that the award and its position is a symbol of jeopardy. Also, the partially red lighting on the couple from the crackling fire leads us to believe that they are now the central target of a dangerous presence.
It becomes clear that Malcolm and Anna’s marriage is very strong. We see these signs from how Anna sits close to Malcolm as well as the intimate physical contact between them. In addition, the way Anna sees it is that she puts Malcolm first before herself when she says that he shifted everything aside, including her, to display this claimed gift he has been given – supporting emotionally-troubled children. This, therefore, signifies that she truly loves and has faith in him.
Dr. Malcolm Crowe’s professional reputation and his romantic evening with Anna becomes threatened shortly afterwards when a young man breaks into his house. This individual is soon revealed to be Vincent Grey – one of Malcolm’s former patients. Our first impressions of Vincent, who is only wearing underpants and his defensive, scared and perhaps cold figural expression and movement, indicate that he is mentally unstable. His deeply emotional state makes the audience feel sorry for him for a moment. On the other hand, he has anger and violent issues. For example, he yells at Malcolm, he bangs on the bathroom door and shoots Malcolm as well as himself without hesitation. Vincent is simply trapped between a deranged psycho with a vengeance and a psychologically unstable person desperate for help.
We never find out precisely why Vincent is in only his underwear but what we do learn is that Malcolm “failed” and “promised” Vincent in some way when he was a child. Malcolm’s mistakes on Vincent’s behalf still remain a mystery, but these blunders severely resulted in stripping Vincent from his mentally stable condition. We did get a glimpse of some clothing on the floor next to Vincent’s feet, but the idea behind his low amount of clothing is that it displays to Malcolm of the affect caused.
Malcolm’s failure of Vincent becomes connected to his forthcoming relationship with Cole Sear. Cole shares similar characteristics to Vincent when at that age, which were displayed by Malcolm in the notebook after the shooting. Furthermore, their physical similarities become important factors; most importantly the white streak in their brown hair. Vincent’s appearance within this opening sequence is to brace the audience for Cole, and it keeps the audience focused on whether Malcolm will succeed with him and, therefore, justify his allegedly wrong deeds with Vincent.
Although we witness some ugly moments of violence, The Sixth Sense opening sequence concludes on a more suspenseful note through its mise-en-scéne, which uneasily sets up the forthcoming narrative. The props, including costumes, served as significant symbols and more appear with further character development and tension. The setting in Philadelphia, an American city loaded with history, arguably tightens the atmosphere with ghosts and the lighting progressively creates a surreal connection between the living and the dead. Thus, Shyamalan’s creative use of mise-en-scéne within this opening sequence has exposed a terrifying supernatural thriller with unexpected twists and turns.