Se7en is a film that has actually haunted me for awhile, funnily enough. I saw part of it flipping channels with my dad when I was about twelve. I didn’t even realize what movie I had stumbled across until fairly recently. And since Fincher Friday is a thing now, I thought this was a good place to start. I really liked Se7en, the gruesome nature of the killings themselves demands attention. The film is created with great care and skill, just like Zodiac. I think I might actually like Zodiac better, but the main point here is that Fincher is two for two!
Se7en is first and foremost a serial killer movie, and it’s a subject that I’m more familiar with through tv shows, but I haven’t seen to many serial killer movies. This one kills based on the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and wrath. He selects victims that perpetrate or personify all the deadly sins, and then kills them in such a way that highlights the sin they have committed. The first victim, gluttony, is tied to a chair and forced to eat himself to death. That sort of thing. They only get more disturbing as they go; I don’t even want to think about what happened to the lust victim.
There is great care given to developing the setting, and this was one of the things I appreciated most about the film. I don’t think the city they’re in is ever specified but they were in a restaurant called New York Pizza or something like that, and Mills’ wife said that they used to live “upstate” which is usually applied to New York, so my money’s on New York if I had to guess. But even New York isn’t this depressing. It’s always raining, nobody cares about anybody else; the place is literally a hellhole. The sun comes out like once, but it doesn’t do anything to improve the atmosphere. It just makes everything more washed out and hopeless looking. The color scheme is the one of the most depressing I’ve seen in film. Brown, gray, black, and if you’re lucky you’ll get this gross washed out looking yellow. That’s the dead grass. Cheerful, right? No wonder there’s a serial killer on the loose. He should have killed the atmosphere for the sin of making everyone depressed. That would have solved everyone’s problems early on.
The cops on the case are William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt). Somerset is about to retire; he’s getting too old for this crap. Mills is too young for this crap. He actually transferred into the precinct which no one ever does. Once Somerset figures out how messed up their latest murderer is, he wants off the case. He doesn’t want to deal with this stuff anymore, but he also doesn’t want the case to go to Mills. It will destroy him; he’s too good for the world. The chief (R Lee Ermey) has to give it to him because nobody else wants it. Mills is all gung-ho to catch the serial killer, but he really does need Somerset’s help. He has one week left before he retires, and it’s a good thing too. Mills finds the greed victim second, and this one is more obvious since the word “greed” is written in the victim’s blood in plain sight. Somerset goes back to the gluttony murder scene, and finds a similar label hidden away: “gluttony” written in grease. Now they know just what they are dealing with: a serial killer killing based on the seven deadly sins, and most importantly, that there will be five more. At least.
Now it’s time to solve the case with a trip to the library! It’s surprising this city even has anything as positive as a library, but it’s a good thing it does. Somerset is able to do some reach on the seven deadly sins in literature (they are never in the bible, go figure), looking for where the killer may have gotten the inspiration for his killings. He left a quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost at the gluttony scene, that’s a good clue right there. He takes out other works that mention the seven deadly sins, but one of the film’s most humorous moments comes when Mills breaks down and reads the Cliff Notes versions. Eventually this leads to the realization that the killer might have done the same thing; read about the deadly sins with books he got from the library. Which would have necessitated a library card, which they can track. I’m a big fan of the library so I thought this was pretty cool, even though it’s technically illegal.
Meanwhile, the three other victims turn up: sloth (who actually survives, in a matter of speaking), pride, and lust. Only two are left, so the pressure to catch this guy is increasing. Somerset also meets Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), Mills’ wife. Since they just moved there, both Tracy and to a lesser extent Mills are still pretty innocent. The city hasn’t run them through the mill yet (pun intended). As they become friends of sorts, Tracy reveals to Somerset that she is pregnant. She doesn’t know whether she wants to have the baby or not, given the depressing condition that he or she would have to grow up in. She doesn’t know whether to tell Mills or not, so she goes to Somerset because he is literally the only other person she knows there. It’s a mark of just how defeating this city is that Somerset reveals his girlfriend got an abortion year back for the exact same reason. Outside of the murders, this was the conversation was the most depressing part of the film for me. People are so defeated because of their environment that they don’t even want to have children anymore, and to me children are generally pretty hopeful. They don’t even have enough hope to give themselves some.
SPOILER ALERT! AND YOU ESPECIALLY WANT TO AVOID THIS ONE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET.
This ending is known for being particularly brutal, but somehow it didn’t sit right with me. Call me crazy, but it sort of disappointed me. Not because of how brutal it was, but because it wasn’t brutal enough. I had heard what a punch in the gut it was, and I knew it had something to do with a box, but I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. I figured that Tracy was going to die, and I’ll admit that I was sad about that. She was the closest thing to a carefree character the film had. We know up to this point that John Doe (Kevin Spacey) is targeting Mills and Somerset specifically, so to have his “sermons” personally involve them makes sense. But Tracy herself didn’t commit a deadly sin, or personify one in any way. There are two victims left by the time that confrontation comes around: envy and wrath. Doe is envy, and is executed by Mills, who then becomes wrath. But Tracy doesn’t represent anything, and Mills doesn’t die. Doe messed up. He did the envy thing well, but wrath didn’t work out like the rest of them. Now, I’m sure everyone, Mills included, gets the point. I wanted consistency though, I guess. He didn’t keep to his own meticulous pattern, and it bothered me. Plus the “kill me and then you will become more like me and I will have won” things has been done. A bunch of times. As a matter of fact, did he really do anything wrathful before Doe got to him? He almost created that deadly sin in Mills. Why would he target him in the first place if he wasn’t already wrathful? Maybe I’m just being too picky or something, but after all I had heard about this thing, I was expecting something more I guess.
So I may have had a problem with the ending, but that was mostly because it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I’m definitely in the minority opinion though, so this probably won’t bother most people I’m guessing. The film overall was still very good, especially with the hopeless and depressing atmosphere it creates. A washed-out color scheme can really go a long way. The performances are great across the board, and whoever casted the actors here did a great job. Despite the film’s overwhelming feeling of despair, there actually are a couple of humorous lines and moments, mostly delivered by Mills. I really appreciated those. Overall the film was really good, and I’m excited for my next foray into Fincher’s filmography: Fight Club.
“He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars