Why doesn't Bruce Willis's character realize he is dead?

If I remember correctly, the plot takes place several months after he is killed. Shouldn't there have been some clues during that time? They do imply that he thinks his wife isn't speaking to him because she's angry, but is it really possible that she was the only person he expected to interact with?

Additionally, it seems that all the other ghosts in the movie know they're dead. So perhaps another question would be do all ghosts in The Sixth Sense go through a "transition period" where they don't realize they're dead? At what point to they become aware of it?

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    I don't think Mr Shyamalan put that much thought into this. He probably rather wanted a stunning twist at the end. Interresting question, though.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Dec 1, 2011 at 23:44
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    Loved ones and work/vocation pretty much sum up life. What else is there? Sure there's other stuff too, but those two are at the center. Right? It'll be a while until looking elsewhere.
    – nilon
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:46
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    I'm pretty sure the cyclist has no idea he's dead Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


This line from Cole I think summed it up best, "They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead."

And, except for the girl trying to save her sister, I don't know if you could definitively say any of the other ghosts knew they were ghosts. I think the "They only see what they want to see" bit is the key here. In a way the ghosts are making their own reality.

  • Thank you! I didn't remember that last sentence in Cole's quote there. I guess I was only thinking of the little girl when I said "the rest of them seem to realize..."
    – Lauren
    Commented Dec 2, 2011 at 14:34
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    When I read this question I was like Damn that ruined the movie for me too and when I read your answer I was like Nope wait still one of the greatest suspense/horror/ghost movies ever. Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 6:37
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    I think this point was also supposed to be hinted at living human beings who just as well tend to only see what they choose to see - while this is not necessarily a totally concious decision.
    – Raffael
    Commented Apr 27, 2013 at 18:46
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    Good answer - except when you consider the day or three after Bruce Willis' character dies ...wouldn't there be flowers, memorials, etc. around his home? Wouldn't he see his wife being depressed for a while? Wouldn't he find that odd? Unless the "they only see what they want" denial can go that far. This answer does work, but for me there's still a rather large plot-hole there.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 20:46
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    @BruceWayne Only if we assume being a ghost is just like being alive, including continuity of time. It makes more sense if you imagine it more like being in a dream, where there are gaps, jumps and shifts between times and locations, but it doesn't feel like it. The ghosts only see what they want to see, and we only see what they see: when we see a cut to a scene and assume there was some skipped filler where Bruce's character walks some streets, goes to the toilet, buys and drinks a bottle of water, says hi to the shopkeeper, etc etc, actually there was nothing before. Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 8:59

I am from Sri Lanka, and the idea that ghosts are unaware of the fact that they are dead is not totally alien here. I'm pretty sure Shyamalan was aware of these types of myths.


From what I remember from the movie (and other similar movies), it is often stressed that the ghosts the child sees are the soul/spirits of people who have not accepted their death yet, or who still have something to accomplish in this world.

  • The girl needed to show her father that her (step?) mother was poisoning her.
  • Cole's grandmother wanted to tell Cole's mom something important (that would drastically alter Cole's mom's feelings towards her own mother).
  • The cyclist was presumably killed on impact (given the head wound) and therefore never realized she died. She seemed puzzled by people not looking at her, so she was probably on her way to realizing she died.

And for Bruce Willis' character, he needed to both accept and understand his death. He could not accept the reality of his death and therefore held on.

Being a ghost in the real world is similar to being in purgatory. You're there until you finish what needs to be finished. Although for ghosts in the real world, it's often more voluntary (spirit chooses to not move on), rather than forced.


I would also add to the answer @Evan give that the basic idea of the ghosts still being around other people (hence "ghost" status/name), is that they are people that did not realized they are dead, and still behave as they normally would.

Another GREAT movie with such example is Passengers (2008) with Anne Hathaway https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0449487 which I suggest everyone to watch; for me was a revelation, and for sure was with much more "soul", "emotions" and "relations" in it than Sixth Sense.

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