I had never seen Se7en before a couple days ago. Seriously, right? Even in high school I was the odd guy out; people would say, “You like horror and you’ve never seen Se7en?!” Well, now I have joined this exclusive club of people who love David Fincher’s film, and while I wouldn’t say that it was a movie that really blew my mind, it was a rather nice surprise considering the age of it – sometimes these cat-and-mouse serial killer stories don’t age too well, but Se7en fits in nicely, and even sort of precedes the torture porn genre that we get with Saw and Hostel.
Se7en is super dim and dingy, and it’s filled with scenes of rain. The city is totally drab, depicted in dark grays and blacks and poorly lit. That’s David Fincher’s subtle way of portraying the shittiness of life here, and while it’s a rather obvious way of hinting at the nature of life in a criminal cesspool, it also sets the scene quite nicely for a film that flirts with black humor but rarely comes out of its depressive slumbers.
Fincher forces the viewer to wade through the atrocities: Morgan Freeman’s character Detective Somerset can’t sleep without a metronome, and sees violence in the city wherever he goes, including a savage beating on the street that no one seems to want to stop; Brad Pitt’s character Detective Mills sees how society has devolved, but he believes it can be fixed, and he’s continuously trying to convince Somerset of his moral standpoint.
It’s this duality – Somerset’s belief that there is no saving the world anymore and Mills’ idea that there’s a goodness to be drawn out, or at least attempted – that drives the plot of Se7en. Once the two find a bond within their partnership, there’s some good times to be had with the detectives, even when they’re dragging us along to particularly gruesome crime scenes fueled by the biblical seven deadly sins. Sometimes, their humor even makes us forget the terrible murders that have been hinted at, shown bluntly, or simply haunt the two detectives in the background.
That’s the spark of Se7en that elevates it above other movies in the same genre. The deaths are gory, and that attracts viewers to the action, but the major element that drew me to the film was the differing views on humanity. Since both Freeman and Pitt play their roles exceedingly well, their devotion to their tasks is shadowed by the views that they bring to their job. Somerset is totally dejected by his work, and it feels like he is going through the motions after the fact, simply dealing with murders without feeling like he can stop them. Mills is driven by anger for the man who commits these crimes; he believes that justice can be served, and that the two detectives can make it to the killer before the next murderer.
There’s a lot to say about humanity, and Fincher covers so much territory that it’s hard to really talk in great detail about it here. The final twist, while poignant, isn’t a terribly big surprise; still, it seems to distinguish which view of humanity Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker believe in. That the deadly sin of Wrath survives seems a metaphorical climax – anger and wrath reign, and Wrath is the sin that dominates all of us. And Mills’ moralist ideal fails, even when Somerset begins to come to terms with the fact that maybe he has lost hope in humanity. But the final scenes seem to convey some hope within life, even if it is at the expense of recognizing there might be some good left in all of us – we’re worth fighting for, even if it is a thankless, and unending, battle.
The view on human life that Se7en poses is depressingly bleak, but as a film it conveys this message loud and clear. The metaphors and symbolism throughout make this a thinking person’s film; it doesn’t lend itself well to sitting back for enjoyment, but instead forces the viewer to interpret its literary allusions. It’s a noir film in its own right, but it goes throughout its storyline constantly flipping viewpoints. Is humanity inherently good, and can it be changed? Or are we all shit stacked on shit, constantly in opposition because it is the way we are hardwired? Se7en‘s stance seems clear, and despite the years since the film was released, nothing in our world has changed. The question is whether it’s gotten worse.