Sunday, December 18, 2005

Se7en

Dir: David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room, The Game)

1995

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).

5 Comments:

Blogger maxwell noted on 12/18/2005 03:18:00 AM that...

Nice review of this fine film. And a good question about the nature of evil and Somerset vs. Doe. I liked the film because it suggests that all of the characters are participants in the sinning. Each one of the sins is reflected (faintly in some cases) a couple of different times in the two police leads. And in some cases the implimentation of Doe's plans don't work without the sinning of the cops.

Maybe it's a filmaker hijacking? We ride along with our dismissal of Doe as the ultimate villain and then *WHOOP* we are also the bad guys.

I always liked this movie in part because it makes me bone up on my own sins. I can't help but run through the list of sins as the movie runs, often turning to Elena & asking "hey, is dozing off one of the sins? What about gluttony? Cuz I'm more of a Gourmand than a glutton right?"

In regards to fight club,the romantic read of the story as redemption via love is tempting. But what gives Durden pleasure at the end of the film? Is it recovering his love or is it the successful completion of the plan?  

~~~
Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/18/2005 04:16:00 PM that...

I agree with your interpretation of what Fincher is trying to do, but to me he does too good of a job using Spacey to indict the world around us- what exactly is really worth fighting for? Is it stopping the brutal pain and violence a murder brings? Well, I don't know- the movie does not represent this pain, perversely in refusing to depict any of its violent acts it also renders the viewer unable to empathize with a victim of pain- particularly since many of the targets of Doe are frankly, unsympathetic. It seems like to begin to compose a narrative of finding hope in society, we first need to see some redeeming aspects. Perhaps Pitt's loving relationship with his wife is a good example of something worth saving- it escapes the categories of envy and lust outlined by Doe. Spacey is a very attractive character to the viewer (serial killers always are- do we watch Silence of the Lambs because we dig crime investigation, or because Hannibal Lecter is one of the most fascinating cinematic characters ever?), but in this instance when Doe asks us to identify with his overarching critique of modern society the response that Somerset presents is "but thats inhuman" with little justification- I tend to agree with Somerset obviously but to me its the instantiation of the moment of Nietzchian critique that asks the humanist to justify his or her system of thougt, and they fail under the pressure of a series of targeted questions asking about why life matters, so what if people die, etc. I think the movie is urging us to think heavily about why society is worth fighting for- maybe its to avoid moments of overhelming pain and suffering as presenented in the closing moments of the film.  

~~~
Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/19/2005 02:34:00 AM that...

Then again, Nietzsche is all about the love. If I remember my Nietzsche correctly, he says do not love the object, love the journey--that is the struggle for beauty. Mills' relationship with his wife (and the possible) raising of their child is that journey. Ergo, we dont need to fight for something, but the fight itself is important. But, then again, I am romantic, even in the face of rational arguments.

In other words, Tyler Durden's pleasure is not in the success of his plan (he repudiates the plan at the end of the narrative because of its danger to Marla (?)), but his redemptive moment with her. If you listen to the Fight Club commentary track (Fincher, Pitt, Norton, and Carter), many of these debates are echoed.  

~~~
Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/19/2005 02:48:00 AM that...

If the end of the film is Somerset deciding, given his own experiences, to continue to fight for the world we live in, then I think that reading would be consistent with MR. N- not that I am more than someone who has read some essential Nietzche in passing once. But it should not be that the world is worth fighting for- rather the fight is worthwhile for itself

I need to rewatch fight club again- it has been many moons- but the way that one Pixies song is overlaid near the end- DAMN what a fine moment  

~~~
Blogger ronvon2 noted on 12/19/2005 08:16:00 AM that...

You can make Omri happy, and do another reading of Fight Club. I hear it is replete with homoerotic images...maybe that could be your angle.  

~~~