Se7en (or Seven) is a 1995 American crime/horror/thriller film, directed by David Fincher of Fight Club fame. It stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as homicide detectives William Somerset and David Mills.Somerset is about to retire and be replaced by Mills in the department, but the two get caught up in a string of horrible murders, each inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins and all caused by one intelligent and elusive Serial Killer. A distinctive dark atmosphere and a skillful balance of Gory Discretion Shots ends up creating a far more disturbing product than the Gorn films that try and emulate it.Released to both critical acclaim and commercial success, and often ranked with The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho as the pinnacle of serial killer fiction.
This film provides examples of:
Admiring the Abomination: While not quite to the level of admiration, Somerset repeatedly urges Mills not to underestimate John Doe and instead to treat him with the respect he deserves.
Somerset: It's dismissive to call him a lunatic. Don't make that mistake.... This guy's methodical, exacting and worst of all, patient.
Amoral Attorney: The Greed victim was a prominent lawyer named Eli Gould. Doe's own lawyer also qualifies: when Mills calls him out on it he offers a rather weak rationalization.
And I Must Scream: Sloth. He is kept in his flat, alive, for one year, immobilized, occasionally given antibiotics so as not to die from his bedsores. By the time he's saved, his mind no longer functions.
Arc Number: Take a wild guess. In addition to the seven deadly sins, the main plot of the film takes place over seven days (with the days appearing as titles onscreen), Somerset arrives for supper at Mills's flat at seven o'clock and the box containing Tracy's head is delivered at seven o'clock.
Artistic License - Gun Safety: Mills is seen failing to observe proper trigger discipline in several instances, such as the chase scene with John Doe. Justified in this instance, as it's used to establish that he is an impulsive and hotheaded Cowboy Cop in contrast to the more restrained Somerset (see also their conversation about firing their guns on their way to the Sloth victim).
Asshole Victim: According to the villain. His victims are chosen based on what he considers to be their (unforgivably) negative traits, although their "sins" range from being morbidly obese to being a drug-dealing pederast. The movie does not contain any indication that the victims for gluttony, lust, and pride were bad people in any way, unless you take the villain's "From a Certain Point of View" for gospel — or share his hatred of lawyers, obese people, sex-workers, and vain women.
The Bad Guy Wins: John Doe manages to have Mills become the sin of 'Wrath' as Mills shoots him in the head. Depending on how you look at it, this trope is either downplayed or played terrifyingly straight..
Buddy Cop Show: According to Word of God, Fincher was initially turned off by the screenplay because it sounded too much like a generic buddy cop movie. Despite the superficial trappings (down to the Salt and Pepper pairing) it doesn't really have a huge amount in common with the trope as it usually stands, however.
Somerset: Well, in any major city, minding your own business is a science. First thing they teach women in rape prevention is never cry for help. Always yell "fire." Nobody answers to "help." You holler "fire," they come running.
Subverted in one instance. When the photographer shows up at one of the crime scenes, one might be forgiven for thinking it's just a quick, funny cameo by Kevin Spacey (assuming one even recognized him). Turns out he's the villain.
Christianity is Catholic: Pointedly averted. John Doe's crimes are influenced by a plurality of different religious sources, and he is never stated to belong to any particular denomination (although he is definitely Christian). Part of what leads the police to suspect that the Sloth victim may be the killer is that he had an extremely strict Southern Baptist upbringing.
Churchgoing Villain: John Doe is a deeply Christian serial killer who despises the entire world. To show his disdain for all the "sins" around him he gives his victims ironic deaths tied to their perceived guilt in order to cleanse society.
Cruel Mercy: John Doe has already proven himself to be monumentally depraved piece of work with the sheer methodical cruelty of his various killings. When he corners Detective Mills during a downtown chase in the rain, he leaves him alive in what appears to be a random moment of mercy. It turns out that he had already been stalking the Detectives who were pursuing him for some time. He had far greater plans for Mills in mind, decapitating his wife Tracy out of Envy and making him the final piece in his murder set by letting Mills kill him out of Wrath.
Cultured Badass: Somerset is Doe's equal in his knowledge of literature and religious philosophy, and managing to be a good cop for as long as he has in that city surely qualifies him as a kind of badass, even if he never actually demonstrates it on-screen.
Da Chief: The Police Captain moderating the protagonists.
Drink Order: Somerset's taste for red wine contrasts pointedly with Mills's preference for Pabst Blue Ribbon, a popular beer among the American working class, evidencing how Somerset is much more cultured and erudite than Mills. Mills doesn't even know to serve wine in a wine glass.
Driven to Suicide: The Pride victim. John Doe cuts off her nose and glues a phone to one hand and sleeping pills to the other, offering her the Sadistic Choice of calling for help (but having to live with her disfigurement) or killing herself. As proof of her vanity, she chooses the latter.
Empathic Environment: It's raining during most of the movie. The rain was meant to symbolize the third level of Hell, as described in Dante's Inferno. The idea is backed up by the numerous references to the work throughout the movie.
Eureka Moment: When Mills mentions that "just because the fucker's got a library card doesn't make him Yoda", Somerset realizes that the FBI is able to track the killer based on his reading habits.
Eye Scream: When asked why he is retiring, Somerset makes a passing reference to a man who was mugged the night before, and after the mugger had taken his wallet, he pointlessly and sadistically stabbed the man in both of his eyes.
Fan Disservice: The morbidly-obese Gluttony victim is naked on the autopsy table.
The name of the Pride victim is written on the label for the bottle of sleeping pills glued to her hand (see No Name Given for more information).
Pausing the film when the photographer shows up at the Sloth victim's apartment reveals that he's played by Kevin Spacey.
A literally subliminal example takes place near the end: Tracy's face flashes onscreen just before Mills shoots John Doe.
Freudian Excuse: Averted in the film; John Doe's actions are not attributed to a past since he never gives one. Played straight in the (non-canonical) comic books.
From Bad to Worse: The entire movie has this continuously, but the last ten minutes deserve special mention. It got a lot worse fast.
Gambit Roulette: John Doe's plan hinges upon: the police finding the Gluttony message behind the fridge, the Sloth victim not being discovered ahead of time, the police finding the message hidden behind the painting in Gould's office, the police being able to connect the fingerprints behind the painting to the Sloth victim, the police finding the Sloth victim on the appropriate day, the package containing Tracy's head arriving at the scene at the right time, somebody actually opening said package and seeing its contents (one of the cops in the helicopter, upon seeing the package, radios for the bomb squad to be brought in - why would this not be Somerset's first assumption?), and convincing Mills to kill John Doe, without anyone intervening. Additionally, practically every murder takes place in a location where someone could have easily interrupted John Doe before completing the murder in question (Somerset notes that John Doe left the scene of the Gluttony murder twice in order to buy more spaghetti sauce, and hand waves no one interrupting the Greed murder with the Bystander Syndrome) - he was extraordinarily lucky that no one did so. Finally, when Somerset and Mills arrive at John Doe's apartment he fires upon them from a distance, and again when they give chase - Somerset and Mills form an integral part of his plan, so he must have been missing on purpose, but he was still lucky that he didn't accidentally hit one of them.
It is possible that he made Somerset and Mills a part of his plan after they almost caught him. Though possibly Mills became a target for Wrath after he accosted Doe pretending to be a press photographer.
John Doe specifically states to Mills and Somerset that his plans changed after they found his apartment. The implication in the scene is that he did not intend to directly involve them until that point.
Giallo: It isn't one, but the film's visuals seem to be heavily influenced by the genre.
Good Cop/Bad Cop: They never interrogate anyone jointly, but Somerset is very patient and soft-spoken, in contrast to Mills's more aggressive, volatile demeanour. This is particularly evident when they are driving John Doe to the site of the last two victims.
Gorn: Although it's mostly limited to Gory Discretion Shots. Most of the horrors are nigh-unfilmable and left to our imagination.
Greedy Jew: The Greed victim is an amoral defence attorney named Eli Gould, an unambiguously Jewish name. However, his ethnicity is never explicitly pointed out. Our only clue to John Doe's implied anti-Semitism is the "One pound of flesh, no more, no less..." note left at the crime scene, a reference to Shylock's punishment in The Merchant of Venice.
Green-Eyed Monster: John Doe says he killed Mills's wife out of envy. Of course, given his agenda, he may have exaggerated his envy just for that purpose.
Insanity Defense: Upon turning himself in, John Doe says that if Mills and Somerset accept his deal of escorting him to the location of the last two victims, he will plead guilty to all charges. If, however, they don't accept his deal, he will plead insanity. His lawyer points out that, given the sheer extremity of Doe's crimes, such a plea would have a good chance of succeeding. Somerset then counters that, if they brought him to court, Doe's lawyer threatening to plead insanity would itself be admissible as evidence against Doe (that is, the fact that Doe was mentally acute enough to recognize that pleading insanity might be a good idea would be good evidence that he was, in fact, sane). Doe, of course, freely admits that he doesn't believe he's insane (and Somerset agrees with him, although Mills does not), which isn't to say he and his lawyer wouldn't be able to convince a jury otherwise.
Jitter Cam: Used in a handful of scenes, such as when Mills chases Doe through his apartment complex, or when Somerset opens the box, realizes what Doe's plan is and immediately runs over to him and Mills in an effort to prevent his plan from being completed.
Karmic Death: What the killer is aiming for, at least in theory.
Doe: And after him I took the lawyer, and both of you must have secretly thanking me for that one. This is a man who dedicated his life to making money by lying, with every breath that he could muster to keeping murderers and rapists on the streets—
Mills: "Murderers." Doe: A woman— Mills: "Murderers", John. Like yourse— Doe:A WOMAN! So ugly on the inside...
Somerset (reading one of John Doe's journals): "What sick ridiculous puppets we are and what gross little stage we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking. Not a care in the world. Not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended."
Doe: Don't ask me to pity those people. I don't mourn them any more than I do the thousands that died at Sodom and Gomorrah. Somerset: Is that to say, John, that what you were doing was God's good work? [Beat] Doe: The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Somerset points out that John Doe enjoys his work too much to have been 'forced' by God to do it.
The Lust and Gluttony victims also go unnamed. The Pride victim's name is never spoken aloud but her name can be read on the label for the sleeping pills glued to her hand (it's possible, however, that these pills weren't actually prescribed for her and were furnished by John Doe himself).
Not So Different: Somerset and John Doe. Both of them are intelligent, well-educated and cultured, and are both intimately aware of just how much of a Crapsack World they live in. Where they differ is in their respective approaches to trying to improve the world.
Shown Their Work: The Wrath victim. In Dante's time killing a man's wife and children was considered equal to taking his life and was sometimes used on men condemned to death. John Doe refers to this when he tells Mills "whatever life I will allow you to have". Thus David Mills is the wrath victim even though he wasn't the one killed.
Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred: Doe's manipulation of Mills to kill him, which would avenge his wife's murder but also fulfill the last of Doe's plan by making Mills and Doe the Wrath and Envy "punishments", respectively.
Stuffed into the Fridge: Mills' wife Tracy. We know Doe beheaded her... from his comments before the "souvenir" line, he may have done a lot more than that.
Sympathy for the Hero: John Doe comes to admire the main detectives after they surprise him by showing up at his house despite how careful he was to leave no clues. This is not a good thing for them. At all.
Take Our Word for It: A major part of the film's aesthetics. Almost all of the most horrific elements of the film happen entirely offscreen.
Technical Pacifist: Apart from 'Envy' (and possibly 'Gluttony'), John Doe does not actually *kill* any of the victims himself. He makes them take their own lives, leaves them for dead, or forces someone else to do the killing. Even 'Wrath' was his own death at the hands of Mills.
Averted with Pride, since he did mutilate her. Nor does he object to his some of his other murders being described as torture.
Vomiting Cop: One of the SWAT team members is about to throw up when they find Victor's (the Sloth victim) decayed corpse.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: The name of the city is never specified. Tracy at one point mentions that she and David used to live "upstate", presumably referring to upstate New York, and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker said that the screenplay was heavily inspired by his time spent in New York, but that's about it.
In the novelization, Mills and his wife lived in a town named Springfield (probably Springfield, New York) before they moved to the city.
Wicked Cultured: John Doe. He uses the works of William Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dante, the Marquis de Sade and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, as inspirations for his crimes.
Wide-Eyed Idealist: Mills, at least in Somerset's opinion. He most definitely isn't by the end of the film.
Working the Same Case: Happens very early on when Somerset has been assigned to the Gluttony murder and Mills to the Greed. The discovery of the word "Gluttony" written in grease behind the Gluttony victim's fridge identifies the two murders as the work of the same killer.