Follow TV Tropes


Film / Se7en

Go To

"There are seven deadly sins, Captain. Gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. Seven... You can expect five more of these."
William Somerset

Seven (stylized as Se7en) is a 1995 American crime/thriller film, directed by David Fincher. It stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as homicide detectives William Somerset and David Mills.

In an unnamed American metropolis where the crime rate is high and it is seemingly always raining, 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.

A comic book series called Se7en published by Zenescope Entertainment tells the events of the movie from the viewpoint of the killer.


Released to both critical acclaim and commercial success, effectively resurrected Fincher's interest in filmmaking after the Troubled Production of his previous film, and is 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: Downplayed. While not quite to the level of admiration, Somerset repeatedly urges Mills not to underestimate John Doe and instead to acknowledge him as the meticulous threat he is.
    Somerset: It's dismissive to call him a lunatic. Don't make that mistake.... This guy's methodical, exacting and worst of all, patient.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Near the end of the film, Mills makes an offhand comment that his wife doesn't have cable TV. Believe it or not, there was a time when even basic cable was considered a luxury.
  • 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.
    • It's never actually shown if Gould was this trope or not. Doe says that he thinks Mills and Somerset were secretly happy he was dead, but that could just be him assuming that two cops would hate any defense attorney.
  • 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Averted (with dark comic intent) when John Doe states that he's not responsible for the dead dog on the side of the road.
  • 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).
  • Artistic License – Law: While John Doe certainly could try an insanity defense in court, in America it almost never works.note 
  • 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 Sloth victim in particular is a known drug dealer and child molester. His punishment is so horrifying, however, that it's hard to say he deserved it.
    • And Doe himself definitely is one at the end, even if he willed it.
  • Autocannibalism:
  • Ax-Crazy: Why, John Doe.
  • 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..
  • Bald of Evil: John Doe has a shaved head.
  • Balloon Belly: Played for Horror. Gluttony is forced to eat spaghetti at gunpoint until he can't take it anymore. Then the killer kicks him and his stomach ruptures.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: A good part of John Doe's self justification for the Gluttony murder. And yet he goes the opposite route with the Pride murder.
  • Berserk Button: The suggestion that his victims count as "innocent" immediately sends John Doe into a loud Motive Rant.
  • Big "NO!": Mills lets out several as the truth that his wife is dead begins to seep in.
  • Black-and-White Insanity: John Doe, arguably. The film, however, does go out of its way to point out that John Doe isn't completely insane - which is in some ways even more frightening than if he was.
  • Blood Knight: According to Somerset, California and the rest of the SWAT team love their job.
  • Body Horror: While many of the victims' bodies are left in bloodily mutilated states, Gluttony and Sloth are distinctly disfigured from the inside out upon discovery, the former extremely bloated with darkened veins, and the latter emaciated past the point of human recognition.
  • Break the Badass: Part of John Doe's plan for Mills.
  • 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.
  • Bystander Syndrome:
    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.note 
  • The Cameo:
    • Charles S. Dutton as a cop.
    • 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.
    • See Creator Cameo below.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: John Doe doesn't kill Detective Mills when he has the chance, because Mills hasn't seen or played his intended part in Doe's grand finale.
  • Captain Obvious:
    The coroner lifts the head of the Gluttony victim, where it has been resting for several hours.
    Coroner: He's dead.
    Somerset: Thank you, doctor.
  • The Chessmaster: John Doe.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Somerset is repeatedly seen practising his knife-throwing skills (to the point that he seems to be using it as a sort of meditation as the case gets worse), and by the end of the film it never gets used, since in real life there really aren't that many times when a man licensed to carry a gun would need to throw a knife.
  • 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.
  • City with No Name: It appears to be a composite of New York and Los Angeles noir cities.
  • *Click* Hello: John Doe does this to Mills after the chase.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Along with his hotheaded, impulsive nature, Mills ("M-I-L-L-S, fuck off!") swears like a sailor.
    "Fucking Dante! Goddamn poetry-writing faggot, piece of shit! Fucker!"
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Several of Doe's victims (Gluttony and Sloth specifically).
  • Cowboy Cop: Mills is certainly trying to be this. Deconstructed by the end: his aggression and impulsiveness leads to him playing straight into the villain's hands and ruining his life in the process.
  • Crapsack World: Detective Somerset and the villain seem to share this perspective on the world. At the end, Somerset states that the world is still worth fighting for, even if it is a shithole.
  • Creator Cameo: The film's writer, Andrew Kevin Walker, appears in exactly one shot as the male corpse in the opening scene.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The grungy credits scroll down instead of up.
  • Creepy Monotone: John Doe most of the time, which makes it doubly chilling whenever he raises his voice in any capacity.
  • Criminal Mind Games: Although that was all part of a Thanatos Gambit.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Many of John Doe's victims. There's the obese man forced to eat until he's so full that his stomach fatally ruptures when kicked, the lawyer forced to carve off a pound of his own flesh and bleed out, the drug dealer tied to a bed for an entire year whose mind and body have withered away to the point that the only thing separating him from a corpse is a pulse, the model forced to choose between a drug overdose or calling for medical help after her nose is cut off, and the prostitute forced to have sex with a man with a knife attached to a strap-on.
  • Cruel Mercy: John Doe has already proven himself to be a 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.
  • Death by Disfigurement: Invoked with the Pride victim, who killed herself.
    Dr. O'Neill: He cut off her nose.
    Somerset: To spite her face.
  • Death by Gluttony: Invoked with the Gluttony victim. He was force-fed to a horrifying degree as part of his murder.
  • Death by Sex: Invoked with the Lust victim. There is a blade and a sex toy and... well, best not to dwell on it.
  • Deadpan Snarker: David Mills, so very much. Somerset too has his moments here and there.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Tracy's unfortunate fate, when Doe delivers David her severed head in a box in the middle of a desert.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • The man forced to rape and kill the Lust victim is deeply, deeply traumatized both at the scene and at a later questioning, shaking violently, hyperventilating, and verging on an emotional breakdown.
    • Mills crosses it immediately after John Doe tells him that Tracy was pregnant when he killed her; it was the first time he had heard about it.
  • Detective Drama
  • Dirty Cop:
    • It's briefly mentioned that it's easy for reporters to bribe cops to get information on crimes. Which is how John Doe finds out where Mills lives.
    • While not as bad as many examples of the trope, Somerset and Mills do resort to some slightly underhanded methods in their pursuit of Doe, such as illegally tracking Doe's reading habits (the film was made before The War on Terror made invasions of privacy like this the rule rather than the exception) or bribing a homeless woman to provide false witness in order to secure a warrant to search Doe's apartment.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The Lust victim. She and the Gluttony victim are the only ones to go unnamed.
  • Dissonant Serenity: John Doe, tying in with his Creepy Monotone.
  • Don't Celebrate Just Yet: Doe is in prison, unable to kill anyone else. But he already finished his plan and the worst is yet to come for Mills and Somerset.
  • Downer Ending: Tracy (and her and Mills's unborn child) is senselessly murdered by John Doe, and Mills in turn kills Doe — with both him and Somerset knowing that's exactly what Doe wanted, since his murder of Tracy symbolized Envy, and Mills killing him would in turn symbolize Wrath, completing his plan. Mills is then arrested, a hollow, traumatized husk of a man. While the film tries to end on a relatively optimistic note with Somerset's (studio-mandated) Hemingway coda, it seems awfully futile in the face of what's occurred.
  • Dramatic Stutter: The terrified man who was involuntarily recruited as the punisher for Lust does this.
  • Dressed All in Rubber: Latex bodysuits were implemented by the killer for Lust.
  • Drink-Based Characterization: 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. The Sloth victim also chewed off his own tongue, likely in an effort to commit suicide.
  • Egocentrically Religious: John Doe is on a self-appointed Mission from God to torture and kill people he has decided aren't worthy of life to protest his misanthropic view of humanity. He also uses false modesty and claims he is unimportant immediately before proclaiming that his work will be studied and remembered forever.
  • 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.
  • Evidence Dungeon: John Doe's apartment is connected with all his crimes. It has photos of Gluttony, the severed hand of Sloth, 2000 handwritten diaries detailing his thoughts and a gob-smacking amount of materials connected to his crimes. But no fingerprints, meaning it was all part of John Doe's “work”.
  • Excuse Me, Coming Through!: In one scene, Mills crashes through a couple of living rooms in his pursuit of John Doe.
  • 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.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Almost nobody seem to notice John Doe walking into the police station, literally red-handed, shirt splattered with blood, until he shouts "Detective!". A cop even walks past him at arm's length. You can see a single black guy stop and stare at Doe right before he shouts, but by that point Doe's already in the middle of the hall.
  • Fan Disservice: The morbidly-obese Gluttony victim is naked on the autopsy table.
  • Fatal Flaw: Mills has a Hair-Trigger Temper, which John Doe exploits.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Invoked with Pride: the victim prefers committing suicide than having to live disfigured without her nose. Played straight with Sloth: the victim was handcuffed to his own bed for an entire year and kept alive while his body wasted away.
  • Faux Affably Evil: John Doe acts extremely polite around the protagonists, and it's creepy as hell.
  • Faux Death: Sloth. Just as the detectives are starting to relax, he wakes up and scares everyone to death.
  • Film Noir
  • Finger in the Mail: A package is received from the captured Serial Killer containing the head of his latest victim — Mills's wife.
  • Force Feeding: Gluttony, as part of his "punishment".
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early on, it is revealed that Mills lives at Apartment 5A. Later, when Somerset lists the Seven Deadly Sins on a chalkboard to predict the pattern of the killer, he names Wrath as the fifth sin.
    • After John Doe surrenders, the tech mentions "...three blood types..." found on John Doe. For John Doe himself, the Pride victim, and Tracy Mills.
    • Somerset straight up tells Mills "This isn't gonna have a happy ending."
    • During his research, Somerset encounters two images of decapitation. In this scene, Tracy is framed in an extremely tight-close up which only shows her head.
    • As Somerset drives to the desert, John Doe distinctly tells Mills "You won't miss a thing", referring to the culmination of his plan Mills will witness and the family he was distant from that has already been murdered.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • 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 him to be John Doe.
    • 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.
  • Gag Penis: The Gluttony victim, but it's easy to miss since it's never pointed out. Fincher said in a commentary track that he felt bad for the guy who had to wear all the hot, heavy Gluttony prosthetics, so he figured they could at least give him a huge package.
  • 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.
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns: The older By-the-Book Cop Somerset carries a Smith & Wesson Model 15, while Cowboy Cop Mills carries a semi-automatic handgun, a custom Springfield M1911.
  • Gorn: Although it's mostly unseen. Most of the horrors are nigh-unfilmable and left to our imagination.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Used extensively, but most prominently in the murder of the Lust victim. And thank God for that.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: See Empathic Environment above.
  • 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.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: The Gluttony and Sloth victims' bodies are displayed in quite excruciating detail.
  • Hannibal Lecture: John Doe offers one to Mills and Somerset towards the end, namely positing his plan as his disgusted reaction to the sins plaguing modern life and how thoroughly they are tolerated by society. When Mills calls his victims "innocent people," he's very quick to break down the sin he sees in each of them.
    "Only in a world this shitty..could you even try to say these were 'innocent people' and keep a straight face."
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Mills, which John Doe uses to manipulate him.
  • I Reject Your Reality: John Doe, leading to his insane "sinners must be punished" mentality.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: A variation occurs at the climax. John Doe turns himself in, but only to ensure that his master plan of completing his "work" goes off without a hitch.
  • I Work Alone: Justified; Somerset is days from retirement, so really doesn't have the inclination to work with an inexperienced homicide detective whose personality is so different from his own.
  • Implied Answer: How Mills finds out his wife's head is in the box.
    Mills: Tell me she's alriiiiight!
    Somerset: ...if you murder a suspect, David-
    Mills: Noooo!
  • 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. See Artistic License – Law above for another reason why an insanity plea might not work.
  • Internal Reveal: At one point in the film, Somerset and Tracy meet up, and he's the first and (as far as we know) only person to hear that she's pregnant (albeit unsure as to whether she wants the baby). It comes back when John Doe is explaining to Mills how he killed Tracy, and goes out of his way to state that "[Tracy] begged for her life...she begged for her life, and for the life of the baby inside of her." While Doe's initial confession sends Mills into a mix of denial and anger, it's this bombshell that sends him into a state of shock, despair...and wrath. Then, just to twist the knife further, Doe casually tells Somerset:
  • Ironic Nickname: "Smiley" Somerset hardly ever does so.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": When reading off names and titles of books, Mills pronounces the Marquis de Sade's name as "Marquis de Shar-day", like the singer.
  • Jitter Cam: What with Fincher's predilection to controlled, locked-down tripod shots, this film stands out as the one with his highest use of handheld camerawork. It's only 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.
  • Jump Scare: The presumed-dead Sloth victim suddenly coughing is one of the most famously effective examples in modern film, mainly because his horrifically emaciated state, his initial lack of movement, and the audience's belief that he's just another murder victim make it so they think there's no possible way he could still be alive. But alas...
  • Karmic Death: What the killer is aiming for, at least in theory.
  • Kick the Dog: John Doe murdering Tracy. That's low even for him.
  • Kirk Summation: Subverted. During John Doe's Hannibal Lecture, Mills notices a hole in his logic and makes a spot-on rebuttal, but Doe ignores him and continues the lecture.
    Doe: And after [Gluttony], I took the lawyer, and both of you must have secretly been 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...
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Somerset delivers the last line in the movie:
    Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.
  • Knight Templar: John Doe. Somerset doesn't doubt he believed in all his 'preaching'.
  • Ladies and Germs: Played straight by the Police Captain.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Several remarks to the plot throughout could very easily be used to apply to the film itself.
    • At one point, Somerset tells Mills that "this isn't gonna have a happy ending."
    • Doe towards the end, describing the effect his full plan (read: the climax of the movie) will have on the world, especially in contrast to Mills's claims that it won't be remembered in two months' time.
      "Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention. (...) When this is done..when it's's going to be...people will barely be able to comprehend it. But they won't be able to deny."
  • Let Me at Him!: When Somerset tries to stop Mills from killing Doe. It doesn't work.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: "V" is replaced by the similar-looking "7".
  • Madness Mantra: The john who was forced to kill Lust has a couple.
    Please help me ... please help me ... please help me ...
  • Malevolent Mutilation:
    • John Doe seems to delight in invoking this with his murders.
      • The Gluttony victim is forced to eat spaghetti at gunpoint until he's so full that one swift kick to his abdomen causes his stomach to rupture, killing him almost instantly.
      • The Sloth victim is tied to his bed for an entire year, during which his body and mind atrophy beyond repair, but he is given just enough medical attention to keep him physically alive, and his hand is amputated for use in leaving a clue that links him to the Greed murder. By the time he is discovered, he has long since chewed off his own tongue.
      • The Pride victim has her nose cut off (to spite her face) and has a bottle of sleeping pills glued to one hand and a phone to the other, giving her a choice between committing suicide by overdose or calling for medical attention but living with a permanent and obvious disfigurement. She chooses the former.
      • The Lust victim is forced to have sex with a terrified man wearing a strap-on with a knife attached to it, mutilating her genitalia beyond all recognition before she dies from massive blood loss.
    • John Doe's removal of fingerprints by shaving the skin off his fingertips. He shows up at the police station near the end of the film with his hands covered in his own blood.
    • Just imagine John Doe fingerprinting "HELP ME" with Victor's severed hand.
  • Meaningful Name: "John Doe" is a common term for an unidentified body/suspect/victim/etc.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: John Doe.
    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."
  • Mission from God:
    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?
    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.
  • Motive Rant: John Doe while in the car.
  • Mr. Smith: Johnathan Doe isn't his real name, but he takes it by choice.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning:
    John Doe: What I've done is going to be puzzled over... and studied... and followed... forever.
    • Mills is quick to dismiss this theory, telling John Doe he's "a Movie of the Week, at best."
      • In an almost meta irony, the movie is still talked about often. So was John Doe correct?
  • Necessarily Evil: John Doe thinks his actions are this.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Averted with SWAT officer California played by John C. McGinley. Moments after finding Sloth tied to a bed and apparently dead, he whispers to the body, "You got what you deserved."
  • No Name Given:
  • Not So Different: When he is in the car with Mills and Somerset, John Doe ackowledges that he enjoyed torturing his victims, but he points out that Mills would also take pleasure in hurting him if he had impunity.
  • Not What It Looks Like: When a list of books includes Of Human Bondage, Somerset clarifies to Mills that it isn't what it sounds like.
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: What Sloth was reduced to.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The murders in this film are so horrific that many people forget they're almost all offscreen or shown in very little detail, and we never get to see any of them happen. The "Lust" victim is a particularly good example — we don't see any part of the body, and it's still one of the most horrifying murders in cinema history.
  • Novelization: Written by Anthony Bruno and based on the original script.
  • Numerological Motif: Go on, take a guess.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: John Doe has no employment records yet can afford things like renting two apartments for a full year. The Captain notes he must be independently wealthy but there's never any explanation in the film as to how.
  • Off with His Head!: John Doe decapitates Mills's wife in order to goad Mills into shooting him to death.
  • Oh, Crap!: Somerset, when he finds out what's in the box.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: This trope was once called Somerset And Mills.
  • Ominous Mundanity: John Doe.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Seemingly averted, as Tracey is shown drinking wine during the dinner with Somerset. She must have known, or at least strongly suspected, that she was with child.
  • "Open!" Says Me: Mills does this after the chase in order to break into John Doe's apartment without a search warrant.
  • Out with a Bang: Lust, in a particularly horrific and agonizing fashion.
  • Pinball Protagonist: An unusual example for the Police Procedural genre. See Villains Act, Heroes React.
  • Poetic Serial Killer: John Doe chooses victims he views as guilty of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, then kills them in a manner that he thinks punishes the particular sin of which each is guilty.
  • Police Are Useless: Ultimately, the police are entirely unsuccessful in stopping John Doe's plan or even hindering it. Lampshaded by Somerset.
  • Police Procedural: Contains elements of the genre.
  • Prequel: Some surprisingly good comics by Zenescope Entertainment. They center on John and the victims.
  • Red Herring:
    • Somerset's knife-throwing practice. It's seen several times in the movie, but never given practical application.
      • Though it should be noted that in the actual movie script, Somerset did use his knife-throwing skill to try to stop Mills from shooting John Doe.
    • Also possibly the dog carcass.
  • Red Is Violent: John Doe spends most of his runtime in a deep red jumpsuit.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mills and Somerset. The Blue is a fatherly mentor trying to harden the Red's heart to the harsh realities of life, and the young and emotional Red loses EVERYTHING to John Doe.
  • Relative Button: John Doe pushes Mills's hard in order to cement Mills crossing the Despair Event Horizon, and fulfill Doe's own Thanatos Gambit.
  • Retirony: Played with, and did indeed come true in one version of the story, where Somerset killed Doe to stop Mills from doing it, because he is retiring. The opposite is true, but Somerset decides not to retire because of his experiences.
  • Room Full of Crazy: John Doe's apartment.
  • Sadistic Choice: The beautiful woman gets this: death or disfigurement. Many of the other victims are similarly forced to do horrible things at gunpoint.
  • Salt and Pepper: Somerset (black) and Mills (white).
  • Scenery Censor: Mills's head blocks the audience from seeing the Lust victim's groin, just after it was mutilated by a bladed codpiece.
  • The Scourge of God: John Doe sees himself as this.
  • Serial Killer: John Doe is an extremely disturbing example.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: The central theme of Doe's choices of victims and how he "punishes" them.
    • Gluttony: A man whose sole crime was being morbidly obese. Doe forces him to eat a massive amount of spaghetti before kicking him in the abdomen, causing his stomach to burst.
    • Greed: A lawyer who got criminals acquitted for profit. Doe forces him to cut a "pound of flesh" off of himself. He slices off one of his lovehandles and bleeds to death.
    • Sloth: A man who squandered his potential by engaging in drug dealing and pedophilia. Doe chains him to a bed for an entire year, taking care of him and his affairs just enough that he doesn't die or get discovered. He becomes skeletal, deformed, and insane, and dies of shock in the hospital.
    • Lust: A woman who happened to be a sex worker.note  Doe forces a man to rape her to death with a bladed strap-on.
    • Pride: A beautiful model. Doe severs her nose and then leaves her with a phone and a bottle of sleeping pills, giving her the choice to call for help and live disfigured or commit suicide. She chooses the latter.
    • Envy: John Doe himself, who murdered Tracy Mills because he was jealous of her husband's normal life. As part of his plan, he is shot to death by Detective Mills.
    • Wrath: Detective Mills, who was quick to anger and killed John Doe, an unarmed prisoner, in a rage for killing his wife. Having already lost his wife and unborn child, he will likely lose his job and be traumatized for the rest of his life. Given the circumstances, he's not likely to go to prison, but there's no guarantee.
  • Shame If Something Happened: A variant with John Doe talking about Mills's wife; he's not actually threatening him, but describing the things he's already done.
  • Shout-Out:
  • 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.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: More or less the lesson Somerset tries to impart to Mills. Mills argues back, saying essentially Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer/Not Named in Opening Credits: Kevin Spacey. He was the one who insisted that he not be associated with the film in any way until it was released. The producers actually wanted him to have top billing.
    • As a result of this, his name is the very first thing seen during the closing credits; the second line is, "Cast (in order of appearance)."
    • He also said it worked to his advantage, since that meant he didn't have to appear on talk shows and stuff to promote the movie.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Way, way down the cynicism end.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: John Doe very seldom raises his voice.
  • Spoiler Opening: Averted. The actor playing John Doe is missing from the opening credits instead receiving the first credit at the ending.
    • However, we do see John Doe's removal of fingerprints and writing in his journals.
  • The Spook: John Doe.
  • 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.
    "Become vengence, David, become wrath."
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: A bone-chilling version of this occurs when John Doe walks into the police station to turn himself in with his self-mutilated hands. Doubles as Rule of Three, as it is on Doe's third (and yelled) utterance of "detective" that Mills & Somerset notice him.
  • Suicide by Cop: John Doe's death.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: How John Doe is described by his neighbours.
  • 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.
  • Tear Off Your Face: The Pride victim has her face mutilated and nose cut off by John Doe.
  • 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.
  • Thanatos Gambit: John Doe dies for his cause.
  • Theme Serial Killer: Doe's crimes are based on invoking and "punishing" the Seven Deadly Sins.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Mills shoots John Doe in the head at point-blank range. Then he fires into his body five more times while he's lying on the ground, already dead.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: John Doe.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: After killing John Doe, the expression of the normally animated Mills is frozen into one of these for the remainder of his runtime.
  • To Know Him, I Must Become Him: Somerset spends a good portion of the film trying to get inside the killer's mind, and urging Mills to do the same. He spends the first night of his investigation reading books related to the Seven Deadly Sins. Mills, on the other hand, sits up all night staring at crime scene photos searching for clues.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Of a sort. It turns out that Wrath is Mills himself. When John Doe promises to take him to the field, we've already seen Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Pride and Lust, and we know that Envy and Wrath have to be on the way. Envy is John Doe, who beheaded Mills's wife in a fit of jealousy. When Mills finds out, he kills John Doe in a fit of rage, ultimately obeying Doe's command to "Become Wrath".
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Mills and Somerset know John Doe has something up his sleeve, and are determined to be ready for anything. They're not.
  • Tuckerization: William Somerset is named after W. Somerset Maugham, as he was screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker's favourite author. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage is mentioned in the movie.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film helped to popularize the archetypal 90s and 2000s Psychological Thriller/serial killer movie (see Follow the Leader above), but goes out of its way to avert or subvert many of the tropes the genre would become associated with: the murders are not shown in detail and given very little screen time, there is little blood and gore, the killer is not given a Freudian Excuse or much characterization Police Are Useless and The Bad Guy Wins.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: John Doe shows up at the police station wearing a shirt covered in blood, but no-one notices him until he yells at Somerset and Mills.
  • Villains Act, Heroes React: Very much so. It's a Police Procedural where the cops never come close to catching the villain and he ultimately gives himself up, which is of course all part of his plan.
  • Villain Reveals the Secret: A particularly gut-wrenching one in the climax when the villain murders Detective Mills's wife Tracy, then reveals that she was pregnant. She had confided this to Detective Somersett, but hadn't told her husband yet. When John Doe realizes this, he even gloats about it, incensing Mills to the point where he executes him on the spot, which is exactly what Doe wanted.
  • Vomiting Cop: One of the SWAT team members is about to throw up when they find the decayed corpse of Victor (the Sloth victim).
  • Wham Line:
    • John Doe is shackled and in police custody, and he, Mills, and Somerset are in the open, where Doe can't possibly stage an ambush. Furthermore, there's a helicopter nearby with California and the SWAT team. But Doe has a box delivered to the area, and Somerset opens it and looks in....
    Somerset: California, stay away from here. Stay from here now. Don't— don't— don't come in here. Whatever you hear, stay away! John Doe has the upper hand!
    • Shortly after, John opts to break the news before Somerset can and tells Mills about how he entered his home, met Tracy, and then when things went sour...
    Doe: I took a souvenir: her pretty head.
  • Wham Shot: After they find the Sloth victim, it seems that the poor sucker has gotten the worst of Doe's murderous intentions. Then he moves.
  • 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.
    • Now, normally, that'd probably be enough to seal the deal... except that not too far from this rainy city is, apparently, an arid desert. This would make some sense for California, but makes absolutely zero sense for any city in temperate New England.
    • In the novelization, Mills and his wife lived in a town named Springfield (probably Springfield, New York) before they moved to the city.
      • Springfield, Oregon is within simple moving distance of Portland, Oregon (a skyscraper-filled, very rainy city) which is not far from Eastern Oregon - a desert area.
      • Except there is no real "upstate Oregon", as the largest and most important cities are all in the northwest corner of the state.
      • However, the fact that John Doe's prison jumpsuit has the words "Bardach County Jail"note  written on it indicates that the city is entirely fictional.
  • 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.
  • Wretched Hive: The massive unnamed city where it takes place is a rainswept hell of apathy and suffering. Writer Andrew Kevin Walker describes the script as his "love letter to New York."
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: John Doe didn't anticipate Somerset and Mills discovering where he lived, which necessitated him stepping up his schedule.
  • You Just Told Me: An inversion/subversion in the climax (see Implied Answer above). While waiting for Somerset to come back from opening a suspicious package, Doe admits to Mills that it contains his wife's head; Mills remains in denial until Somerset starts demanding that Mills put his gun down without saying what's in the box.
    Mills: Noo, what's in the boooox?!
    Somerset: Give me the gun, David.
    Mills: What's in the fucking box?!
    Doe: He just told you.

Alternative Title(s): Seven


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: