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The 36 Dramatic Situations: ‘Se7en’ and “The Enigma”

How ‘Se7en’ exemplifies “The Enigma,” one of the 36 Dramatic Situations.
New Line Cinema
By  · Published on September 13th, 2010

This article on David Fincher’s Se7en and how it exemplifies the “Enigma” scenario is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

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 premier 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.

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