Se7en: A Criticism and Retort

To add another interesting element to Tommy D Talks Movies, I have invited my former blogging colleague, Ryan Kantor, to present his views on the classic American thriller Se7en (1995), as they contrast very much next to mine.  Ryan’s cinematic tastes in general differ vastly from mine; I tend to thoroughly enjoy intricate psychological and disturbing thrillers, whereas Ryan does not usually find that genre to be entertaining.  That being said, he was interested in watching ‘Se7en’ with me because of its fame and intriguing plot.  For those of you who are less familiar with the film or need a refresher, ‘Se7en’ is about two detectives — wise, pessimistic veteran William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and young hothead David Mills (Brad Pitt) — who try to track down a vicious, calculating serial killer who murders in accordance with the seven deadly sins.

Below are Ryan’s thoughts on the film, which I aim to refute afterward. 

RYAN’S CRITICISM

This is my first guest blog post on Tommy D’s new blog.  Tommy D was a co-founder of the blog I now run independently. You can read some of his past posts and future guest blog posts on music and sports at www.RyanKantor.com.  I preface this whole debate with this:  I’m no movie connoisseur like Tommy D.  He knows his directors and actors like I know baseball.  That said, I still know when a movie is garbage, and Se7en simply was not enjoyable.

For starters, the whole movie takes place in an unnamed, unrealistic, fictional city—one where it seems to rain in nearly every scene until the final scene which somehow takes place in a dusty desert.

Rarely will an actor/actress’s performance play a major role in my enjoyment (or lack of enjoyment) of a movie, but I found Brad Pitt’s character almost phony in his nearly silly belligerence towards his new superiors upon his relocation and new job.  The way he argued with his bosses seemed incongruent with reality and made his character hard to “buy.”  He also delivered a mediocre performance in the critical final scene in the dusty desert.

128 minutes — that’s how long this dark, gloomy, depressing film crawled on for, and it should have been less. It was almost ridiculous how gloomy this movie was. Every scene was dark and faded of color. I’m a huge fan of the TV show Criminal Minds, which often has dark endings, but this movie didn’t just have a dark ending; it had a downright dark message.  After an episode of Criminal Minds with a sad ending, you’re usually left with a memorable quote and a conversation between main characters about perseverance, accepting things that you cannot change, or the larger goodness of man, but Se7en didn’t go there. In my opinion — and if you disagree, please state what you feel was the overriding message of the film — Se7en spoke to the overall negativity and lack of goodness in the world and in mankind.  I don’t feel like that is consistent with the world we live in, nor do I think that’s basis for an entertaining movie, and I watch movies for entertainment.

Overall, I didn’t actually hate the movie.  It did a good job bringing the viewer into the movie, and making you too interested to step away.  However, it was slow throughout, and the ending was a slap in the face to viewers who just spent 2+ hours waiting for a satisfactory conclusion.  I left the movie feeling disturbed, disgusted, and even in a worse mood than prior to viewing. I’d give it 2/4 Tommy Ds, but hey, that’s why you give out the Tommy Ds and not me.

What say you, Tommy?

TOMMY D’s RETORT

Indeed, your current baseball knowledge edges mine, as evidenced by your fantasy baseball success, but I feel like I hold my own in that arena.

Anyway, to get back on point, Se7en, another gem in David Fincher’s impressive lineup of films, is exactly the kind of movie I love to watch.  I guess I just like films that are not ordinary, and while I’m generally not a big fan of the horror genre, I love well-crafted, creepy thrillers.  Creepy is one of the primary words that can be used to describe the overall tone of Se7en (dark, disturbing, and bleak also come to mind), and to begin to refute some of Ryan’s points, the film’s setting and style contributed to the creation of this tone.

The fact that the rundown city is unnamed and almost constantly being clouded by rain is intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  In my opinion, it contributes to a message of the film that conveys that sadly, and disturbingly, evil can exist anywhere and in any form.  Yes, the level of decay and amount of rain almost challenge plausibility, but oftentimes in film or fictional stories, hyperbole is used to communicate a point or create a tone, both of which are done in Se7en.  Additionally, the fact that the final scene takes place outside of the main city area in a desert-like setting symbolizes barren nothingness and emptiness, which make sense in the aftermath of that scene’s events.

You also mention that you didn’t care for the faded-color style.  Keep in mind that this film came out in 1995 — Fincher was one of the first people to use this technique.  The muted color palette and the unique lighting style (bleak darkness with light sources that are excessively bright to create heavy contrast) also add to the tone of Se7en, and Fincher’s unique style should not be overlooked, as it would become more widely used in subsequent years.  In fact, it is even employed in a Kantor favorite, Minority Report (2002).

As you know, the performances of actors and actresses often contribute largely to the extent to which I enjoy a film.  Morgan Freeman was excellent as always, playing the veteran detective with piercing stoicism, as paradoxical as that might sound.  Also, the actor who played the serial killer (oh what the heck, I’ll reveal the actor’s name…Kevin Spacey) was unbelievably creepy in his portrayal of a thoroughly intelligent, calculating, and cold murderer.  I do partially agree with you, however, about Brad Pitt’s performance, particularly with regards to the climactic scene in the desert.  Pitt was not entirely convincing for the duration of this scene, but as anyone who has seen this film knows, it’s a difficult part to pull off (and Pitt has improved greatly as an actor since this film; Tyler Durden…’nuff said).  As for the rest of the film, where Pitt’s character was sometimes excessively angry, hotheaded, and belligerent, I again think this was an example of slight hyperbole to establish the contrast between the characters of Mills and Somerset.  It also fits with the film’s final events, as Mills’s character arc is completed.

The 128-minute running time was not overly long in my opinion.  At just a shade over two hours, Se7en spends just the right amount of time developing its characters and advancing its storyline before the unbelievable climax; I never found myself bored with the film.  In fact, the second time I watched it, it actually seemed to progress more quickly, despite my knowledge of how it would play out.  It’s another one of those films that has good re-watch value, although I admittedly glean greater enjoyment out of noticing subtleties than you do.

Yes, it was very gloomy, but seem people (like myself) really enjoy that type of film for its uniqueness and depth, and I figured you would have known how dark it would be prior to watching it.  As for your comparison of this film to the TV show Criminal Minds, I hope you realize that movies like Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) were likely a huge influence on that show (in fact, in an episode you had me watch, one of the characters actually has a Silence of the Lambs movie poster in her bedroom!).  I thus don’t completely grasp why you love Criminal Minds so much but do not like dark movies with serial-killer plots.

You did say, though, that the message of Se7en is downright dark, unlike a typical Criminal Minds episode, and I partially (but not completely) agree with you.  Without question, Se7en is a very dark and disturbing film whose most consistently conveyed message is that evil does exist in the world, and it can be anywhere in any form.  As somewhat of an aside, I love how the name of the killer — John Doe — helps contribute to this message symbolically.  John Doe represents a completely ordinary name and by extension invokes ideas of a completely average man.  However, the John Doe character in Se7en is a sick killer, thus communicating the notion that evil can exist in anyone, anywhere (this message is also communicated through Doe’s comments about how the deadly sins are highly visible in the everyday world).  You are undeniably right in calling this a dark message.  That being said, though, a line spoken at the end of the film by Somerset (as a narrative) offers a glimmer of positivity.  I won’t give away the context or anything, but he says, quoting Ernest Hemingway, “‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”  Just to note something here — don’t you find it interesting that Se7en ends with a literary quote, just like every episode of Criminal Minds?  Again, the level of influence is obvious — did you forget about this part?  Anyway, to get back on point, with this quote, the message of Se7en is consistent — the world is not necessarily a fine place, and a lot of evil exists throughout it.  However, that does not mean that it isn’t worth fighting for.  The message here is that while evil can exist anywhere in the world — thus making it a less-than-fine place — there is still good in the world, and that good is worth trying to preserve and even spread.  The film just emphasized the first part to hammer home the imperfection of the world.  Once again, this can be seen as intentional hyperbole.  When you can get lost in the world of a movie (as I did with this film), you can more easily suspend your disbelief temporarily.  Still, though, Se7en never became overly ridiculous, in my opinion.

You also say that you didn’t like the ending, which was indeed horrifying.  You call it a “slap in the face” to viewers who invested two hours into the film.  I don’t see it that way at all.  The ending was so unique, original, and shocking that the movie will stay with you (or at least me) for a long time.  I was actually left speechless at the end, but I see that as a good thing!  What did you expect — they catch the guy, no one else gets hurt, and everything is happy-happy-joy-joy?  The ending, while shocking in terms of the exact events that went down, fit with the film.  Late in the movie, Somerset even says to Mills that, “there’s not going to be a happy ending to this.”  That’s some pretty explicit foreshadowing.

Overall, I found Se7en to be quite entertaining and disturbing (but in a good way; to you, that’s a bad thing, and that’s one of our fundamental differences).  It didn’t abide by any formula; it remained consistent in its tone and message throughout.  Because of these factors, the shocking climax, and Fincher’s stylistic direction, Se7en goes down as one of the greatest serial killer movies of all time.  Its place on the IMDB Top 250 list (which is based on USER ratings) speaks for itself.

Tommy D’s Score for Se7en:

 

 

 

 

3.75 Tommy Ds

 

UPDATE (January 2012):

As much as I’ve gushed about this film, I still might not have given it enough credit. I’ve seen it a couple of times since this review, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it deserves 4 Tommy Ds, especially now that I’ve reviewed so many other films.

I did give Pitt some slight criticism for how his acting in the desert scene went down, but it is minor enough in comparison to the greatness of the film (and that scene as a whole) that it really isn’t a detractor at all. Plus, think about the situation his character was in. How would a person react to that revelation? It’s hard to know.

Maybe I’m softening up. Nevertheless, one of my favorite films.

New Score:

 

 

 

 

4/4 Tommy Ds

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About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on August 25, 2011, in General Movie Discussion, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with the symbolism, but I think they focused so much on it that they forgot to make the movie enjoyable from a not artistic stand point. You’re also totally right about Minority Report’s lighting, but I thought that was the most annoying thing about the whole movie.
    Criminal Minds likely took a lot form Se7en, but like great bands take a lot from the Beatles, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn from the past and improve vastly upon it. To say Se7en is better than another show or film based on the chronological order they were realized in is akin to saying no rock band can ever be as good as the Beatles because they were influenced by the Beatles…an asinine statement.
    Thanks for letting me post.

  2. That’s not WHY I think Se7en is better. I think it’s better because it is deeper and actually is more enjoyable. A better story, better acting, and more going on in terms of depth. Yes, the symbolism adds a lot for me, but I was also engrossed by the plot. To say the filmmakers “forgot to make the movie enjoyable from a non-artistic standpoint” is, in my opinion, an asinine statement.

  3. How a quote for the director for proof that he didn’t focus on making the movie entertaining? “I don’t know how much movies should entertain. To me, I’m always interested in movies that scar” – David Fincher
    Hence, why I felt that he forgot about making the movie entertain…he didn’t forget, he just never meant to do so.

  4. Like I said, I’ll be your personal blog editor for $5 a month.

    Anyway, you can thank me for sharing that quote with you. I’m pretty sure what Fincher means is that he is more interested in movies that have more than just surface fodder like explosions, car chases, scantily-clad women, etc. That’s the simplest form — and somewhat traditional definition of — entertainment. I have to say that ceteris paribus, I prefer films that stay with me long after viewing than typical cliche entertainment movies. That, to me, is a different form of entertainment.

  5. Here’s another good Fincher quote for you:

    “Panic Room (2002) is a movie as opposed to a film. A movie is made for an audience and a film is made for both the audience and the film-makers. I think that The Game (1997) is a movie and I think Fight Club (1999)’s a film. I think that Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, whereas Panic Room is the sum of its parts. I didn’t look at Panic Room and think: Wow, this is gonna set the world on fire. These are footnote movies, guilty pleasure movies. Thrillers. Woman-trapped-in-a-house movies. They’re not particularly important.”

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