Movies We Love: Se7en


Se7en (1995)

He’s a nut-bag! Just because the fucker’s got a library card doesn’t make him Yoda!


Brash young detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) and nearly-retired detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) are forced into playing a demonic game of cat and also cat with a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who targets people (and gruesomely kills them) based on the Seven Deadly Sins.

Why We Love It

What’s not to love about a film that shows a morbidly obese man face-down, suffocated in his own food within the first twenty minutes or so? The entire film is dark without being dreary, brooding without being boring. All the notes feel just right, even if the world isn’t right at all. Se7en is the perfect nexis of talent – David Fincher showing off his early genius, Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow stepping up their young game against veteran Morgan Freeman.

But the main reason this movie is so incredible is that it transcends the usual cop cliches in order to tell a thrilling, dangerous story. Sure, there’s a young kid who doesn’t quite get the system yet. Sure, there’s a soon-to-be-retiree who is getting too old for this shit. But the film moves beyond those stereotypes in order to delve into what makes each of those men tick. Mills is poor but happy, trying to live an American dream with a beautiful new bride. Somerset is battling against everything he’s ever seen during the long years on the force. Both men have a different brand of humanity, but even the tension between the two of them as they work together seems to rise above the normal fray of a buddy cop dynamic. By the end, the two men have battled back and forth between two competing philosophies on the world to see that only one can truly be right.

And then, of course, there’s John Doe. What this movie does more than almost any other police drama is that it shows intensely brutal crime scenes – crime scenarios that seem better fit in a horror movie than they do a procedural. A man eating himself to death. A prostitute fucked to death. A lawyer made to cut off his own flesh. These gory events are shown either in full-frontal detail or portrayed with just enough suggestion to let the audience fill in the rest with their imagination. The crimes are heinous, almost unimaginably so, and it keeps the stakes of the game as high as possible until John Doe himself walks into the police station with his bloodied hands in the air.

Here is where the brilliance of the movie pays off. It builds and builds, making John Doe out as an almost-God-like figure creating a master plot of epic proportions. The movie takes the story to a place where the climax can’t possibly satisfy, and then it does. The final ten minutes of Se7en is the most gripping as John Doe leads Mills and Somerset out into the middle of nowhere to find the final two bodies. Somehow, unlike most other films who dare to set up something so severe, this one actually shocks you in the pay off. Like most of the film, we don’t know where it’s headed. Then we see a van coming up the road, and John Doe begins to tell Mills how much he admires him. And his lovely wife.

Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker present a story that’s mostly noir surrounded by blood and bodily fluids all wrapped up in the darkest philosophy – a question of man’s nature and our complicit standing while sin and crime wallow all around us. If you’re not sympathizing with Mills, with Somerset, and with John Doe by the end, then you aren’t paying attention. And that’s really all John Doe wants you to do.

Moment We Fell in Love

I’ve already mentioned the last sequence as the most pulse-pounding of the entire movie, finally waiting to see what will happen instead of picking up the pieces left over from a methodical killer. Added to that, there are a ton of scenes that stand out in this film: the chase at Doe’s apartment, the diner conversation when Tracy tells Somerset that she’s pregnant (raising the question of bringing a child into a terrible world), the moment where the two partners finally begin working together to find fingerprints at the Greed crime scene. Hell, the film even makes Somerset studying at the library interesting. Still, the one scene that stands out amongst all others is when the SWAT team led by California busts down the doors into their main suspect’s apartment only to find a forest of car fresheners hanging from the ceiling. They steady in, following procedure and attempt to get the suspect to get up from the bed, and when they pull back the sheet they find a rotted mess of a man. The tension eases. There’s no longer a live threat. As detectives Mills and Somerset dig through the photographic and human evidence left by the killer, California leans in to tell the corpse of a drug-dealing pederast that he got what he deserved. Then, the corpse coughs in his face.

It’s one of the scariest movie moments that I can remember seeing. It almost universally catches movie-watchers off guard, and in that way, it represents the rest of the film. Just as you believe you have seen the depths of what this man will do, the film coughs right in your face.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those movies I could watch everyday and not get tired of it. The story is fantastic, the direction is beautifully tragic, and the acting holds the weight of the characters with the expertise of experience and the spark of younger talent. Probably half of the lines are quotable, most of the shots iconic, and it has an ending that people will continue to talk about as long as film is studied. Yes, there are a few guilty pleasures – the idea of mixing the intense with the nerdy (who else could get away with a bloodbath followed by a session at the library with Dante’s Inferno?), and I admit to loving the fact that John C. McGinley plays California. It’s true. That’s Dr. Cox getting scared to death when a near-dead man coughs on him. But above all else, this movie goes beyond what other detective stories attempt and shows a gruesome reality that’s there if we choose to see it. It’s tense, tender, and genuinely scary. And yet there’s hope, colored by scenes between Mills, Tracy and Somserset. We see that there is humanity, even if it is dripping with rain and shaking from the subway. But knowing it’s there makes it even harder to see it taken away.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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