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There are seven deadly sins, Captain. Gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. Seven... You can expect five more of these.—William Somerset
Se7en (or Seven) is a 1995 American crime/horror/thriller film, directed by David Fincher of Fight Club fame and staring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as homicide detectives Somerset and Mills. Somerset is about to retire and be replaced by Mills in the department, but the two get caught up in a string of 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. Often ranked with The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho as the pinnacle of serial killer fiction.
It provides examples of the following:
- All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game": It's Det. Mills' wife's head in the box.
- And Kevin Spacey is the villain.
- Amoral Attorney: The Greed victim was a prominent lawyer named Eli Gould.
- 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.
- Asshole Victim: According to the villain. His victims are chosen based on what he consider to be their (unforgivably) negative traits. Though their "sins" range from being fat 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, overweight people, sex-workers, and vain women.
- Auto Cannibalism: The Sloth victim bit off and ate his own tongue.
- Ax Crazy: Why, John Doe.
- The Bad Guy Wins
- Bald of Evil: John Doe.
- Balloon Belly: Gluttony eats until he can't take it anymore.
- 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. His own sin, the one that he would admit to, is Envy after all.
- Big No: Mills after he discovers that his wife is dead.
- 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.
- Body Horror: Gluttony, pride, sloth... and John Doe's removal of fingerprints.
- And the worst of all, the Lust kill. Holy fucking shit! That doesn't look too nice...
- The Chessmaster: John Doe.
- 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: Detective Mills, M-I-L-L-S, fuck off!
Mills: Fucking Dante! Goddamn poetry-writing faggot, piece of shit! Fucker!
- Cowboy Cop: David Mills. Subverted as Mills is obviously trying to be one but instead comes across as naive and impulsive.
- 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.
- Creative Closing Credits: The grungy credits scroll down instead of up.
- Creepy Monotone: John Doe, most of the time.
- Death by Disfigurement: Invoked with the Pride victim, who killed herself. John Doe picked a very beautiful and vain woman and disfigured her, presumably to the point that plastic surgery would have been unable to restore her face. He then glued a phone into one hand (so she could call 911), and a bottle of sleeping pills into the other (so she could commit suicide). According to the villain, the woman was so full of pride that she swallowed the pills rather than go through the rest of her life with scars.
Dr. O'Neill: He cut off her nose.
Somerset: To spite her face.
- Death by Gluttony: Invoked with the Gluttony victim.
- Death by Sex: Invoked with the Lust victim. A man was forced at gunpoint to wear a large razor-studded strap-on (strap-over?) with which he killed her by having sex with her.
- Deadpan Snarker: David Mills, so very much.
- Despair Event Horizon: Mills at the end of the film.
- Detective Drama
- Disposable Sex Worker: The Lust victim.
- Dressed All in Rubber: Latex bodysuits were implemented by the killer for Lust.
- Doing It for the Art: All of the books in John Doe's apartment? They're all real. One of the special effects companies hired for the film spent two months hand-writing every single one of them. Mostly by one guy who showed exceptional talent at writing journals like a crazy insane sociopath. He even included an authentic suicide note.
- 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.
- Executive Meddling: David Fincher didn't want to do the voice-over of Somerset that appears at the end of the film (see Knight in Sour Armor; below), because he thought having a voice-over when there hadn't been one at any other point in the movie would be sloppy. The studio insisted, however, that the film end on a slightly more upbeat note then what was scripted.
- And even that's debatable -- because it's the sigh of a tired old man who's seen too many horrors, but still keeps going out of what seems more like inertia than any actual belief that he can make anything better.
- Fan Disservice: The Gluttony victim. He is naked on the autopsy table.
- Fatal Flaw: Mills has a Hair-Trigger Temper, which John Doe exploits.
- Faux Death: Sloth.
- Film Noir
- Finger in the Mail: A package is received from the captured Serial Killer containing the head of his latest victim — Mills' wife.
- Follow the Leader: Compare it with later Theme Serial Killer flicks like Resurrection, Taking Lives, Anamorph, Horsemen, WΔZ, Suspect Zero or Saw. Of course that's not to say Se7en didn't borrow some elements from The Silence of the Lambs.
- Force Feeding: Gluttony.
- 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.
- Gambit Roulette: Some of the murders are performed very impressively in terms of where and how they are discovered.
- Giallo: It isn't one, but the film's visuals seem to be heavily influenced by the genre.
- Gorn: Although it's mostly limited to Gory Discretion Shots. Most of the horrors are unfilmable and left to our imagination.
- Which makes it even more terrifying. As an example, several people told Fincher that they couldn't believe he showed Mills' wife's head in the box. Fincher responded by pointing out that at no point in the movie is this actually shown; the image is all in the audience's mind.
- Gray Rain of Depression: See Empathic Environment above.
- 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.
- Hannibal Lecture: "It's more comfortable for you to label me insane."
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Toby from the West Wing, Dr Cox from Scrubs, John Shaft from Shaft, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket, Funboy from The Crow (in his first acting role after his accidental involvement in the death of Brandon Lee) and some Hollywood star you may recognize. Oh, and God.
- 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-
- I Reject Your Reality: John Doe, leading to his insane "sinners must be punished" mentality.
- Ironic Nickname: "Smiley" Somerset.
- 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.
- 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.
- It Got Worse: And how! The entire movie has this continuously, but the last ten minutes deserve special mention. It got a lot worse fast.
- Karmic Death: What the serial killer is aiming for, at least in theory.
- Kirk Summation: Subverted. Det. Mills' rebuttal was spot on, but the villain ignored him and continued the lecture.
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—
Doe: A woman—
Mills: "Murderers", John. Like yourse—
Doe: A WOMAN! So ugly on the inside...
- Knight in Sour Armor: William Somerset's 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'.
- Let Me At Him
- Letters 2 Numbers: "V" is replaced by the similar looking "7".
- Meaningful Name: "John Doe" is the police term for an unidentified body/suspect/victim/etc.
- Method Acting: The actor who played the Sloth victim weighed 96 pounds at his audition, and the director joked that he could have the part if he dropped another ten. Much to the director's surprise --and horror-- he dropped six.
- The man who was forced by John Doe at gunpoint to rape the Lust victim to death is disturbed to the point of hyperventilating; the actor sat himself in a corner, breathing very quickly in order to induce hyperveltilation in himself to keep his performance authentic.
- Misanthrope Supreme: John Doe.
- Mission From God:
- 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.
- Necessarily Evil: John Doe thinks his actions are this.
- No Name Given: The Captain.
- According to an early draft of script his name is Police Captain Lucas.
- Not What It Sounds Like: Somerset says this to Mills when a list of books includes Of Human Bondage.
- Novelization: Written by Anthony Bruno and based on the original script.
- Numerological Motif
- Oh God With the Troping: This very page.
- Old Cop, Young Cop: This trope was once called Somerset and Mills.
- Ominous Mundanity: John Doe.
- One-Scene Wonder: Michael Massee and Leland Orser.
- How about John Doe? He only appears in three scenes where he is chased by Mills, taken in a car by Somerset and Mills, and finally, taken to a desert where he is finally killed.
- Out with a Bang: Lust.
- Playing Against Type: R. Lee Ermey, the Drill Sergeant Nasty par excellence, plays a mellow and soft-spoken police captain.
- 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 Procedural: Contains elements of the genre.
- Pound of Flesh Twist: Plays out unfortunately for the Greed victim.
- Prequel: Some surprisingly good comics by Zenescope Entertainment. They center on John and the victims.
- Real Life Relative: Morgan Freeman's son Alonso has a small cameo as the fingerprint technician.
- 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 Oni, Blue Oni: Somerset and Mills. 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 Big Bad and Complete Monster John Doe.
- Room Full of Crazy: John Doe's apartment.
- Salt and Pepper: Somerset (black) and Mills (white).
- Serial Killer: John Doe is an extremely disturbing example.
- Seven Deadly Sins
- Shame If Something Happened: John Doe talking about Mills' wife.
- Shout-Out: There is a store called Wild Bill's Leather Shop.
- 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.
- Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Trailer/Not Named in Opening Credits: John Doe is played by 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. The man is very, very dedicated to his craft.
- 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.
- Sir Swearsalot: David Mills.
- Somebody Else's Problem:
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.
- 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.
- Strike Me Down with All of Your Hatred
- Stuffed Into the Fridge: Mills' wife Tracy.
- Suicide by Cop: John Doe's death.
- Suspect Is Hatless: How John Doe is described by his neighbours.
- Tear Off Your Face: The Pride victim has her face mutilated and nose cut off by John Doe.
- Thanatos Gambit: John Doe dies for his cause.
- Theme Serial Killer
- The Scourge of God: John Doe.
- They Look Just Like Everyone Else: John Doe.
- Throw It In: Brad Pitt broke his arm filming the scene he chases John Doe. Although the script required a (probably minor) injury, the cast and such were written into the film.
- Vomiting Cop: One of the SWAT team members is about to throw up when they find Victor's (the Sloth victim) decayed corpse.
- What Could Have Been:
- Andrew Kevin Walker wrote the screenplay with William Hurt as Somerset in mind. Denzel Washington, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone and Nicolas Cage were all considered to play David Mills. R. Lee Ermey originally auditioned for the part of John Doe and R.E.M.'s frontman Michael Stipe was also considered for the role.
- An alternate ending revealed that John Doe did not murder Mills' wife, only substituting a lookalike. Mills then has no justification for killing an unarmed man, and will spend the rest of his life in jail. Somerset decides not to retire, and instead gives his country house to Mills' wife and her unborn baby.
- Another alternate ending features a dramatic shootout in a burning, dilapidated church in which Mills dies, and yet another had Somerset killing John Doe in order to save Mills from becoming "Wrath." In the finished film, the foreshadowing that Somerset will have to actually shoot his gun (or use his knife) is kept, but nothing comes out of it with the ending changed.
- 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.
- 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."
- Written in Infirmity: After Brad Pitt severed a tendon in his hand, scenes were added to show why his character was wearing a cast.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: John Doe didn't anticipate Somerset and Mills discovering where he lived, which necessitated him stepping up his schedule.