For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.
Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t let your creativity cross paths with your sadistic sensibilities and disdain for sinners, because we are truly sorry and not just because you have a gun to our head.
Part 36 of the 36-part series takes a look at “The Enigma” with Se7en.
Detective Lt. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is a few days away from retirement and Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), his replacement in the homicide division, is a relative newcomer to the extremities of his new job. Shortly upon Mills’ arrival the two begin an investigation on a case surrounding an excessively obese man who was force-fed a large amount of food to the point of an intestine explosion. Not long after, another death occurs – this time with the single-word message “Greed” written in the victim’s blood across the floor. This message sparks a discovery and link to the prior homicide uncovered by Somerset where it’s believed there is a killer on the loose who is choosing his victims based on their committing of a deadly sin.
“The Enigma” – Defined by the presence of an interrogator, a seeker and a problem, or more accurately a riddle to be solved. This becomes an interesting crossover situation with another – “pursuit” – especially in regards to how Se7en, and other stories in the mystery genre, fit categorically into one and/or the other.
Most crime thrillers/dramas are subject to have both an investigation to identify the criminal while pursuing the brigand. It seemed at first that a good marker for determining which of the two situations was most applicable was how prominent the puzzle was, or how unknown the answer was to the audience.
Se7en sits interestingly in between the two situations of “pursuit” and “enigma” because the criminal being pursued wants to be found, but not before each piece of the puzzle is revealed at the desired time. It’s sort of a jigsaw puzzle with riddles leading to the uncovering of the next necessary piece to form the picture. The seekers in the situation want to locate the killer before all of the pieces form together, so in essence they’re solving a different riddle than the one being presented by the criminal in order to save the lives of potential victims of the primary riddle.
One of the more interesting elements to this dual puzzle situation is the audience’s investment and curiosity in seeing the end result of all seven sins being judged by the killer while also hoping for their capture. From a story standpoint it’s an interesting test case for intrigued audiences as there’s a simultaneous, contradictory desire to see the killer both succeed and fail. If he’s caught too soon justice prevails, but the puzzle is left incomplete. If he’s caught too late the picture is formed, but at the cost of “innocent” lives.
As a picture Se7en remains one of the most significant and highly regarded American films of the 90s. It was only David Fincher’s second feature film and its dark, grisly and drab visuals marked a style and palette that would become synonymous with his name, and would actually be the first of a number of times he would revisit the Enigma situation. That unique visual style combined with a highly original premise and skin-tight structure resulted in what many consider to be the premiere serial killer film of our time.
Bonus Examples: Knowing, The Game, Le Corbeu, AMC’s new show Rubicon
Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game
Deliverance – The Rescuers
Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish
Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King
Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs
Disaster – Airplane!
Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery
Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin
Daring Enterprise – The Professionals
Abduction – The Chaser
The Enigma – Se7en
Obtaining – There Will Be Blood
Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors
Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men
Murderous Adultery – Match Point
Madness – Grizzly Man
Fatal Imprudence – The Fly
Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy
Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween
Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger
Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri
All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man
Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent
Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story
Adultery – In the Mood For Love
Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon
Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen
Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris
An Enemy Loved – Underworld
Ambition – Wall Street
Conflict With a God – The Truman Show
Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding
Erroneous Judgment – The Contender
Remorse – In Bruges
Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone
Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary