It is a rarity for a film to be completely unsettling and yet unrelentingly gripping.
David Fincher’s story takes place in a bleak and constantly raining city (never named) where urban decay and sleaze in all forms are rampant. Coming up to his retirement from the police force is Detective Lieutenant Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who is tasked with breaking in his replacement, Detective Sergeant Mills (Brad Pitt) before leaving. Somerset is world weary, under no illusions about the futility of the daily role he plays and (initially) wants nothing more than to escape the grime and violence of the city. Mills on the other hand is convinced that he is going to make a real difference having voluntarily transferred to this precinct, bringing his wife to the city with him. Before Somerset can move on, a homicide comes in which he and Mills are assigned to investigate. But its only the first of a string of ritual murders that will be committed by a killer who is basing his crimes on the seven deadly sins as depicted in Dante’s “The divine comedy”.
To begin with, Se7en appears to be a standard “cops on the trail of a killer” story which shouldn’t be too difficult for the audience to get comfortable with. But as we descend along with the characters into the merciless, brutal world without hope that they inhabit, you are left reeling at the events that unfold.
The two detectives enjoy an uneasy relationship with no real friendship ever striking up between them. The older Somerset is educated, astute and gives the impression of being emotionally burnt out. Mills, who has no respect for Somersets methodical investigating gets excited at the thought of solving a murder and firmly believes that the good guys will win eventually. The further we get into the action, the might of the evil that they face pushes both men beyond their limits.
This film draws heavily on biblical themes and you can certainly see similarities with such films as “The Seventh Seal” (1957). Both films show the price that good men have to pay when they fight evil and the unsettling truth that the rule book goes straight out the window when you are dealing with something so diabolical that it has no boundaries or limits at all.
Se7en shows us a world which has been destroyed by its own sins, a wasteland in which values are minimal. The killer, having nothing but contempt for this world, sees it as his mission to expose the faults and show everyone what they have become. It is a fascinating twist that when the killers motives become clearer, Somerset with his greater understanding actually feels some degree of empathy with him. This is lost on Mills though, whose level of clarity never reaches the same point.
A previous reviewer mentioned that you begin to expect the unexpected whilst watching Se7en and i completely agree. Eventually if you think of the most obvious outcome in any situation and predict that the opposite will happen, it usually does. Even the finale itself became kind of predictable because by then you are conditioned not to have any hope. This is a minor flaw though because the story is so well and so shockingly told.
Director David Fincher didn’t pick up another script for 18 months, such was his exhaustion and frustration following the completion of Alien 3. Apparently he agreed to direct se7en after one reading of Andrew Kevin Walkers screenplay because he was drawn to its hard hitting delivery about inhumanity. He stated: “It’s psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it”. For the camera work specially altered film stock was used to make the visuals look as dark and unsettling as possible which is complemented well by Howard Shores music score.
The Most disturbing message that Se7en puts across, is that the fight against evil is destined to be a Pyrrhic victory. But regardless the only thing we can do is fight on whatever the cost. We have no other choice.
“The World is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.