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
Nice review. I do love Se7en. I know a couple of other people have some problems with the ending, so you’re not the only one, though I do love it.
Whew! I really thought I was the only one there. I was a bit worried about putting this up, actually! Thanks for taking it so well, ha ha 🙂
I still really really liked the movie as a whole though. It’s a really good movie with a really good concept. And a really depressing color scheme.
Excellent post, I always thought the overall visual look of Se7en was outstanding.
I agree. How it was always raining, and the washed out color scheme? Awesome.
Great write-up. I consider this an epic film in many ways, and it is definitely one of my all-time favourites in crime genre. I love the way the film creates the atmosphere of unease, horror, etc. and submerges the viewer in it, and agree with you that color plays a big role. Although, I think It IS worse than ‘Fight Club’, which is the utmost perfection of story telling and adaptation of the book (as well!), in my opinion. Strangely, ending worked for me i.e. a sense of tragedy and despair were conveyed pretty good. What worked dreadfully during the final shots and I think most film critics agree was Brad’s acting – still considered to be one of the worst in his career due to the result: he simply lost it there and spoiled the ending.
Ha ha! Brad blew it! I hadn’t really thought of that, maybe that affected it for me a bit.
I still think the main problem was the ending itself though, I just thought it was too obvious compared to the rest of the movie. I wish they had kept the artist crime scene thing going. It wouldn’t have been as surprising maybe, but I think it would’ve fit better.
I’m getting a bad feeling that I’m going to be writing some unpopular stuff every Friday. Fight Club didn’t sit too well with me (I watched it last night) and I’m not sure how I’m going to properly convey my displeasure with it while still recognizing the positive aspects of it (because I did them). I’m starting to think that Zodiac will be my favorite overall, which sucks only because that’s the one I started with. I like them to get better as I go through them, you know? Oh well. I’m committed now, regardless.
Well, hehehe, ‘Zodiac’ will always have the appeal ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Seven’ can only dream about because ‘Zodiac’ IS based on a real story about a crime which has never really been ‘solved’ – in a strict sense of this word. But then again thats where the ‘weaknesses’ show, in jumping back and forth in time, and with such ‘aid back’ actors as Downey Jr and Gyllenhaal , ‘Zodiac’ is kinda in a different league in comparison to Fight Club’ and ‘Seven’ which I consider to be, well ‘dark’ ‘Brad Pitt’ material.
They have different feels to them that’s for sure, but Zodiac was the one that unsettled me the most to be honest. Even though it said it was a true story in the beginning, I didn’t really believe it until I looked it up afterwards.
I’ve been thinking about it a bit more, and I think the reason why I had more of a problem with Se7en and Fight Club is because they both have such a downer premise and it seems a bit extreme. This was more the case in Fight Club than Se7en. He did a good job creating them in the movie, but I don’t see that in real life. Zodiac depicts a more realistic world, but it’s still dark because there’s a serial killer running around.
I don’t know. Fight Club and Se7en are definitely “flashier” movies, but I like Zodiac the best so far.
Good review Hunter. Just one of those movies that still gets me each and every single time I watch it. Never gets old, in my book.
Thanks! Fincher builds the atmosphere so well, I can believe this stands up to multiple viewings.
Great write-up. Great acting, looks gorgeous… and I do love the ending! I haven’t actually seen the film for yars and years… I’m sure I have it on dvd somewhere… need to search it out…
I realize the ending works for most people… but I don’t know. It was kind of a let down for me. Maybe on a rewatch I’ll be able to forgive it; that’s definitely possible. Probably if I had not know about it going in (I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was supposed to be intense) I wouldn’t have expected as much.
Yeah, I think that’s a problem with a lot of films now… we know way too much about them before we go and see them… we know who the main characters are, what the plot is, that there’s a twist etc. I was thinking about this recently – I’ve only ever seen a handful films ever when I haven’t known loads about them. And it’s a completely different experience. I think I’m going to try to watch one film a month without knowing anything about it!
That’s an admirable goal… I might do that too. Just pick a random film and not know anything about it. That sort of happened to me with A Streetcar Named Desire, I knew who the actors were but that was it. I was in for a surprise let me tell you. I didn’t know what I expecting, but it wasn’t that! Crazy viewing experience though.
Try it! I guess with anything I watch, I’ll know it’s supposed to be good and I’l probably know the actors. But I’m going to try to keep it to no more than that.
And yeah, Streetcar is an intense film.
I will! I think I’ll make it into a thing on the blog. Give a title and such. Don’t know what right now, but I’ll think of something…
Ah cool… looking forward to seeing what you come up with. I’ve just decided on my first film: Midnight Cowboy. I’ll try to watch it in the next week or two.
You’re welcome 😉
Thank you! I already know a bit about Midnight Cowboy though unfortunately… It’s going to be hard to find a widely accepted film that I know NOTHING about. I’m sure I’ll find something though.
Absolutely love Seven, easily one of my favourite films, I just love how dark it is. You’ve got a treat coming up with Fight Club too, looking forward to your review of that one!
It is very dark that’s for sure. The sun comes out like once!
I actually watched Fight Club last night and now I’m struggling with how to write my review. I have very mixed feelings about that film…
Great blog about Seven. It was a brilliant film. I’m a massive fan of David Fincher, Fight Club is probably one of the best films i have seen. I agree with you that Zodiac is another excellent film. Have you seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?
I have not seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet, but I will be. I’m excited for that one too, but I won’t be getting to it for awhile unfortunately. I like Se7en a lot, I LOVE Zodiac, and I have very mixed feelings about Fight Club. I’m not sure how I’m going to write that review… it’s going to be a tough one.
I really enjoyed Fight Club, but it’s a difficult one to understand first time round. I have seen almost all of Fincher’s films apart from Alien 3 and The Social Network.
Cool beans! I’m trying to get his entire filmography, but it’s going to take me awhile.
And I think I understood Fight Club… at least the plot I got. I don’t fully understand the appeal though…
Good review, though I can’t agree with you on the ending. Gotta say that this might be my favorite Fincher film. At least it’s between this and The Social Network.
Yeah, I figured most people would not agree with me about the ending. That’s fine. Everyone’s being very splendid about it though.
The Social Network’s that good, huh? I’m looking forward to that one even more now!
Oh yeah! It’s superb!
Good stuff! Great critique!
‘Se7en’ is close to the ‘One and Done’ arena of films. Not because it doesn’t tell a good story. It does. Exceptional cast as well hitting all the low and high hanging fruit.
It’s the city and the cinematography that gives me the heeby-jeebys. Constantly under raining clouds, except for the final minutes. Streets unhealthily damp and puddled. While the air inside the many indoor crime scenes seems to hang with a dusty, fuzzy, creepy anguish.
Even happily married and not a homicide detective, I couldn’t stand living there for more than a month before contemplating doing something dangerous.
“one and done” as in you’re too traumatized to watch it again? Just making sure that’s what you meant by that. I can definitely see that happening to people though.
I agree with you that the city is one of the film’s strongest points, if not the strongest. Fincher is the master of the depressing color scheme, I’ll give him that. It even gets to Mills’ wife!
“One and done” as in not traumatized, but seriously creeped out. The atmosphere of the city has me thinking that Morgan Freeman may have done one or two of the victims. Due to his knowledge and familiarity with the motive and case. The sure sign of a master craftsman and director.
Well I was not thinking that at all! I see your point I guess, he didn’t want to investigate the case at first, he does have all that knowledge of the deadly sins, and he has a big problem with all the apathy in the city…. I already knew who the killer was going in because of the part I had seen on tv when I was like 12, but if I hadn’t I might have suspected Freeman as well. That would have been creepy, you’re right about that!
apparently the writer and director wanted to change the ending, brad pitt insisted they leave it in. i dont really know how i feel about it but, i thought it was a good movie. i really liked the symbolism when john doe walks into the precinct with blood literally dripping off his hands and he has to yell to get any attention. apathy!
That is awesome! No one pays attention to him when he’s giving himself up, it’s like what? If that happened in real life, oh man. He’d have about fifty guns on him in no time flat!
I think Fincher did want that ending too though, as well as Pitt. I think it was just the studio that wanted to change it. Not sure though… wiki says Fincher wanted it too, it was the producer that wanted to play it safe.
Not that I think they should have played it safe. I’m all for a depressing ending, but I would have been happier (well, not happier, but when you’re talking about depressing endings being happier=being more depressed, ha ha) if Doe had been allowed to be consistent with how he killed people. I don’t know how he would have done this, but if he had somehow had manipulated Mills into killing him in a way that would represent envy like his other killings, and also had Mills killed in someway that would show his wrathfullness, I would have appreciated it. The problem is, how could he have pulled that off? I have no idea.
I love this film! Dark and haunting, but a film that grabs you by the throat and just never lets go! I think Pitt and Freeman are just wonderful here. Their growing friendship especially impacts THAT ending. The dinner scene with Paltrow, when they all crack up from the train vibration reinforces that.
Kevin Spacey apparently didn’t want his name in the cast and wouldn’t do the film unless they agreed on his request. It is a complete shock when he appears at the police station with blood all over him. Then you find out whose blood it is………….OMG! THAT deadpan look on his face………after what he has done……..still haunts me! Kevin Spacey is an ACTOR of the highest order!
Great stuff again Hunter.
I just watched The Usual Suspects and I think his part there and his part in this one are wonderful compliments to each other. In both of them his character comes as a complete surprise.
Don’t start me on “The Usual Suspects”………..it’s right up there with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” as the best crime films ever. I look forward to your review on that one!
Spacey is just a dream!
Gabriel Byrne is also very good!
If I remember correctly, this is your favorite director right? I was surprised by this film! It looked gorgeous or well at least for me it did, I was drooling over all cinematography and design that was put into it. Loved the idea around the sins, and the partnership between the two. Initially I complete forgot what the last two sins where other than the fact we needed two more bodies, so I was waiting to see what twist the film was going to take next, so I was slightly surprised, but now that you mention what the two sins were, I can see the inconsistency there, and also the film kind of just ended. I mean it was a better than average ending but I wanted just a tad bit more. I will definitely be looking out for Fincher’s films, and hopefully enjoy a rewatch of Fight Club. Great review Hunter!
No, Scorsese’s my favorite. I do like Fincher, but he’s not really my favorite.
I was definitely disappointed in the ending to this film. Part of it is probably because it got hyped up to much, and partially because I still think it was actually a bit of a let down. I haven’t revisited it since though, so maybe I’m wrong.
My favorites of Fincher’s are The Social Network, Zodiac, and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. He’s also coming out with a new film this year: Gone Girl. I think the trailer came out last week and it looks pretty good.
Wow. I swear I blame me being tired for that mistake haha. Hopefully it works more for you second time around. Yeah those are all great films, although Zodiac kind of lacked in parts for me. I’ll check it out when I have wifi!