David Fincher’s noir thriller Se7en is an utterly iconic piece of cinema. Perhaps the most memorable film in the entire thriller genre, Se7en‘s central premise combined with its narrative twists and turns make for a deeply engaging watch. Se7en remains as popular as ever over a quarter of a century later, and for good reason.
However, the true beauty of Se7en is in the finer details. It seems as though every element of the film was lovingly crafted to be as bleak and disturbing as possible, creating an utterly unique cinematic world that conjures a very specific range of emotions. Se7en‘s unnamed city setting feels like a living, breathing, diseased entity, which only serves to cement the film’s themes and deeper meaning.
The general themes that Se7en grapples with are easy enough to understand, and therein lies its beauty. As a story, it’s relatively straightforward: a deranged killer believes that he needs to punish the world for their sins in order to shock them out of their apathy, and two police race against time to stop him before he can complete his twisted crusade.
However, the layers of subtext added by the world Fincher created for the film transform the story into something that feels far more allegorical. The city, a cesspit of degeneracy and apathy, is effectively purgatory. The film as much as states it when talking about the lives of Detectives Somerset and Mills, with the city having worn away Somerset’s enthusiasm over his lengthy career, and Mills erroneously believing he can fight against the darker nature of it.
In this interpretation, Mills and Somerset are the crusaders, angels of protection fighting against the tide of evil in the city. What makes Se7en so interesting, however, is that Kevin Spacey’s John Doe believes he is the same: he kills his victims in order to prove their “sins” and shock the world out of its apathy.
Se7en‘s shocking ending is bleak, but it’s actually far bleaker when the implications of it are properly considered. Not only does John Doe win, but he seemingly proves that he was right all along. Mills is consumed by the darkness of the city, Somerset is shocked into action (and out of retirement), and Doe becomes a twisted sort of martyr. This paints Se7en‘s story in a very different light, making Doe something of an antihero and Mills and Somerset little more than ineffectual puppets.
The finer details and nuances of Se7en are what makes it such an interesting film. Its premise alone is intriguing, but probably wouldn’t warrant multiple watches. It’s through Fincher’s commitment to Se7en‘s themes and carefully constructed world that the film really comes to life. Though it’s dark and depressing, Se7en drags you into the city, making the investigation of Mills and Somerset feel immersive and indicative of a far grander struggle.
Se7en is an undeniably bleak film. Its not the sort of story where good triumphs over evil, but instead the sort that challenges the very concepts themselves. Its bloated with religious allegory, but the film’s ending twists this around in a masterstroke of storytelling that’s actually far more subtle than it seems.
Though Se7en is undoubtedly a classic of the thriller genre, it’s also a masterpiece of storytelling. There are layers upon layers hiding beneath the surface its compelling noir story, and that’s ultimately why it has stood the test of time so well.
Summary: Se7en is unforgettable not just for its twists and turns, but for the unsettling feeling it creates. A thriller to connect with on an intellectual and almost existential level, the relentlessly unpleasant world that Fincher has crafted sticks with the viewer for years to come.