Seven (1995)

July 26, 2014
Seven movie review
Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
Whispers of intense disappointment or adoration follow Se7en everywhere. The story could be described as a typical crime drama, but how an iconic director sets up its setting and characters is why this 1995 film is a cut above the rest.

Somber and soon-to-be retired Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is getting replaced with a younger idealistic Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). In an unidentified decaying city, the pair investigates a bloody and gruesome set of crimes 'inspired' by the seven sins; gluttony, greed, pride, sloth, lust, wrath, and envy.

Director David Fincher is known for his dark auteur style. His films' color and landscape are bleak and the characters rarely find happy endings. Right from the start of Se7en, the plot is relentless in its threat of danger and hopelessness. Crime and inhumanity over-runs every street corner. A never-ending downpour keeps the city wet, cold, and harsh. The faces of Mills and Somerset become the only familiar and welcoming sight as these violent murders become a common affair over one week. Unfortunately, the plot nor your imagination is gifted with a break of sunshine or hope.

Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
Law and Order and Law and Order: SVU tells even crueler stories of homicides, assault, and rape with more unyielding violence than Se7en. My mom was surprised when I told her that I didn't think the movie was extraordinarily violent. Yes, it was brutal, heartless, merciless - but the movie doesn't make a show of blood and guts, and more of an exploration of primitive humanity.

Murders set around the seven deadly sins - five specifically and individually - are only presented at the beginning of their discovery. Alongside Mills and Somerset do we walk in on the body, bloody, struggle and aftermath with very to little clues to piece together. The atrocities themselves are mostly filled in with dialogue and imagination.

Only on one occasion do we the audience know how something was done by a terrifying and shocking confession. Similar to how Christopher Nolan's Inception fills the first hour of running time with dialogue and the second hour is manageable to smoothly understand, so does Se7en play on our human quest of "Why?". So intricately is every murder described that we feel like we've seen the slaying carried out step-by-step. Visual heaviness and a steady unsureness if the murders will be resolved so deeply absorbs us. The setting leaves us psychologically and physically heavy; much like the endless trudging and hoops the detectives have to jump through.

Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
Outside of the murders, Se7en could also be described as the breaking or surrendering of a person's spirit; are you going to change it (the murder suspect), save it (Mills) or get the hell out of dodge (Somerset).

Somerset is like an old dog; he's passive, calm, and has buried a psychological bone in the back of his mind long ago where the world didn't run rampant on his life. When entering a crime scene, he is unhurried to solve it and views people as shades of gray that can be understood - to a certain point where sympathy nor apathy takes control. Experience and time have made him submit and he wants to get out of world's way.

Unlike Mills, who is a young puppy ready and eager to investigate everything. At the start of the seven sins' crimes, he doesn't really take the time needed to understand the perpetrators' motives. By how Somerset shows him the ropes Mills catches on quickly, but his idealistic nature and empathy jumps the gun making him protect what's left of normalcy. Somerset sees his young partner as too naive and tells him so, but Mills can't live in an already bleak society with an even more pensive and melancholy outlook. That's simply not how he's chosen to survive.

Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
Both of the main characters have a variety of scenes together and apart that explain and express their personalities and perspectives more deeply. Two of the following are ones that stuck out in mind for each character set up the devastating and nerve-wracking ending.
  • When Mill's wife Tracy gets pregnant, she asks to meet up with Somerset about her options and for advice about their new life in the city. Sharing with her about his earlier life just moving into the city, Somerset confesses that when his girlfriend was pregnant, he couldn't handle bringing up a baby. Eventually, he wore her down until she had an abortion. His revelation goes further; suggesting to Tracy of getting an abortion and not to tell Mills if she did so. If they decide to have the baby, to spoil him/her every chance they get. Perhaps in any other story, this admission wouldn't make us look at the protagonist the same way again; in Se7en, it fits.
  • As Mills and Somerset get close on the trails of the murder suspect by showing up at his apartment, they are unexpectedly hit with gunfire. Mills takes off after the killer on foot; a significant scene compared to the start of the investigation when the innocent and action-happy cop declared the Gluttony case was a closed deal immediately upon seeing the body. It's more than a moment where his impatient ambition gets the better of him, and more to the point of seeing the underbelly of the city swallowing our pure-of-heart protagonist whole.
I'm not sure if there is a better duo of interesting and complex detectives in film. So often do movies use the buddy-cop genre to comically show how each officer will not get along with the other. Freeman and Pitt are quite perfect together. Their chemistry is smooth-sailing, sensible, and intriguing, making the plot even more engaging than it probably could've been.

Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
When Se7en begins to reach its third act, and finally the suspect comes forward under the pseudonym of John Doe, Mills and Somerset are blackmailed to trail him out to the middle of nowhere. Their last hope is that he will show them the final two bodies depicting Envy and Wrath. Throughout the car ride, he justifies killing sinners; the world has become so corrupt it accepts what we normally wouldn't tolerate. The way Does twists the knife of both partner's beliefs is as equally menacing and effective as the barbaric murders he committed.

Leaving the hopeless nameless metropolis behind, how fitting it is that the final resolution takes place in a desert; the sunniest and brightest location of the entire film. Except, it's barren, dried-up, humid, practically dead. It's exactly that hell Somerset describes earlier in the movie; two men waiting on a desert island collecting diamonds and hoping someone will rescue them. And when a stranger delivers them a mysterious brown box, this person is far from a savior.

The crime scenes and the character's dialogue push our imaginations to full throttle. Like Psycho when Janet Leigh is killed in the first half hour, we don't know who the killer is in Se7en until the last half-hour. There's nothing left to do but wait it out. First, obviously, what's in the box. The contents are agonizing, to say the least. Second, the undoing of Freeman's composure. The old dog who had seen it all, actually, just then sees it all. And, lastly, the final choice Mills has. Any person watching ponders what they would've done in his shoes. The result brings a stunning culmination of Somerset's resignation to the world, Doe's plans of his merciless rampage being studied forever coming true, and Mill's transforming from the hunter to the hunted comes full circle.

Photo Credit: Se7en / New Line Cinema
The ending is something I'll admit to having predicted maybe twenty minutes beforehand. Unlike so many failed conclusions I was disappointed by, this one did the exact opposite - it left me purely and genuinely on the edge of my seat. I can't remember the last time a movie gave me such an intense reaction knowing where the plot was going and not wanting to see it play out, and anxious for it to end for my own sanity. Two hours of mystery finally dissolves and it's something you'll never forget.

Se7en is almost twenty years old. Since the film's release, the world has become even more in your face with similar brutalities this movie is so often recognized for. The internet has created a mass community of violent headlines everywhere we browse. Crimes regularly replicate Law and Order episodes and leaving others to study the tragedies. Twenty-four marathons on television air one bloody investigation after another. Our current events are sometimes hard to swallow, but cinematic crime drama rarely re-construct such a realistic hell very much like our own world. How eerily the movie reflects how Doe is right: are we studying Fincher's masterful work or Doe's sinister depravity? Any way you slice it, hell is on earth, and I probably enjoyed too much.

RATING: ★★★
Have you seen Seven? What are your thoughts?

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