As part of my spirited effort to revisit noirish crime dramas, I decided to revisit a recent American entry. Se7en, Fincher's sophomore feature length effort (he wets his feet with the disappointing Alien3), is a taut, engaging murder mystery from the Reservoir Dogs school of genre filmmaking-the film is serial killer drama that fails to show any murder (save one). The film is rather cliche: the characters are formulaic and the narrative tensions are expected. But, there are reasons cliches are cliches. And a cliche done well justifies its repetition.
I imagine that the narrative is quite familiar to our faithful readers, but for those yet to indulge in this fine film, I advise you to stop reading. Spoilers will inevitably surface throughout this entry.
Morgan Freeman, who yet again serves as the narrative anchor, plays the sagely, but disheartened, Detective William Somerset, a soon-to-be retired homicide detective in the twilight of his career (may no metaphor go unnoticed, no matter how subtle). After years of witnessing the evil that men do and injustice that follows, the nihilistic Somerset prepares to leave the city for the comforting isolation of the country. But naturally, a series of curious and horrific crimes disrupt such plans (Mendoza!!!), and Somerset eventually assists his brash, idealistic replacement, Detective David Mills, a beat cop from the country, in solving the serial murders. The narrative is the expected tensions between the grizzled wisdom of experience and the irrational exuberance of youth. However, where the film really prospers is in the narrative point of view. Unlike other buddy films that take on a third person omniscient perspective, which often leaves both characters plastic, Se7en is Somerset's story (I believe Freeman is the central storyteller for no less than five films-hey, if it aint broke). Mills (played by a serviceable Brad Pitt) is still rendered a bit flat, but we still care about him; Mills repesents both the passion for the idealism we cherish and our emotional failings that often disrupt efforts to achieve such ends. The hyperbolic setting, the overly dreary and constantly raining urban dystopia, only magnifies Mills' intended goodness, making his fall even more tragic (the sign of a good film: I watch the end of the film still hoping that this time he will actually walk away; kind of like the instant replay where you have the small sliver of hope that he will catch the ball this time around).
Although Mills is the tragic figure, Somerset is the one in need of redemption. The true sin that can be forgiven is nihilism. Only motivation separates Somerset from John Doe's calculated acts of atonement. Doe (an inspired casting of Kevin Spacey) cites the same moral decay for his murderous deeds as Somerset uses to inform his nihilism. Realizing this, Somerset rides into the setting sun understanding that the world may not be a beautiful place, but "it is worth fighting for."
A few members of this blog once had a long debate over the proper interpretation of Fight Club, another Fincher effort. I claim that Fight Club is actually a love story, in that Tyler Durden eventually finds comfort in the amorous embrace of another human and not in the unrequited love of consumer goods or the fleeting euphoria of basic violence. I wonder if Se7en is a similiar story.
One last though. I keep refering to the film as "Se7en"-its official title. But, is there something to the title beyond a clever spelling. Technically, the title is unreadable, only recognizable. We assert the name of the film, assuming an intended pronunciation. However, the truly recognizable part of the word is "Seen." There seems to be an occular metaphor that surfaces throughout the film (the flipside being that the only murder we see is Doe's death). It's late and I have not thought through it completely, but I believe there is something worthy of note regarding the title. But who knows.
Good film, go see (again).