M. Night Shyamalan has made four well known films that range in quality from very good (The Sixth Sense) to excellent (Unbreakable). What most people don’t realize is that The Sixth Sense was not his first film. I didn’t know that myself, until I caught a film called Wide Awake on cable recently.
All of Shyamalan‘s films are spiritual in nature, and most have some sort of supernatural element. Wide Awake, while highly spiritual, does not feature the supernatural elements of his subsequent films. Shot in his native Pennsylvania, as are all of Shyamalan’s films, the story involves a ten year old boy who loses his beloved grandfather. He begins a quest to find God, hoping he can make sure that his grandfather is alright. It’s something of a coming of age story with some great scenes set in the Catholic school that our hero attends. The flashback scenes between the young boy, played by Joseph Cross, and his grandfather, played by Robert Loggia, are as powerful as anything I’ve seen in quite awhile. Dennis Leary and Dana Delaney also appear as the boy’s parents, along with Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Lauria.
This is the kind of movie that critics hated, and so it never got much of a chance with audiences. It’s available on dvd though, and everyone who has seen it seems to have great things to say about it. It may sound old fashioned, but we need more of this kind of movie, the kind that manages to tell its story without the use of massive special effects and a thundering musical score.