36 Films: Se7en (1995)

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.

The Synopsis

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 Situation

“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.

The Movie

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

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies

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

Adam Charles has been a film fantatic and unhealthily obsessive purchaser of films he's never seen since the late '90s. He's lived in Austin, TX since 1992 and dropped out of college when he realized his full time job would better fund his dvd (now blu-ray) and movie poster addiction than his passion probably ever could. He is nearly out of financial debt, but it's gonna be another decade or so before he catches up on watching everything he's irresponsibly purhcased. He has written in the past for Collider.com and Horrorsnotdead.com, and can be found on twitter as @the_beef - a label he's had since well before Shia LeBeouf was even a sperm and therefore Adam wins.

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