Directed by: David Fincher || Produced by: Arnold Kopelson, Phyllis Carlyle
Screenplay by: Andrew Kevin Walker || Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, John C. McGinley, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree Richard Shiff, Reg E. Cathey
Music by: Howard Shore || Cinematography: Darius Khondji || Edited by: Richard Francis-Bruce || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 127 minutes
Alien 3 (1992) may have been David Fincher’s first feature-length film, but 1995’s Se7en was the most important film of his career, as well as one of his best. Fincher’s career in filmmaking and video-production reads like an inspirational can-do reel for aspiring auteur directors everywhere. After he was repeatedly insulted and his work repeatedly shit-canned by industry insiders, Fincher became one of the most prolific and successful music video directors of the late 1980s and early 1990s. After being manhandled by 20th Century Fox on the set of Alien 3, and his final work re-edited into oblivion by the time of its theatrical release, the man refused to read a script for nearly a year and a half afterward, later claiming that his experience with the Alien sequel nearly ruined filmmaking for him.
But like I said, he ended up making Se7en less then three years later, and almost by accident, no less. Now, he’s one of the best directors in the world.
Anyone who’s seen or heard of the film is familiar with its infamous, bone-chilling “head-in-the-box” climax, but Fincher’s initial acceptance of the project was based on that original script, which was sent to him by the studio on accident. After much discussion and some post-production maneuvering, Fincher and star Brad Pitt convinced (threatened?) the studio to keep its now iconic ending, and the rest is history.
As Fincher himself stated, the film is more a meditation on evil than a police procedural or a simple “whodunit” mystery. The point, or emotional payoff of the story, has little to do with the identity of antagonist John Doe and more so with the cause, method, and psychology behind his horrific actions. John Doe’s name and stature are purposefully generic, highlighting the universality of his crimes and his warped sense of morality. John Doe’s exist in every culture and perhaps in every city. What’s more unsettling than Doe’s violence is the fundamentalist ideology behind it. Kevin Spacey is on-screen for less than half an hour, and yet his character’s presence permeates every scene of the film.
Se7en is also famous for its unrelenting dark mood and depressing tone. Nearly every single scene in the unnamed city setting is overcast and raining. Urban decay is highlighted through intense shadows and detailed grimy images, achieved through bleach-bypass on the film stock and great use of low-key lighting. Countless horror films and crime-thrillers since have attempted to replicate the iconic dark, moody look of Fincher’s first true auteur picture; its staging of gruesome crime scenes is impeccable, but also second to the implications behind the violence and the little savagery that is not depicted (such as the box scene).
Se7en is also a great relationships study of its two lead characters, played by Pitt and Morgan Freeman. On the one hand, this mentor-mentee relationship is a classic staple of both crime dramas and buddy-cop movies, but on the other hand, neither character changes the other for the better (despite them learning to work together as a team), and the ending ensures they don’t remain the best of friends. Their relationship is further complicated by Pitt’s character’s wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow; in any other picture, Paltrow’s character would be a forgettable throwaway role, but here Paltrow provides the story with an entirely new dimension and outlook, as well as acting as the crux of the film’s climax. This three-pronged character dynamic gives Se7en a much needed dose of humanity and warmth against the never-ending darkness of the titular deadly sins. In fact, it is the genuine connection between these characters and the audience that makes the finale as devastating as it is.
Numerous aspects of Se7en’s trademark style have become overused, ripped off cliches by now, as I mentioned earlier, but it’s easy to understand why given how adept Fincher proves himself to be at manipulating the darkness. His work plays like a Nine Inch Nails album, circling and consuming you with irresistible creepiness and mind-numbing chills. His work is hypnotic in the best way possible, and his signature style was established and is best represented in this film. Se7en is David Fincher incarnate.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Se7en has more than enough style and good looking leads for the ladies, and plenty of gore, violence, and angst-ridden macabre for the guys. If you’re mature enough to handle the story’s scares and dark tone, there’s no reason you shouldn’t love this film.
— However… I wouldn’t eat spaghetti while watching it. Or any wet food, for that matter. Better yet, just don’t eat anything at all.
? Burn in hell, John Doe. Burn, baby, burn.