Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Se7en

I am way behind the curve on this one, but I have recently seen Se7en for the first time. More accurately, I have seen it three times in the last week. It is an absolutely mesmerizing film.

It was a popular rental item at my family’s video store for well over a year after its release, but for whatever reason, I never had the urge to watch it. I usually wind up fascinated by this kind of movie once I am compelled to watch it. Silence of the Lambs, for instance, is one of my all time favorites. Mt mother left a copy of it on the kitchen counter the day it was shipped to the store with a note to watch it. She figured I would like it enough to hold back a copy from rental just so I could see it right away. She was right.

How I have managed to miss Se7en all this time is beyond me. But I have seen it several times now. It has stuck with me for many reasons.

The biggest reason is Morgan Freeman. He has been one of my favorite actors for a long time. I count Glory and The Shawshank Redemption also among my all time favorites. He brings such aquiet dignity to characters that you suspect would have no dignity left dueto life circumstances. He is amazing. He is no different here, either. Freeman plays retiring homicide detective Sommerset Sommerset is completely jaded after a long career of witnessing man’s cruelty to one another. These days, he does not believe there is any virtue left in anyone.

Judging by the other characters, he is correct. Sommerset is the only redeemable character in the film. Everyone else has a fatal flaw in one way or another. They are violent, vulgar, self-absorbed, amoral, or happily ignorant. All except for Sommerset The mood of all the characters sets a surreal tone throughout.

Freeman plays Sommerset to the hilt. How he did not receive so much as an Oscar nomination is a crime in itself. Maybe I am biased. I have a characteristically Calvinist view of the total depravity of man which not only applies to his morality, but of his ignorance. So when Sommerset ruefully mentions that women who are being assaulted should scream "fire” instead of “help” because no one cares when they hear “help” or when he bitterly remarks to the library night watchmen that are surrounded by virtually all human knowledge free at their fingertips, but they surely do nothing but play poker all night, It resonates because that is exactly they way I would feel.

But even a great character cannot do much without a compelling plot. At first glance, Se7en comes across as a stereotypical buddy cop movie. Sommerset is a week away from retirement. For his final week, he is stuck training David Mills, his young replacement played by Brad Pitt. The two do not like each other. Mills thinks Sommerset is an over the hill jerk. Sommerset thinks Mills is ignorantly inexperienced and lets his emotions get the best of him too often. There is a serial killer on the loose with a strange motif. All the signs put to a run of the mill movie. But Se7en Is anything but.

Take the killer for instance. He is called Jon Doe throughout, probably to denote there is a certain evil in everyone. Doe is not revealed until the last quarter or so. It is unusual for the villain to remain anonymous that long. In many ways, the movie is not about the mystery of who Doe is and how he gets caught--he never does, in fact--but about what he hasto say about human nature. Doe is pretty much Sommerset pushed over the edge.

There is a begrudging respect between the two that is unsettling. For instance, Mills comments repeatedly doe must be insane. Sommerset retorts any guy sending a message like Doe has been doing cannot be. He is too careful in his plans, too literate in his thinking. Doe is almost what Sommerset wishes people actually were, albeit not to the point of becoming murderers. The realization disturbs Sommerset even more.

Doe’s motif is to murder seven people he believes are the best examples of the seven deadly sins. He kills all but one by overindulging them in their favorite sin. He does not choose particularly sympathetic victims, either. Each of his victims is revolting in some way, from being morbidly obese to a greedy lawyer to a drug dealing pedophile. Had these victims suffered a lesser, but still negative, fate, you probably would not blink. But the way these victims suffered in death is unspeakable.

The aforementioned morbidly obese man, for instance, is guilty of gluttony as far as Doe is concerned. The nameless man is so fat, he is a shut in. doe ties him up at the dinner table and feeds him for twelve hours straight, even stopping to shop for more groceries to finish the ob. The man’s stomach literally rips open because of its excessive contents. True to form no one from Mills to the coroner shows the guy anything but contempt for letting himself go. Gluttony is a repulsive sin as far as all parties are concerned.

Each of the murders is similarly gruesome and meticulous, but none are quite as horrific as sloth. Sommerset and Mills think they have found their man when fingerprints at a crime scene match those of a drug dealing pedophile named Victor. Victor lives in a rancid apartment complex in the most rundown part of town. When they bust into his apartment, they find what they believe to be his emaciated corpse strapped to te bed. He has been trapped there for a year, starving with nly enough IV fluids to keep his suffering going and antibiotics to keep his bedsore from infecting.A picture is worth a thousand words, so there you go. Doe has been periodically taking photos of Victor’s deterioration when he comes in to change the IV bag. It is assumed victor is long dead, but in a jump out of your skin moment, he hscks for breath and allows this freakish moan like a wounded animal. There is a certain ease in thinking he has been dead a long time that is spine chillingly shattered when you realize he has survived the entire year, immobile and perpetually on the verge of death, but never teetering over. His skeletal body thrashing about is the stuff of nightmares.

To add insult to injury, the doctor treating him at the hospital later is almost amused describing his condition: his brain has turned to mush, he ate his own tongue long ago, either out of hunger or trying to bleed himself to death, he is so frazzled shining a light in his eyes would give him a deadly shock, and yet the guy has hell to look forward to. You are not supposed to sympathize with Victor, obviously, since he was a pedophile, but it is impossible to wrap your mind around his suffering or the callousness of all who encountered it.

That is the surreal mood of Se7en that makes it so interesting. It is unimaginable that someone would force feed a man to death or that Victor could lay trapped, ungagged in his apartment for a year. Yet within the logic established, it fits. The only two characters with any sense of self-awareness are Sommerset and Doe. Neither of whom are envious characters to be.

Speaking of envious, that is the final deadly sin and reserved for Doe himself. I will not spoil the ending if you have not seen it, but suffice to say it does not deviate from the theme. Ir is not a happy ending, but it is one that confirms sommerset’s attitude about the fallen nature of man. By default, it confirms mine, too. That is probably why I like Se7en so much.

From a technical standpoint, Se7en is well written and directed. I was surprised by the latter. David Fincher is probably most well known for directing music videos before making leap to film. While leaving the trappings behind. Witness McG, who went from directing rap videos to the hyper kinetic Charlie’s Angels before settling down to well paced We Are Marshall. I have to applaud him and screenwriter Andrew Walker for crafting an intriguing, albeit highly disturbing, film.

Ratig: ***** (out of 5)

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