Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

Discussions of specific films and franchises.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
flyonthewall2983
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Indiana
Contact:

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

#1 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Wed Jan 03, 2007 11:59 pm

I watched this all the way through for the first time in awhile today and, now I see it in a different light than expressed in the Miami Vice thread around a year ago in some ways. I still think it's a little bit overrated, especially in terms of other '90's crime films like Heat (didn't see that one coming, eh) and True Romance. The latter of which is my favorite Tarantino film, despite the fact he didn't direct it. Se7en certainly isn't in the same sub-genres those films are in, but that it gets put ahead of those films in the IMDB 250 or even the 90's list on this very website doesn't sit well with me sometimes lol.

But I appreciate it a bit more now, because rather than other serial killers as depicted in cinema, who usually act out of pseudo-sexual frustration, John Doe acts primarily out of a demented moral code he has about modern society. Before, I had a rather cut-and-dry, black-and-white view about it, and just saw the killer more like the Mills character did which is kind of scary now that I think about it. Also, it's hard to resist Spacey's performance as Doe as someone who does what he does without a wink of doubt as evidenced in the car ride he has with Mills and Somerset.

What I've always appreciated from the film was the "style" and how the entire aesthetic element brought you into that world. The sound design, properly heard on a 5.1 system, is nothing less than brilliant. That includes Howard Shore's score which seems sometimes to materialize out of natural sounds. The brass and various noises from the orchestra seem as part of the scenery as the rain on the streets and the blood on the various walls and floors.

User avatar
Fletch F. Fletch
Big fan of the former president
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:54 pm
Location: Provo, Utah

#2 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Jan 04, 2007 10:26 am

I would also praise Darius Khondji's superb cinematography. The film is drenched atmosphere with an oppressive rain that seems to fall in almost every exterior scene (except, of course, the finale) a la Blade Runner. Use of an almost monochromatic color scheme is quite good and then its juxtaposed with the warmth and safety of the dinner scene with Freeman, Pitt and Paltrow.

User avatar
foggy eyes
Joined: Fri Sep 01, 2006 9:58 am
Location: UK

#3 Post by foggy eyes » Thu Jan 04, 2007 1:24 pm

I can recommend Richard Dyer's excellent BFI monograph for the film (London: BFI, 1999). He nails the pictures's "style".

User avatar
Fletch F. Fletch
Big fan of the former president
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 3:54 pm
Location: Provo, Utah

#4 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Jan 04, 2007 1:59 pm

Yeah, that's a good one. Also, of course, the copious extras on the special edition DVD are worth checking out as well. I found the commentaries particularly interesting.

Titus
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2005 4:40 pm

#5 Post by Titus » Fri Jan 05, 2007 1:11 pm

My problem with the film, and I'll concede that this is much more a personal grievance than objective criticism, is with the pulverizing bleakness of it all. The look and sound of the film are basically manifestations of John Doe's worldview, and I get the feeling that, while the filmmakers aren't condoning his actions, they're agreeing with his points. Somerset shares the same perspective, as well, he's just more resigned and maintains the sanity that Doe doesn't possess. The one central character who doesn't have this POV is the idealistic Mills, who has his pregnant wife's head lopped off to convince him otherwise. It's pessimistic to the point of solipsism, providing a very one-sided, shallow perspective of society that isn't much different in execution than the antithetically over-sentimental fluff that Hollywood so often produces. The production values are terrific, the acting is top knotch (and I'll admit to being a big fan of Pitt's), but it's always felt like it was written by an angsty high school social outcast to me.

User avatar
flyonthewall2983
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Indiana
Contact:

#6 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Fri Jan 05, 2007 2:12 pm

That, in a way, sums up the problems I used to have with it. It's definitely a problem that has plagued Hollywood for awhile, that some films either comes out too sunny or too bleak. Personally, I can't stand films that are totally bleak as much as the majority of people here who can't stand the opposite. But Se7en now for me is a good detective story that treads a line between the suspense that drives it throughout and the bleak nature of some of the characters and the actual murders themselves.

User avatar
dad1153
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2009 10:32 am
Location: New York, NY

Re: Se7en (Fincher, '95)

#7 Post by dad1153 » Sat May 09, 2009 9:38 pm

Caught "Se7en" on Starz Edge HD a few months back. I had only seen it once in theaters back in '95, so when I saw it again (in high-definition on a big screen TV with the sound cranking) I was surprised at how one-dimensional and clueless Brad Pitt's detective Mills comes across. I know this is intentional so (a) Morgan Freeman's Somerset comes across as level-headed and (b) the final act of the movie reaches its emotional crescendo. Still, during the lengthy duel of wits between Mills and 'John Doe' on the car I couldn't help but think I was watching a duel between intelligent design versus creationism, B&W versus gray, Peoria versus Berkley, red state patriotism versus blue state pragmatism, etc. Gwyneth Paltrow has shockingly low screen time given her character's role in the story. Rob Bottin's make-up effects, Darius Khondji cinematography (dark but never undetailed or unattractive) and clever editing make this the least gory 'R' movie that everyone remembers as being nastier than it actually is. The movie's influence on popular culture can still be felt to this date on shows like "Dexter" and "Criminal Minds" (or any of Jerry Bruckheimer's "CSI" crime procedurals) but on its own merits "Se7en" remains a twisted masterpiece.

Went out and bought the two-disc New Line Platinum DVD for five bucks so I can hear the commentary tracks. All I can say is that it was money well spent. :)

User avatar
knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: Se7en (Fincher, '95)

#8 Post by knives » Sun May 10, 2009 12:28 am

I wouldn't say Mills comes across as one dimensional. Thick as a bag of bricks maybe, but he gets plenty of characterization.

User avatar
Antoine Doinel
Joined: Sat Mar 04, 2006 1:22 pm
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Contact:

Re: Se7en (Fincher, '95)

#9 Post by Antoine Doinel » Sun May 10, 2009 11:50 am

I don't think Mills is one-dimensional so much as a cop who is simply trying to deal with a crime of this magnitude with the attitude that has always served him well on the force and failing. Even the veteran Somerset, who we can presume has "seen it all" can't make head or tails of it.

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#10 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu May 14, 2009 5:10 pm

so lightly here wrote:...you could add "Seven" though that seemed to boarder on unrelenting pornographic violence.
How so? There is astonishingly little violence shown on-screen in Seven. Indeed, the only murder actually comitted on-screen is the very final one. Everything else happens off camera. Seven seems much more violent than it actually is because it uses suggestion to let the audience imagine the events rather than see them directly (which, of course, makes everything far more disturbing). After a while the memory blends the imagined images with the actual images and obscures the fact that Seven is a very reticent movie.

User avatar
Dr. Snaut
Joined: Mon Dec 01, 2008 3:53 pm

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#11 Post by Dr. Snaut » Thu May 14, 2009 5:21 pm

But seeing the aftermath of such violent acts is equally violent as seeing the murders themselves. Seeing a bloody corpse on the floor with it's blood spelling out "Greed" is equally, if not more violent, then seeing his actual murder.

User avatar
swo17
Joined: Tue Apr 15, 2008 10:25 am
Location: SLC, UT

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#12 Post by swo17 » Thu May 14, 2009 5:30 pm

That's like saying peanut butter is equal to jelly.

User avatar
domino harvey
Dot Com Dom
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#13 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 14, 2009 5:31 pm

In a well-made sandwich, it is

User avatar
Shrew
The Untamed One
Joined: Tue Feb 27, 2007 2:22 am

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#14 Post by Shrew » Thu May 14, 2009 5:51 pm

I think it's fair to argue that a dead body is as violent as an on-screen death, as far as the violent disruptive shocking nature of an image goes. However, unless you're a necrophiliac, I don't think a dead body is accompanied by the same fetishism on-screen murder is. Torture-porn is about the torturing, not the remains.

So, Seven may be a very violent film, but I don't think its violence is pornographic.

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#15 Post by Mr Sausage » Thu May 14, 2009 7:50 pm

Dr. Snaut wrote:But seeing the aftermath of such violent acts is equally violent as seeing the murders themselves. Seeing a bloody corpse on the floor with it's blood spelling out "Greed" is equally, if not more violent, then seeing his actual murder.
Hmm. No, I'd say seeing someone hacking away viciously at their own tissue while screaming and bleeding all over themselves (ala Saw) and then seeing their corpse at the police investigation is far more violent than just the latter. Equating the two situations seems like false rhetoric, mostly because it's taken for granted that they must be equal.

Seeing the aftermath of violence is not the same thing as seeing violence, however disturbing the image may be (and we see very little of the Greed murder scene: it's shown in longshot and the bloodless body is overshadowed by the large letters beside it. Everything else we see clinical flashes of in photographs later. The average CSI episode is more gruesome than Greed). Violence is by nature active; the aftermath is by nature passive. The only violence one sees from the latter is through imagining the act the tableaux suggests, which A. implicates you in the level of experienced violence, making criticisms difficult; and B. at least gives you the option of how much violence, if at all, you wish to conjure.
Shrew wrote:I think it's fair to argue that a dead body is as violent as an on-screen death,
In what sense? You have to agree a dead body only shows evidence of having been the victim of violence, it does not--indeed cannot--enact any form of violence itself.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#16 Post by Sloper » Fri May 15, 2009 3:29 am

This threatens to become a hopelessly involved discussion about representations of violence (a 'Torture Porn vs Necrophilia' thread in navel-gazing, maybe) but just to point out that a lot of the most controversial 'violent' films have been the ones that didn't show very much. The shower scene in Psycho or the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs spring to mind; as far as I know it was the latter which got Tarantino's film banned from video release for years in the UK. The point, I guess, is that the BBFC and other guardians of morality are more bothered about the type of violence being represented than they are about its sheer graphic explicitness. Mr S., if what you're saying were true then Monty Python films like The Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life would be more violent than Seven, Reservoir Dogs or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In a literal sense, they are, but in a more meaningful sense they're really not.

And for what it's worth, I found Seven no less pornographically violent than Saw. Although the latter was a pale and inept re-tread of the former, I was equally bothered and repulsed by both films, because of what I felt to be their attitudes towards the violence. This is hard to pin down, but there's a sense in films like this (and Reservoir Dogs) that violence and torture are kind of cool, reinforced by all that bullshit about the killer being some kind of avenging angel scourging the sins of the modern world. I know the films' take on that idea is ambiguous - but I do seem to remember a moment in Saw when one of the would-be victims claims that Jigsaw had 'helped her' (by attaching a complicated deadly vice to her head and forcing her to disembowel someone alive, because this made her realise that drugs are bad or something), and this moment alone would suffice to render the violence in the film, however little of it there is, disturbing in all the wrong ways. We're supposed to admire these sadistic little shits - Kevin Spacey, Michael Madsen, that bald guy. Anyway, this is the hopelessly involved discussion I referred to earlier. My point is that the film's attitude towards or comments upon the violence it depicts can radically alter the nature and intensity of that violence; the representation of violence in films is not just about what you see. If it were, there would be no such thing as a violent novel.

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: 476 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

#17 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri May 15, 2009 12:41 pm

Sloper wrote:Mr S., if what you're saying were true then Monty Python films like The Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life would be more violent than Seven, Reservoir Dogs or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. In a literal sense, they are, but in a more meaningful sense they're really not.
I was going to say you've stumped me with a great point, but then I realized this "more meaningful sense" you're talking about is actually the impact of the violence depicted on screen rather than a secondary judgement of its level. The fact is, the violence in Monty Python is played for laughs, and it gets laughs, so the effect of the violence is pleasurable enough. But a film like Psycho, which shows less than Monty Python, which has less blood and many, many fewer shots (if any) of weapons entering the body, is shot to be disturbing and painful, and it is. A scene can have very little violence, even less than Psycho, and yet depending on how it is filmed, and the context of the script and characters, it can have a real strong negative impact on the emotions. We need to divorce "violence" here from the intended effect of "violence," not only to accurately understand the extent of the violence in this or that movie, but also the movie's own reaction to its violence. But the main point is that a movie with very little violence at all can produce a greater negative impact in the audience than a movie with a gratuitous amount of it. Which brings me to my second point:
Sloper wrote:This is hard to pin down, but there's a sense in films like this (and Reservoir Dogs) that violence and torture are kind of cool, reinforced by all that bullshit about the killer being some kind of avenging angel scourging the sins of the modern world.
If the effect of Seven is to show you very little actual violence, but to film it in such a way as to highlight the rebarbative qualities of violence, how can Seven be giving a sense that "violence and torture are kind of cool" when the torture and the violence are only suggested, and then only in order to induce strong negative emotions against the violence? The presence of a messiah complex in the villain is neither here nor there; and given the thorough depiction of the villain's perversities, would never be confused with actual religious morality. But if we're talking about effect--Monty Python vs Psycho--Seven tries very hard to be the opposite of a Saw: to deprive you of the pleasure you could get by watching a well executed piece of filmic violence in favour of emphasizing the misery undergone by the victims, direct or indirect, of the violence (indeed, the final, and only, on-screen murder is one the audience wants desparately not to happen). The film is more admirable and less pornographic, but it is often not seen to be so since its effect is so powerful many mistake it for showing more violence, and being more relentlessly gruesome, than it actually is.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#18 Post by Sloper » Sat May 16, 2009 5:06 pm

Mr Sausage – I may have misunderstood your first paragraph somewhat, but I’ll try to explain my thinking further. I'm really sorry about the length of the post, but this is a subject of considerable interest to me...
Mr Sausage wrote:We need to divorce "violence" here from the intended effect of "violence," not only to accurately understand the extent of the violence in this or that movie, but also the movie's own reaction to its violence.
But our definitions of what constitutes ‘violence’ in a film are as shaky as, well, most definitions of things. In the above discussion of Seven, you seem to equate violence with the visual representation of flesh being ruptured, but you would hardly claim that a filmed operation was more violent than, say, a snuff movie in which all we see is a man’s back as he hacks someone to death. I realise that all this argument over definitions tends not to lead anywhere – and it could go on all day – but in the case of screen violence this is a really important point. The intended effect of the violence, and the moral attitude of the film-makers – and, yes, the reaction of the audience – determine, to a great extent, whether a film is violent or not; I don’t think you can separate these things.

It’s telling, for instance, that when shown on television in the UK (about ten years ago, this may no longer be the case), Seven was edited. Most notably, they cut out the shots of the ‘Lust’ contraption, so that it wasn’t actually clear how the prostitute had been killed. The very suggestion of violence was treated as though it were a graphically violent shot, and in a sense it is. You’re right to say that it only conjures up the image of the violence in our minds, but after all that’s what films do – however graphic, the violence is always an illusion which we buy into, and contribute to with our own imaginations. But yes, Seven is a very impressive film in this respect, and I can think of few others that are so good at horrifying the viewer through suggestion rather than crude gory effects. (Funny Games and Death and the Maiden spring to mind.) With regard to that issue, Fincher’s film is very different from Saw: that is, it’s a much cleverer, more skilfully made film.

However, I think its attitude to its subject, though more earnest, is essentially the same, and when I watched the film again last night (been meaning to for a while, so thanks for the excuse) I found it more troubling than ever.
Titus wrote:My problem with the film, and I'll concede that this is much more a personal grievance than objective criticism, is with the pulverizing bleakness of it all. The look and sound of the film are basically manifestations of John Doe's worldview, and I get the feeling that, while the filmmakers aren't condoning his actions, they're agreeing with his points. Somerset shares the same perspective, as well, he's just more resigned and maintains the sanity that Doe doesn't possess. The one central character who doesn't have this POV is the idealistic Mills, who has his pregnant wife's head lopped off to convince him otherwise. It's pessimistic to the point of solipsism, providing a very one-sided, shallow perspective of society that isn't much different in execution than the antithetically over-sentimental fluff that Hollywood so often produces. The production values are terrific, the acting is top notch (and I'll admit to being a big fan of Pitt's), but it's always felt like it was written by an angsty high school social outcast to me.
Apart from the judgement on Pitt’s acting, which goes off the rails at the end, I agree with all of this. With one important exception (the ending), we are never asked to identify with John Doe’s victims, nor are they ever portrayed as worthy of our sympathy. Victor, the Sloth victim, is the most ghastly example of all. He’s a ‘drug dealer and pederast’, this second label identifying him as one of the most potent, most often demonised hate-figures in today’s society. Just as well, since if he were a sympathetic character the scenes devoted to him would be unwatchably painful. This is a common technique in murder mysteries: you make the victims relatively unsympathetic, in order to keep the story entertaining. Gosford Park is a good example. I find this aspect of murder mysteries objectionable even in an episode of Poirot, but in this context it’s particularly sinister.

When Victor is discovered, the cop leans over and whispers in his (supposedly dead) ear, ‘You got what you deserved’, presumably having already realised that this person is not the serial killer, just the drug dealer and pederast; later the doctor delivers the famous line, ‘He’s been through about as much human suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, and he still has Hell to look forward to’. The cop gets a sort of comeuppance for his remark when Victor wakes up, and Somerset reacts to the doctor’s callousness with a look of horror: both these moments are supposed to contribute to the overall sense of a callous, unfeeling world, but in fact they pretty much represent the film’s own point of view.

At the beginning, Somerset appears shocked by the violence around him (hence his story about the guy who gets robbed and then blinded), but later, in his barroom conversation with Mills, it turns out that what really bothers him is ‘apathy’. ‘No one cares’, apparently. He says this in the course of trying to convince Mills that the killer is not merely insane – in other words, Somerset thinks John Doe has a point. He never really says anything disapproving about the atrocities this guy commits. The disapproval all comes from Pitt, and he’s made out to be not only immature and stupid, but also a symptom of this terrible, violent world we live in. There is no valid counterpoint to Somerset’s (or John Doe’s) perspective, and in the three-way conversation in the police car towards the end, Somerset’s challenges to the killer are never resolved. Instead, the dialogue insists rather tediously on Mills’ uncomprehending idiocy in the face of the killer’s calm, charismatic moral certainty.
Mr Sausage wrote:The presence of a messiah complex in the villain is neither here nor there; and given the thorough depiction of the villain's perversities, would never be confused with actual religious morality.
I’m sorry but here you and I differ completely. John Doe is, along with Somerset, the most reasonable, educated and principled character in the film; indeed, it is because Somerset identifies with his reading habits that they are able to track him down. This killer is also bothered by a world in which ‘apathy is treated as if it were a virtue’, and in which ‘nobody cares’, but whereas Somerset deals with this by retreating from it all (like the sheriff in No Country for Old Men), the killer does it by torturing people until they damn well care. He says people are so numb these days that you ‘have to hit them with a sledgehammer’ if you want them to pay attention, and when he boasts of how people are going to marvel at what he’s accomplished, this sounds very much like the screenwriter preening himself over the marvellous story he’s put together – and indeed the gushing, hyperbolic reviews that greeted the film’s release vindicated this boast. But in fact, the ending is clumsy and nonsensical from the point of view of logic and characterisation, and only really makes sense if you don’t think about it too hard. Why would John Doe envy Mills? He despises both him and the world of which he is a symptom, and has not been set up as the kind of man who longs for a ‘normal life’ (and Mills doesn’t have a normal life, he’s a homicide detective).

It’s kind of interesting that the killer identifies himself as one of those symptoms as well, and that his final victim personifies, rather than being punished for, the vice of ‘wrath’. John Doe leaves the world with this final message: that vengeance is all the world has left, at once an illness and its cure, destroying itself in a sort Old Testament-like cleansing process. That’s a nice idea, but overall this film’s claim to have something serious to tell us about the state of the world is, as Titus said earlier, extremely dubious. This is a film in which one man tortures another in unspeakable ways for an entire year, and we’re supposed to think that he has a point. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Although not a lot of actual violence is directly shown taking place, the film lingers fetishistically over the details of the crimes. One brief shot of the ‘lust’ contraption would have been more than enough, but we get two or three, and the thing even starts to look a bit funny. Otherwise the level of detail might seem fair enough in a police procedural – this attention to detail is one of the many great things about Zodiac (which I adore). But because of the film’s attitude, as I’ve described it, these oblique but powerful representations of torture become far more disturbing.

Misery, Audition and Funny Games – all of which have been criticised for their violence, and even called ‘pornographic’ – are better films, though none is quite as technically accomplished as Seven, because they make us identify with both the victims and (more daringly) the perpetrators. Most films do neither of these things, preferring to keep the audience at a comfortable distance from the horrors, but the really sickening thing about Fincher’s film is that the only point of view it encourages us to identify with is that of the killer. That’s what makes it feel pornographic. I’m still reeling from the sleepless night it gave me – it displays some of the least likeable, most conservative and most inhuman characteristics of the horror genre. The fact that it’s also one of the most proficient entries in that genre makes it all the more difficult to stomach.

One last point, and then I really am finished:
Mr Sausage wrote:If the effect of Seven is to show you very little actual violence, but to film it in such a way as to highlight the rebarbative qualities of violence, how can Seven be giving a sense that "violence and torture are kind of cool" when the torture and the violence are only suggested, and then only in order to induce strong negative emotions against the violence?
As I’ve said, I think the film’s attitude towards the violence is far from being uncomplicatedly negative – only Mills’ attitude can be characterised as such. But more than this, the portrayal of violence as something horrible does not preclude its portrayal as something cool, in fact the two things are often interdependent. This ambiguity, by Tarantino’s own testimony, is what the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs is all about (discordant conjunction of coolness and horror, ‘Stuck in the Middle’ and torture; and it's basically a very cool scene, and one in which we probably identify more with Madsen's character than with the cop). Seven’s title sequence, though very good in many ways, sets us up for a cool, grungy serial killer movie – it doesn’t really fit with Howard Shore’s typically superb score. I guess you disagree about this, but to me there’s very little sense that this film really engages with the horror it depicts. It seems detached and juvenile. Certainly it doesn’t ring true as a howl of despair about ‘the way things are’. It has too little sympathy for people, too little moral or intellectual coherence, and too much respect for the activities of a sadistic hypocrite, to work on that level.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#19 Post by colinr0380 » Sat May 16, 2009 6:59 pm

An interesting post Sloper. I seem to remember from the posts in the 1990s List Project about Titus that you have some relationship with Warwick University. Are you Richard Dyer by any chance? :wink:

But seriously I do like Seven very much as a film that takes an exploitation premise and mixes it with ideas of Cime and Punishment and the idea of whether people 'deserve' their fates or not, or whether this just lies in the eye of the beholder. I particularly like the way that the film plays on the audience's opinions of the victims, where we are asked to condemn them and agree with the idea that these people deserved their punishment. We take the same sense of superiority as John Doe by maybe agreeing with Mills that the fat guy was disgusting, or that the lawyer, the criminal, the prostitute or the beautiful actress "got what they deserved", to repeat the phrase used by the SWAT team. However then the film turns the tables on people with that perjorative attitude by casting the seemingly attractive and sexy detective (because he's played by an attractive actor and has the rebellious approach to his work. Even if he is revealed to not be very intellectual and quick to anger that just makes Mills more of an everyman figure) as another victim. It hits too close to home for the audience - I remember my father getting this from the video shop, thinking it was going to be a Touch of Frost/Midsomer Murder type of mystery (I know... but he's rather unworldly!) and being disgusted by the film by the way it dwelt both on the details of the aftermath of the murders rather than keeping the dead as vaguely identified bodies and the way that everyone was implicated by the crimes, not just the perpetrator.

There is also the interesting way that the details of the crime scenes become less obvious as they go along. From spending time dwelling over the first Gluttony victim and even following the body to the morgue many of the most gruesome details of the later murders have their horrific details not shown but explained in detail by the investigators. The Lust murder is probably the best example, as the pounding music in the club and the duelling interrogations create the impression of a horrific act taking place in a 'den of sin' without actually showing the unfilmable act itself. And in the final scene you only have shots of an opened box in a field and someone falling to the floor after a bloodless gunshot to the head.

The murders become more and more abstract and intellectual - moving away from mutilations of the body through immorality by committing physical sins to psychological acts of pride and anger. As Sloper says, Mills' attitude is a simpler one, but I feel that Somerset is also condemned. There seems to be a distrust of intellect as overcomplicating the world - after all if John Doe had not spent years studying various sins and writing books of rhetoric he wouldn't have committed his crimes! Somerset is portrayed as a brilliant and smart detective but also rather aloof from his other colleagues, where he seems out of place and out of step, and all alone in his apartment. I get the impression that Mills and Tracy are the young couple who represent uncorrupted hope - they're not the smartest or the most together people but they show a decency that has not yet been destroyed or made cynical by their surroundings, but they are viewed with a kind of kindly condescension by the film.

There seems to be the suggestion of something being as untrustworthy about Somerset as there is about John Doe, in the sense that he would rather get away from people that be part of the group. While the commentary disparages Somerset's final line as being corny: "The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part", I think this is the perfect ending. It associates John Doe with Somerset (after all John Doe must have thought the world was worth fighting for by carrying out his 'instructional' murders), as Somerset decides that instead of trying to run away from or escape the world by retiring that he has to take responsibility for making it a better place. I don't think it means exactly that Somerset is going to take up John Doe's mantle, just that he recognises the method in his madness and that apathy or aloofness is another way of condemning the world and abandoning those in need.

Kim Newman in his article on recent horror cinema in last month's Sight and Sound stated that the theme of the horror today, from serial killers to 70s remakes and torture porn, compared to more activist horror films codemning aspects of society in previous decades is that "other people are shit". Seven would seem to be an early and one of the most interesting examples of this idea - 'people' as a general mass are shit, but are also worth protecting, and recognising, as individuals. However does that way of thinking lead to detachment that means you feel you can do what you want with those whom you see as 'lesser' than yourself? People whose lives you only see as having a purpose to just be an illustrative point to make in your grand statement?

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#20 Post by Mr Sausage » Sat May 16, 2009 10:12 pm

*sigh* Long post, long response (mine looks longer than it is, since half is quotes. Out of curiosity I did a word count and it's slightly smaller than yours). Wish I could have said something larger than I ended up saying, but I got too bogged down in making immediate detailed responses than in constructing a tight and cohesive response that addressed the issue more widely. Oh well.
sloper wrote:you seem to equate violence with the visual representation of flesh being ruptured, but you would hardly claim that a filmed operation was more violent than, say, a snuff movie in which all we see is a man’s back as he hacks someone to death.
You have to realize that is solely because the examples raised by everyone here (the Greed murder, Monty Python, Psycho) are of the flesh tearing variety. My arguments tend to rely heavily on the surrounding context and be very specifically directed.
sloper wrote:The intended effect of the violence, and the moral attitude of the film-makers – and, yes, the reaction of the audience – determine, to a great extent, whether a film is violent or not; I don’t think you can separate these things.
This has more to do with your hesitation to engage the (as you admit, over-complicated) issue, I'm guessing? The things can, as you well know, be separated rhetorically, and I think to do so is useful because the issue is otherwise too much to hold in the mind at once.

Anyway: I find the moment where Max von Sydow smacks Liv Ullmann around (you don't see the blows connect) at the end of The Passion of Anna far more disturbing and affecting and awful than the entirety of The Rock, but I will never claim the former is more violent than the latter, or even a violent movie at all; so I would continue to argue against overpriviledging the effect when determining violence levels. A little can accomplish a lot, and vice versa, ect.
Sloper wrote:You’re right to say that it only conjures up the image of the violence in our minds, but after all that’s what films do – however graphic, the violence is always an illusion which we buy into, and contribute to with our own imaginations.
This is a generalization I don't accept. There is, anyway, an imaginative distinction between believing the movie you are seeing is real and visualizing for yourself images that you are not shown (and over which the filmmaker has only a small measure of control).
sloper wrote:we are never asked to identify with John Doe’s victims, nor are they ever portrayed as worthy of our sympathy. Victor, the Sloth victim, is the most ghastly example of all. He’s a ‘drug dealer and pederast’, this second label identifying him as one of the most potent, most often demonised hate-figures in today’s society. Just as well, since if he were a sympathetic character the scenes devoted to him would be unwatchably painful. This is a common technique in murder mysteries: you make the victims relatively unsympathetic, in order to keep the story entertaining. Gosford Park is a good example. I find this aspect of murder mysteries objectionable even in an episode of Poirot, but in this context it’s particularly sinister.
Any sympathy towards, or identification with, the victims would be misplaced because it would diffuse, and therebye ruin, the film's very specific emotional focus on the three central characters (Mills, Somersett, Mill's wife). And, as you say, it would totally overwhelm the viewers emotionally to the point of being unwatchable. It's very easy to go after a movie on the level of not being sympathetic enough with all of the victims of its violence, but it's much harder to actually address whether or not such sympathy is warrented aesthetically: that is, whether it would help or harm the movie.

As a side-note that has no bearing on Seven: in the case of murder mysteries, I'm not in any way bothered by the lack of sympathy evoked for the victim because: A., the generic point of the detective story is to establish and then solve an elaborate puzzle, and too much victim-sympathy will overwhelm the puzzle entirely until the story becomes an ineptly told tragedy: MacBeth as told by two men trying to solve who murdered Duncan, say. If you give your story a solid emotional core, it makes no sense to describe those emotions laterally. You're either interested in the pleasure of solving elaborate game-like mysteries, or you're interested in the pleasure of watching a human tragedy unfold; rarely can they be combined without the use of deliberate pastiche. B., the characters in a detective story are not real human beings, they are game pieces. The best analogy to a detective story is a chess problem, in which case it makes no real sense to invest emotionally in the ivory king about to fall. The point is the pattern. The key to art is invention, and detective stories invent patterns, not people (the detective excepted, although they're often just a collected of mannerisms anyway).
Sloper wrote:both these moments are supposed to contribute to the overall sense of a callous, unfeeling world, but in fact they pretty much represent the film’s own point of view.
You've overlooked the essential dualism of the movie: Somersett vs Mills, world-as-callous vs world-as-honest-feeling. This is why we spend as much time as we do in Mill's house with his wife: because they are a genuine representation of people who care for each other, and who are not callous or deadend or alone. This is why Somersett bonds with Mills: he feels their essential goodness, tho' he fears it will too be crushed. The film's point of view is decidedly more complex than simply that the world is an awful, unfeeling place and everyone sucks. It's ultimately on the tragic side that beauty always dies, but it never, at any point, believes that beauty never exists.
Sloper wrote:At the beginning, Somerset appears shocked by the violence around him (hence his story about the guy who gets robbed and then blinded), but later, in his barroom conversation with Mills, it turns out that what really bothers him is ‘apathy’. ‘No one cares’, apparently. He says this in the course of trying to convince Mills that the killer is not merely insane – in other words, Somerset thinks John Doe has a point. He never really says anything disapproving about the atrocities this guy commits. The disapproval all comes from Pitt, and he’s made out to be not only immature and stupid, but also a symptom of this terrible, violent world we live in. There is no valid counterpoint to Somerset’s (or John Doe’s) perspective, and in the three-way conversation in the police car towards the end, Somerset’s challenges to the killer are never resolved. Instead, the dialogue insists rather tediously on Mills’ uncomprehending idiocy in the face of the killer’s calm, charismatic moral certainty.
But at the beginning Somerset is decidedly not shocked by the violence around him (staring at the kitchen fridge and speaking in an emotionless monotone while the dead body lies in its blood in the other room). But you're right that Somersett understands, perhaps in some way even sympathizes with, John Doe's motives; but I don't know why you're trying to make something philosophical out of what is a complex character point. If the movie were about Somersett alone, perhaps the film shares his view; but Mills is an important counterpart to Somersett, however silly we want to think him, and pushing him out of the light does the movie no service. You overstate his "immaturity" and "stupidity," because his reaction to John Doe is, essentially, our reaction, or at least the reaction of the average person: incomprehension, anger, easy lables, and helplessness. Mills, if nothing else, comes across like an average person being confronted by something beyond him. He ends up as a victim of the world of Seven, as does his wife--the beauty of their relationship destroyed, Mills' own humanity destroyed--but in acknowledging that we are also acknowledging that John Doe is fundamentally an agent of the awful part of Seven's world, and not a moral being above it. His actions have destroyed good parts of the world along with "bad" parts; his actions contribute to, rather than alleviate, the callousness and brutality of the world, which is a subtle acknowledgement of Doe's hypocrisy on behalf of the movie.
Sloper wrote:John Doe is, along with Somerset, the most reasonable, educated and principled character in the film;
Educated? Yes, and he'd have to be to stage his crimes so elaborately. Principled? Yes, for the same reasons. Reasonable? Not in the slightest. He's not a good reader of Dante, either, and he's a bad theologian to boot. He's taken the Christian angle because it provided a convinient structure in which to indulge his sociopathic desires, not because the movie is trying to insist on an essential morality behind it. His calm exterior is a facade; if you'd like a glimpse of the real John Doe, rewatch the car ride, when he and Mills go back and forth and Doe begins to work himself up into a frenzied pitch while describing his victims ("a woman! A woman!... so ugly on the inside...ect), shouting down Mills, not even listening. John Doe is not reasonable, tho' he projects calmness and reason in order to hide--and which comes bubbling out anyway--his pathology: that sin alternately excites and repulses him; that he hates it even while he is consumed with obsession for it, cataloguing every sin he sees in his note books, labouring for untold years in the presence of it while devising his punishments; devoting his life to it. His obsession comes out in that moment in the car, where you can see him become excited into dropping his facade by describing his victims, by describing their sins.
Sloper wrote:It’s kind of interesting that the killer identifies himself as one of those symptoms as well, and that his final victim personifies, rather than being punished for, the vice of ‘wrath’. John Doe leaves the world with this final message: that vengeance is all the world has left, at once an illness and its cure, destroying itself in a sort Old Testament-like cleansing process. That’s a nice idea, but overall this film’s claim to have something serious to tell us about the state of the world is, as Titus said earlier, extremely dubious. This is a film in which one man tortures another in unspeakable ways for an entire year, and we’re supposed to think that he has a point. Just let that sink in for a moment.
The killer's identification of himself with one of his sins is, I feel anyway, simply his way of completing his pattern totally rather than a philosophical point (more odd is how he genuinely wants his work to speak for itself rather than being his own mouth piece like a lot of serial killers in movies). Otherwise, you're doing that isolation-effect again, where John Doe becomes singled out by your argument to the point that his point-of-view, and only his, become the reason for saying that the "film’s claim to have something serious to tell us about the state of the world is...extremely dubious," and where everything else kind of falls to the background. Perhaps the movie is saying John Doe has a point (crazy people are crazy not because they cannot make good points, but because they cannot react to their points in a proper manner), but it is still heavily qualifying his views with the rest of the movie and its characters.
Sloper wrote:Although not a lot of actual violence is directly shown taking place, the film lingers fetishistically over the details of the crimes. One brief shot of the ‘lust’ contraption would have been more than enough, but we get two or three, and the thing even starts to look a bit funny. Otherwise the level of detail might seem fair enough in a police procedural – this attention to detail is one of the many great things about Zodiac (which I adore). But because of the film’s attitude, as I’ve described it, these oblique but powerful representations of torture become far more disturbing.
To be fair, Fincher lingers fetishistically over most of the details in Seven and the rest of his movies, so I would hesitate to make much of it. There is something fetishistic about solving crimes, anyway: you have to become immsersed in minutiae. Incidently, I don't remember seeing more than 2 shots of the photograph of the contraption, although you have seen it more recently than I. Anyway, yes, the representations of torture are very disturbing, and that is clearly the point. I don't understand your pejoritive use of the terms "disturbing" and "troubling" in your post since the movie is clearly trying to be both of those things.
Sloper wrote:This ambiguity, by Tarantino’s own testimony, is what the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs is all about (discordant conjunction of coolness and horror, ‘Stuck in the Middle’ and torture; and it's basically a very cool scene, and one in which we probably identify more with Madsen's character than with the cop). Seven’s title sequence, though very good in many ways, sets us up for a cool, grungy serial killer movie – it doesn’t really fit with Howard Shore’s typically superb score. I guess you disagree about this, but to me there’s very little sense that this film really engages with the horror it depicts. It seems detached and juvenile. Certainly it doesn’t ring true as a howl of despair about ‘the way things are’. It has too little sympathy for people, too little moral or intellectual coherence, and too much respect for the activities of a sadistic hypocrite, to work on that level.
I don't know anyone who thinks the murders in Seven are "cool" or who identifies with John Doe or who even takes grinning pleasure in talking about the tortures. Discussions of the tortures are usually accompanied with a grim face, followed by unenthusiastic statements that it was "sick" and "messed up." It's quite the opposite of a discussion of a Saw or a Friday the 13th film. Seven's disturbing, troubling aspects, in my experience, dim its possible "coolness." I've never heard anyone speak of John Doe in the same tones of reverence at its badassness as they use to discuss Mr. Blonde.

As for the rest, I cannot persuade you that the movie has too little sympathy for "people" and too much "respect" for John Doe because these are emotional reactions and not very arguable. I don't share them myself (I think the movie shows up John Doe both subtly and unsubtly, and has genuine sympathy for its central three characters), but I understand why someone would think otherwise and I respect your reaction enough not to want to pretend like it isn't viable, or that I can do much about it.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#21 Post by Sloper » Sun May 17, 2009 6:03 am

Colin – I like your point about the depiction of the murders becoming more abstract, and less physical, as the film goes on. This reminds me of the sledgehammer scene in Misery: the film shows us the first foot being broken, but not the second, because it knows that by that time we’ll be covering our eyes anyway. Instead we see James Caan’s face, signifying our (by then, uncomfortably complete) identification with him. Not sure I agree about Somerset’s point of view, or his intellectualism, being condemned. It feels more like he’s ‘better’ than everybody else, and just isn’t certain he can have any positive impact on such a world. I have to say I did find the ending very tacked-on – Somerset’s ambiguous ‘I’ll be around’ would have made a better final line. Instead of imposing a view on the audience, it would have left things open, so that we could decide for ourselves what effect this case had had on the old detective’s worldview.
colinr0380 wrote:I seem to remember from the posts in the 1990s List Project about Titus that you have some relationship with Warwick University. Are you Richard Dyer by any chance?
No, I’m Germaine Greer :wink: (Actually a doctoral student in the English department.)
Mr Sausage wrote:The things can, as you well know, be separated rhetorically, and I think to do so is useful because the issue is otherwise too much to hold in the mind at once. Anyway: I find the moment where Max von Sydow smacks Liv Ullmann around (you don't see the blows connect) at the end of The Passion of Anna far more disturbing and affecting and awful than the entirety of The Rock, but I will never claim the former is more violent than the latter, or even a violent movie at all; so I would continue to argue against overprivileging the effect when determining violence levels. A little can accomplish a lot, and vice versa, etc.
Of course you’re right that violence and its intent/effect can be separated for rhetorical purposes. Years ago, at school, I did a project on ‘Violence in Films’, and rather than engage with the usual moral issues I decided to just do a sort of chronicle of how violence had developed over a hundred years. I found I was always contradicting myself, because in a sense films obviously became more violent during the twentieth century, and yet in another sense it felt as though Scarface (1932) and Scarface (1983) must have had a similar impact on their respective audiences. I guess this has to do with the mimetic capacities of the film medium, which can represent almost anything as if it were real, in a way that no other medium can, and you can see how film-makers and audiences gradually came to terms with this over the years (there must be a million books on this subject, so what I’m saying may come across as facile).

Although we commonly define ‘violence’ as a visual representation of someone being injured or killed, this definition is problematic because, as I said, it would identify footage of an operation as being more violent than Psycho’s shower scene: you must agree that this would be an inaccurate distinction, just as obviously as it would be inaccurate to call The Rock less violent than The Passion of Anna. The changing nature of censorship over the years throws this problem into relief. Jaws and Jurassic Park, though supposedly suitable for family audiences today, would have been unacceptably violent prior to 1967. If screen violence is something to which young children should not be exposed, and yet the first three Star Wars films (in which we see people getting their hands lopped off, or eaten alive by monsters, or shot and killed in large numbers) are given a U-certificate (‘suitable for all’), then in what does ‘violence’ consist? It must have more to do with the intent and effect than with the mere appearance of blood on the screen. Anyway, it’s a complicated issue...
Mr Sausage wrote:It's very easy to go after a movie on the level of not being sympathetic enough with all of the victims of its violence, but it's much harder to actually address whether or not such sympathy is warrented aesthetically: that is, whether it would help or harm the movie. As a side-note that has no bearing on Seven: in the case of murder mysteries, I'm not in any way bothered by the lack of sympathy evoked for the victim because: A., the generic point of the detective story is to establish and then solve an elaborate puzzle, and too much victim-sympathy will overwhelm the puzzle entirely until the story becomes an ineptly told tragedy: MacBeth as told by two men trying to solve who murdered Duncan, say. If you give your story a solid emotional core, it makes no sense to describe those emotions laterally. You're either interested in the pleasure of solving elaborate game-like mysteries, or you're interested in the pleasure of watching a human tragedy unfold; rarely can they be combined without the use of deliberate pastiche. B., the characters in a detective story are not real human beings, they are game pieces. The best analogy to a detective story is a chess problem, in which case it makes no real sense to invest emotionally in the ivory king about to fall. The point is the pattern. The key to art is invention, and detective stories invent patterns, not people (the detective excepted, although they're often just a collected of mannerisms anyway).
You make good points, but my argument was not simply that the film didn’t bother to render the victims sympathetic – of course a police procedural should not feature long scenes in which detectives weep into their hankies, moaning ‘why?’ – but that it actively encouraged us to judge or even condemn them, and to consider whether they deserved what they got. As Colin says, this is one of the issues the film deals with, and it is certainly not missing the point to engage with its moral and philosophical attitude towards the killer’s victims.

Your defence of the detective story model is spot-on, I’m sure; I do understand why murder mysteries work in this manner. But it’s probably no accident that my favourite examples of the genre include Laura, Cornered, Blow-Up, Insomnia (the remake) and Fincher’s own Zodiac, all of which play with or frustrate conventions. In other words, I think I have a problem with the genre itself. There’s something irritatingly conservative and unsympathetic about its attitude to people. Horror, too, is often a very conservative genre, which delights in showing us ‘bad people getting what they deserve’, being punished for transgressive behaviour of some sort. Though they are themselves apparently transgressive in their depiction of extreme violence, horror films often seem to emanate from an ‘other people are shit’ mentality (to borrow Kim Newman’s phrase), and end up coming across as reactionary and finger-waggingly moralistic.

You can say that it’s unfair to criticise a genre for things that are characteristic to it, but it’s entirely possible to make a murder mystery (or horror film) which respects its characters, doesn’t manipulate us into judging or condemning them, and doesn’t promote repugnant and incoherent ideas about the state of humanity. Yet a lot of murdery mysteries and horror films display a contempt for people which I find disturbing and troubling – it was in this pejorative sense that I used these words about Seven. I love being disturbed and troubled by works of art, but sometimes things are troubling for all the wrong reasons. The more prurient and gratuitous TV news reports on serial killings and school massacres are good examples: precisely by setting out to disturb us on one level, they end up disturbing us on another, unintended level.

Anyway, to wind up: we’ll have to agree to disagree about Mills. Although he’s clearly a character we’re meant to identify with in some ways, it seems to me we’re also distanced by his (heavily exaggerated) bad temper, his impatience and (especially at the beginning) his arrogance and rudeness towards Somerset, all of which of course is setting us up for the ending. And in the car scene, I thought it was more a case of Mills shouting down the killer than the other way round – John Doe loses his cool because Mills uses the word ‘innocent’, and when he says ‘only in a world this shitty could such people be described as innocent’, that really seemed to sum up the film’s perspective. I know that seems reductionist to you, but it was the impression I got from the film, and as you say, beyond a certain point it’s hard to argue about these things. I'm not sure I buy Colin's and your argument about Mills and Tracy representing uncorrupted hope: I can see that the film sets them up in this way, but it feels like this needed to be developed further for it to work.

And you may well be right about the lust contraption – there probably were only two shots. Perhaps because I had previously seen the edited version, this seemed like one shot too many; a brief flash would have been enough, but it felt like the camera was saying, ‘wow, look at that...that is disgusting...let’s just see that again now’, in a kind of gratuitous manner. Anyway, thanks for the detailed response – and further apologies for Another Long Post.

User avatar
colinr0380
Joined: Mon Nov 08, 2004 4:30 pm
Location: Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, UK

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#22 Post by colinr0380 » Sun May 17, 2009 10:28 am

Sloper wrote:Your defence of the detective story model is spot-on, I’m sure; I do understand why murder mysteries work in this manner. But it’s probably no accident that my favourite examples of the genre include Laura, Cornered, Blow-Up, Insomnia (the remake) and Fincher’s own Zodiac, all of which play with or frustrate conventions. In other words, I think I have a problem with the genre itself. There’s something irritatingly conservative and unsympathetic about its attitude to people. Horror, too, is often a very conservative genre, which delights in showing us ‘bad people getting what they deserve’, being punished for transgressive behaviour of some sort. Though they are themselves apparently transgressive in their depiction of extreme violence, horror films often seem to emanate from an ‘other people are shit’ mentality (to borrow Kim Newman’s phrase), and end up coming across as reactionary and finger-waggingly moralistic.

You can say that it’s unfair to criticise a genre for things that are characteristic to it, but it’s entirely possible to make a murder mystery (or horror film) which respects its characters, doesn’t manipulate us into judging or condemning them, and doesn’t promote repugnant and incoherent ideas about the state of humanity. Yet a lot of murdery mysteries and horror films display a contempt for people which I find disturbing and troubling – it was in this pejorative sense that I used these words about Seven. I love being disturbed and troubled by works of art, but sometimes things are troubling for all the wrong reasons. The more prurient and gratuitous TV news reports on serial killings and school massacres are good examples: precisely by setting out to disturb us on one level, they end up disturbing us on another, unintended level.
I suppose in many detective stories it is relatively easy to just see a murder as a catalyst for the plot - the body is not really important as anything more than a McGuffin to spend time interviewing witnesses and finding out who did it and it is best not to concern ourselves with it being anything more than that if we want to have a fun, trouble-free time (Watching re-runs of series like Murder, She Wrote recently I find it amusing that episodes often playfully open with scenes of the future murder victim steadily pissing as many people off as possible so that everyone will have had a motivation to kill. Or Columbo where we often identify more with the murderer than with their victim until our hero detective enters the scene and we can abandon the killer we were so closely identifying with to place ourselves outside of culpability and with our favourite character!). In serial killer films the main problem has been how do you make a film about appalling acts that can still be entertaining? Often the solution has been to give little characterisation to the earlier victims until our main characters suddenly face mortal danger (Hideaway, Copycat and so on). And you make the killer intellectually smart and prone to philosophising, or deviously clever with a penchant for making mechanical traps so they are a more worthy opponent than just some 'nobody' that it would be more devastating to be killed by. It flatters both the killer and the victim in a certain way, as well as the cops investigating the crime, if they are up against someone with a philosophy (you can also add the extra wrinkle where most cops are characterised as dumb and useless but our particular investigators, as in Seven or Silence of the Lambs, are smart enough to tackle them on their own level!)

I think Zodiac is such a great film because it gets into the mythologising of a murderer until, much like Jack The Ripper, they take on a zeitgeist defining persona 'beyond' their crimes that everyone has a vested interest in maintaining and building up. Finding the killer in these cases would likely be an anti-climax and prevent them from so perfectly encapsulating their eras. Summer of Sam also gets into that kind of area too.

I was going to say that there is always a kind of morality placed on the victims in horror films. Whether that is, as Sloper says, a function of the genre (from all those teens taking drugs and having pre-marital sex in slasher films to the recent waves of 'killer yoof' movies), or it is just an easy method of characterisation and getting sympathy from the viewer, it is something that an audience has to wrestle with. For example even before Hannibal Lecter became a grand guignol winking black comic in Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs showed the contrast between the previous victims of Buffalo Bill and the fuss made over the mayor's daughter - suddenly this maniac has to be caught, because he's chosen the wrong girl to mess with. I especially like the way that once Clarice finds her, the girl seems rather ungrateful and not exactly worth all the trouble of searching for, especially as she starts cursing Clarice out for leaving her in the well while searching for Bill!

That would contrast with the serial killer film that I find quite interesting, and most troublesome, in its attitidues to the victims: The Bone Collector. It is actually a rather standard thriller with a disablement twist, but the attitude to the victims is both refreshing and appalling. Everyone is innocent and not easily characterised as being more or less worth saving than anyone else, just in desperate need of help, which makes the inevitable horrific deaths somehow hit much harder than in other films.
SpoilerShow
And of course I like the way that the traumatised patron wearing the Lust device in Seven is played by Leland Orser, who turns out to be the maniac in The Bone Collector! While likely just a unintended coincidence, I like to think of it as a fun Argento-esque transferring of psychology from murderer to victim!

User avatar
Mr Sausage
Not PETA approved
Joined: Wed Nov 03, 2004 9:02 pm
Location: Canada

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#23 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun May 17, 2009 3:04 pm

Sloper wrote:in what does ‘violence’ consist? It must have more to do with the intent and effect than with the mere appearance of blood on the screen. Anyway, it’s a complicated issue...
Well in my very first post to you I did point out that intent was a large factor. It is a complicated issue and we'll probably get nowhere with it, but I do think we should avoid talking about censorship via kids because in that case what you get are small groups of adults deciding what is suitable for a large group of people through ideology, supposition, and guesswork, even tho' said group offers no uniformity in potential reaction. The Innocents disturbed and scarred me terribly as a kid, but I thought Predator was the coolest movie. Censors would have encouraged me to watch the former over the latter.

I think my point about Seven is surprisingly basic: that, while Seven is a violent movie, it is less violent than it seems because it depends on the suggestion of, and potential for, violence, rather than the depiction of it, for its effect. To rework the porn analogy: it would be a porn movie in which no sex is shown on screen, only the aftermath: tumbled sheets, reposed bodies, clothes and paraphenelia here and there. Such a direction in a porn movie amounts to outright refusing to titillate the audience as they expected to be titillated, and wouldn't deserve to be called just another graphic and lurid porn movie.
sloper wrote:Although we commonly define ‘violence’ as a visual representation of someone being injured or killed, this definition is problematic because, as I said, it would identify footage of an operation as being more violent than Psycho’s shower scene:
I'm not sure operation footage is more violent. It might be more nauseating, depending on the viewer (I usually find it fascinating); but what the doctors are doing to the human body is positive and life improving, and they seek neither to inflict pain, damage, or death. The gross out factor is misleading: a lot of people would be equally grossed out by a close-up of a particularly intricate and leggy bug. Meaning that violence involves not simply disrupted flesh, but the intention behind the disrupted flesh. In Seven's case, the intention is violent, indeed it is; but the violence is on behalf of John Doe rather than the movie as the movie declines to show his acts of violence (and sometimes even the outcomes: we never see Tracy's head in the box), although the plot is driven by the end result of his violence.
Sloper wrote:but that it actively encouraged us to judge or even condemn them, and to consider whether they deserved what they got. As Colin says, this is one of the issues the film deals with, and it is certainly not missing the point to engage with its moral and philosophical attitude towards the killer’s victims.
I actually don't think so, for the simple aesthetic reason that we are never shown their crimes. It is hard to agree that this or that victim deserved what they got because there is such an imbalance: we see nothing of their crimes, but we see, and are made to imagine, the enormity of their punishments. The one overwhelms the other. If judgement is symbolized by scales, John Doe's judgements are made to seem unbalanced and unjust by their excessive weight. You raise the great example of the hot-headed cop, California (whose gung-ho attitude even Somersett and Mills find somewhat ridiculous), who says to Sloth: "you got what you deserved," only to be confronted with a horrifying rebuke. The response from the audience in that moment is, I believe, not agreement. The movie may wish you to consider the nature of sin and judgement, but it does not do so by asking you to share John Doe's point of view: he knew their crimes, or their supposed crimes, intimately; we do not, cannot, and thus must take a much different point of view. I would also point out that A. we are not shown many of the victims of the sinner's sins and so cannot feel moral outrage on behalf of them; and B. where we are shown a victim of the sinner's sin, that victim is the sinner himself, in which case Doe's punishments are gratuitous and unnecessary.
Sloper wrote:Anyway, to wind up: we’ll have to agree to disagree about Mills.
Ah, Mills. The movie maybe does go too far in emphasizing his inexperience and his immaturity--his youth, essentially--but that only tells me it's an important characteristic not to be overlooked.
Sloper wrote:I'm not sure I buy Colin's and your argument about Mills and Tracy representing uncorrupted hope: I can see that the film sets them up in this way, but it feels like this needed to be developed further for it to work.
I don't think they represent "uncorrupted hope" because of course they are corrupted, and hope is smashed. It is out of fear for their corruption that Somersett talks to Tracy about her baby, about getting an abortion, because of course he believes that innocence is overmatched in this world and will be crushed. Mills and Tracy aren't shining lights of hope, Madonna-Jesus figures, and any further development along these lines would seem artificial; but they are representations of basic, decent, loving people, in contrast to many of the other people we encounter in Seven. Why else does John Doe envy Mill's life? It's a good life, and Doe's destruction of it could only be a condemnation of his system of morality. I cannot see how you, or anyone else, could claim the final two murders reinforce Doe's point of view instead of alienating, finally, anyone inclined to agree with him (it even causes Somersett to change his mind). He destroys good as well as bad: he is an agent of sin.

User avatar
Sloper
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 10:06 pm

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#24 Post by Sloper » Sun May 17, 2009 4:39 pm

Colin, you describe better than I have done the various ways in which these kind of films manipulate their audiences – and you’re right that there’s a kind of flattery in being targeted by such ingenious killers. And yes, the treatment of the killer, whoever he is, in Zodiac is one of the most satisfying aspects of the film. I also love the way the victims are treated in Zodiac. There’s no sense that we’re being manipulated to feel one way or the other about them – the scenes between the two pairs of lovers are just endearingly ordinary and clumsy. Like the first couple laughing over his ‘fuck off and die’ remark, or the guy by the lake telling his girlfriend the same story as he did last year; they’re brilliantly normal, disarming scenes.

The lakeside stabbing is a small masterpiece of film-making in its own right, comic to just the right degree – that is, not quite ridiculous enough to be unrealistic – and then suddenly morphing into one of the most stomach-turning (and yet bloodless) representations of violence I’ve ever seen in a film. The young man’s expression as the knife goes in - that look, almost of resignation - is perfectly judged; the characterisation is so deft that it seems effortless, but of course it’s the result of great acting and Fincher’s obsessive perfectionism.

Sausage – your points are all reasonable enough, and of course it all comes down to taste in the end. I often get hot under the collar about stuff no one else thinks is important or relevant (since we’re talking scars, the Amicus compendium film Tales From the Crypt (1972) disturbed and repelled me more than any film I’ve ever seen, and it’s generally regarded as a bit of ghoulish fun...). Just one last thing I take issue with:
Mr Sausage wrote:We are never shown [the victims’] crimes. It is hard to agree that this or that victim deserved what they got because there is such an imbalance: we see nothing of their crimes, but we see, and are made to imagine, the enormity of their punishments. The one overwhelms the other. If judgement is symbolized by scales, John Doe's judgements are made to seem unbalanced and unjust by their excessive weight.
It’s true that any normal person would regard the punishments as excessive to say the least, but the victims’ crimes – or rather their sins – are manifest in every case (except, I would maintain, Envy). John Doe sums this up in the car at the end with his comments on the various sinners, but the film as a whole is dealing with the idea that we live in a world full of disgusting, selfish, greedy, apathetic people – indeed, this is what bothers Somerset as well – and each victim represents some aspect of what is ‘wrong’ with society.

Although I still don’t see how the killer’s ‘envy’ is properly established, the last two murders certainly do reinforce his point. He’s saying (as does Somerset) that sins go unpunished every day, corrupting society until everybody is too mired in sin to notice anymore. From his point of view, the torture he inflicts upon his victims merely exposes the true horror and awfulness of their souls, which indeed is the point in Dante’s Comedy, where the punishment – the ‘contrapasso’ which corrects, and balances out, the sin – is in every case seemingly excessive, but in fact only represents the damage the soul has inflicted on itself.

Hence, for example, the gluttonous wallow in filth while being gnawed by the dog Cerberus, who represents (with his three gnashing mouths) their insatiable appetite: this, Dante is saying, is what it really means to be a glutton, though it may not appear this way on earth. The killer in Seven is making the same point, by the same method, and if anything the references to Dante further legitimate his project. (Incidentally I also have problems with Dante’s sadism. I think he was one of the very least spiritual, least morally sophisticated poets of his time, even if he was head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer poetic skill, learning and intellect.)

If Mills is indeed figured as a basically good character, and some sort of ray of hope in the film, John Doe’s victory at the end is to prove that even he is ultimately won over by his defining sin, wrath. His anger is so uncontrollable that he cannot stop himself from shooting the killer down, even though he knows that by doing so he is bringing to completion the life’s work of a man he detests and despises: in that last moment, by ruining the case and his own career, and by granting victory to the killer, Mills becomes an emblem of his sin. In the Middle Ages, wrath was sometimes seen as the worst sin of all, because it gives free rein to all of the others – a wrathful man has no control over what he does, he is without reason, the guiding force of our moral sense. It would perhaps have been more appropriate for the killer to say that he envies Mills because he will live on to see the impact of John Doe’s work. In this respect, Doe himself would come to emblematise the nature of envy: destroying itself in the very process of trying to get something which, by definition, can only belong to someone else. (Possibly a bit of a stretch, that...)

But even then, identifying himself with one of the sins would not discredit his work. Many of the best moralists - especially in the Middle Ages, which seems to be the period this film invokes most insistently - assert, at some point, that they are 'the worst sinner of all', to emphasise that they are humble teachers, and not attributing to themselves the power or authority of God, which of course John Doe might be said to have been doing up until the point where he turns the punishment back on himself.

User avatar
flyonthewall2983
Joined: Mon Jun 27, 2005 3:31 pm
Location: Indiana
Contact:

Re: Se7en (Fincher, 1995)

#25 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sun May 17, 2009 8:04 pm

This certainly makes more sense of the ending than I originally took it as. With that said, I liked the idea of the alternate ending of Somerset shooting Doe instead better than what was on screen. It's strangely both satisfying, yet an even more down-beat ending than the final product. Mills still is without his wife and child, Somerset spends his retirement in the joint, and John Doe's mission is forever incomplete.

Post Reply