Thursday, February 9, 2017
(September 1995, U.S.)
David Fincher's crime thriller SE7EN may be the best example of modern day neo-noir filmmaking, with it visual elements of low-key lighting, light and shadow and unconventional camera placement, that I've seen since Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER in 1982. And like that landmark science fiction thriller, it seems to always be raining in this movie, too. SE7EN is also one of the most bone-chilling and frightening tales of the serial killer genre and the painstaking efforts to hunt down and capture him that I've seen on film since Michael Mann's MANHUNTER in 1986.
This film is an enigmatic jigsaw puzzle, to say the least, that in my opinion, goes way beyond the traditional crime thriller. The puzzle begins by not clearly identifying which American city this takes place in. The city is dark, dirty, crime-ridden and full of fear and skepticism toward human nature (could be anywhere in America!). From the moment the first murder victim is discovered at the beginning of the typical work week, a disgustingly-obese man forced to eat tremendous quantities of food until his stomach ruptured, we can clearly surmise that there will be six more events to follow this one, as the word gluttony is discovered at the crime scene. It's right here that I should add that your own personal and religious beliefs in the so-called seven deadly sins are completely up to you. I will say for myself, an atheist, that the religious overtones of the violent crimes makes the entire human (or inhuman) acts behind them all the more fearful and sinister (it seems that in today's world, in particular, there's nothing more unsettling than a fanatic with a religious agenda).
As previously stated, this is a jigsaw puzzle in which we know exactly how many pieces to expect. The second murder victim, a wealthy defense attorney who died from both fatal bloodletting and the removal of a pound of flesh, is not exactly meant to invoke sympathy on our part, as he was the sort of man who greatly benefited by getting the guilty exonerated. Here we find the word greed at the crime scene. As the murders continue through more of the sins, detectives David Mills and William Somerset (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, respectively), must not only try to unravel the true intentions and purpose of the unknown killer, but must also try and impatiently dead with each other, as well. The murder to represent sloth is particularly gruesome in that its victim (who, for a moment, is the suspected killer) is a well-known drug dealer and child molester, strapped to a bed, barely alive and emaciated, with a series of Polaroid pictures indicating he had been tied to the bed for an entire year. Honestly, I don't know what freaks me out more - being tied to a bed for a year, or the condition of this poor bastard's body when they find him. The murder of the disease-spreading hooker meant to depict lust is noteworthy due to the fact that the perpetrator is an unwilling man forced by the killer (whom we know now as only John Doe) to wear a bladed S&M phallic device on his genitals and to rape and kill her while severely traumatizing him. This "weapon" of sorts is creepy to look at in the Polaroid shots we're briefly shown. From there, our detectives are alerted to their next victim - a beautiful young woman, presumably a model, whose face has been mutilated by Doe. Given the option to call for help and be disfigured, or to commit suicide by taking pills, she chooses suicide; the word pride written on her wall above her.
So by the time five of these murders have taken place, we can only sit and wonder how the last two will be performed for us. This is where the film cleverly makes its first of many climactic twists by John Doe's unexpected surrender to Mills and Somerset. The second twist, I suppose, is in our discovery that Doe is played by Kevin Spacey, whose name is not given during the film's opening credits. Still, there are two deadly sins left and we're practically at the edge of our seat as we try to determine how an unusual drive to a remote desert location between Mills, Somerset and Doe will resolve all of this. Envy, as it turns out, is Doe's own feelings toward Mills' life of tradition and normalcy. Wrath is what Mills will experience when he discovers that a mysterious package delivered to them at this desert site shall contain the severed head of his pretty and pregnant wife Tracy (played by Gwyneth Paltrow when she was still alive in the film). This horrifying revelation proves too much for Mills and he shoots Doe six times until his death completes the seven deadly sins.
Watching SE7EN allows one to consider what exactly is truly scary to them. The film is not classified as part of the horror genre, yet it's darker, more brutal, more relentless, more violent and more haunting than anything else you may have watched in a dark room on Halloween night. The performances are top notch, as each primary character exerts his own sense of style and purpose. Morgan Freeman is generally quiet, but very carefully detailed in his methods and philosophies behind his analytical approach toward understanding the criminal mind at work here. Kevin Spacey, while also quiet and modest, is terrifying in showing us just how meticulous and in control of his actions, though horrible as they may be, he truly is. Brad Pitt serves as the film's wild rogue who, despite his aggressive and impatient nature, appears to be the only person in this film who has any faith left in the good side of human nature. He refuses to believe otherwise.
Favorite line or dialogue:
David Mills (to John Joe): "You're no messiah! You're a movie of the week! You're a fucking t-shirt, at best!"