“Monsters are real. Ghosts are real too. They live inside us. And sometimes, they win.”
– Stephen King
I finally got around to watching all of the movie Se7en (1995) the other night. I’d seen bits and pieces of it before, including the ending, but this was the first time I’d seen it all the way through. For those who haven’t seen it, the movie stars Brad Pitt as Detective David Mills, Morgan Freeman as Detective Lt. William Somerset, Gwyneth Paltrow as Tracy Mills (the wife of the character played by Brad Pitt), and Kevin Spacey as John Doe, a serial killer bent on killing seven representative people he believes to be guilty of committing (one each) The Seven Deadly Sins.
Now I’ve watched some disturbing movies in my time, but this one, based on a script by American screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (who also played a dead guy in it), did an exceptional job of pushing my buttons! The character played by Morgan Freeman (Lt. Somerset) was the meticulous and brilliant, but world weary, old pro just a week away from retiring, while the Brad Pitt character (Det. Mills) was the brash and self-confident up-and-comer who transferred to the big city where he could “make a difference” by proving he could fill the old man’s shoes.
Beneath the forceful exterior, however, Mills worried about having dragged his lovely and delicate young wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) to the dirty and dangerous city where she just didn’t belong. And for her part, Tracy Mills was hiding the fact that she was pregnant from her husband because she didn’t want to be the cause of him abandoning his dream of being a great champion for justice.
But I think that, by far, what viewers would find among the most disturbing aspects of this movie were the truly horrendous ways in which the killer goes about methodically and efficiently torturing to death his first five victims – and making the police look completely ineffectual in the process:
- He forced an obese man to eat until his stomach ruptured – The Sin of Gluttony.
- He forced a greedy criminal defense lawyer to cut off a pound of his own flesh – The Sin of Greed.
- He destroyed the beauty of a world famous model and then forced her to choose between a life of horrible disfigurement and death – The Sin of Pride
- He slowly starved to death, in total isolation and over a full year’s time, a depressed, addicted, and house-bound man –The Sin of Sloth.
- He forced a frequent user of prostitutes to kill one by having sex with her wearing a nightmarish killer strap-on he designed specifically for the purpose – The Sin of Lust.
But then he turned himself in (?!?!) and promised to make a complete confession if he were allowed to take detectives Mills and Somerset, and only them, to where they could find the final two victims. You know, even though Kevin Spacey only appeared and spoke in this last segment of the film, I think his performance was what really set this movie apart as a genuine classic. His maniacal assertions that he was doing God’s work, delivered with all the calm and clinical poise of the psychopathic “true believer,” was absolutely chilling. And the way he slowly stoked the fires of retribution in the heart of the naively hot-headed Det. Mills on the way to the final scene was a truly masterful example of mental manipulation.
That’s not to say that Spacey completely stole the show, however. Brad Pitt delivered what were probably his best lines of the movie when he said:
“I’ve been trying to figure something in my head, and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you’re insane? Maybe you’re just sitting around, reading “Guns and Ammo”, masturbating in your own feces, do you just stop and go, ‘Wow! It is amazing how fucking crazy I really am!’ Yeah. Do you guys do that?”
And While Morgan Freeman (who was brilliant throughout – as usual) didn’t really say much during this part, his expressions while studying the exchange between the other two spoke volumes about his suspicions that Doe was setting Mills up for something. He just didn’t know what. And so it was that neither the over-confident youth, or the wise old veteran, were prepared for this maniac’s pièce de résistance!
Having pre-arranged to have a package delivered to the site, he managed to separate the two when Lt. Somerset had to go secure the intruder. While Somerset was investigating the package, Doe proceeded to lock Mills’ attention on him by telling him how much he envied him and his life married to such a beautiful young woman, by telling him how he had visited her just before turning himself in, then describing how had had killed her and their unborn child, and finally explaining that it was her lovely head in the package that had just arrived… Thus fulfilling his promise to reveal his final victims: himself for his own Sin of Envy, and Tracy Mills (with the bonus victim of her unborn child) for her husband’s Sin of Wrath!
A truly disturbing movie! And for most people that last scene would have no doubt been the most disturbing of all. But not for me. For me, the most disturbing things about this movie from the scene describing the fourth victim (see list above), who had actually been found alive, though just barely. The first thing was the horrible shape he was in. The second was the swat officer whispering in his ear that he got what he deserved. And the third was what the doctor said after examinig him at the hospital:
“Detective, he’d die of shock right now if you were to shine a flashlight in his eyes. He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take… and he still has Hell to look forward to. Good night.”
These are the things that inspired me to write this post. If you want to know why, read The Sin of Sloth.
“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”
– Detective Lt. William Somerset
I want ice water.