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Episode 77: SEVEN

  

179 members have voted

  1. 1. What's in the box?

    • SEVEN is in the box, and the box is in the Canon.
      138
    • The severed head of this movie, which is not Canon.
      41


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I'll start with a quick question: was Se7en filmed before Twelve Monkeys? Because that was definitely Brad Pitt playing a "character". I know they were released the same year, and it's clear that Pitt was in the midst of a major career transition.

 

As for Fincher -- not a huge fan -- but this movie is definitely Canon worthy, if only for the visual style alone. In light of the overwhelming support for Blow Out, I'm surprised there was so much dissent over this one.

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Se7en is influential like an outbreak of ringworm ... does that make it canon ?

 

I waive my right to vote this week . . .

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Yes.

 

I really like Se7en. It had a strong influence on television and movies, even if a lot of what it influenced was mediocre. I was a little disappointed that the episode was so argumentative. Even if the hosts disagree, this one seemed particularly snippy.

 

I enjoy the artistic vision, even if gross, and the strong characterization. Doe working Mills up to the final act of wrath is great to watch, even after knowing the outcome. I didn't find Doe's apartment that meaningless: the aspirin could be for the fact he removed his finger tips to avoid leaving finger prints and the crucifixes and journals clearly tied into the motivations for his crimes and general disgust for humanity.

 

Edited for clarity and reduced rambling.

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It's going to have to be a soft no for me on this one. I think I watched the film too late and too influenced by its limitations to truly appreciate it. However the fact that the film on a pure quality level couldn't elevate itself above that for me makes it a no. Fincher has much better work in his catalogue too.

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I vote yes.

 

I'm also looking forward to more Fincher in the Canon. I'd vote for The Social Network, Zodiac, and Fight Club as well (although I'm always kind of nervous to say I like Fight Club because the fans have given it such a reputation).

 

BTW Se7en is my mom's least favorite movie because she judges films based on how uncomfortable they make her feel. She and Amy would really hit it off.

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Voting yes, could have been potentially convinced otherwise on the basis of it not being even in the top three best Fincher pictures. I sympathize with Amy's position (Freeman carries the film for me and Pitt's just along for the ride), but I do think it's one of the most influential thrillers ever made which makes it automatic canon for me.

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Yes. I think Fincher is simply one of the finest craftsmen your country has ever produced. This film shows his best qualities as well as the limitations of them: He will take a pretty standard script and elevate the material with some smart directing choices, without sacrificing its mainstream appeal. I think that works best when the script is part of a clear genre, like here in Seven.

 

While I get some of Amy's criticism, I'd argue that he still manages to make something worth watching out of the limitations he sets for himself. It's tight, it knows what it is, and it moves forward. Maybe, Fincher tackels with this way of working the medium's essence much better than filmmakers like Scorsese or Spielberg: Films aren't magic tricks. They are simply a craft. You go to the cinema, you watch them doing their job, and you move forward with your real life. To me, it's this remarkably modest approach in work philosophy that makes the product enduring.

 

As for the comparisons to CIVIL WAR: If you quote Fincher as your influence, how can you end up with what is basically a 2-hour soap opera special with funny looking people in it, and some fun 20 minutes action sequences tacked to the end? If a film I've seen recently clearly has no idea what it wants to be, it was this one - except for if it wants to be a 2-hour soap opera special with funny looking people in it, and some fun 20 minutes action sequences tacked to the end.

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I'm with Amy on this one. This movie is gross, boring, pretentious, and extremely overrated. I actually really like Brad Pitt and David Fincher and couldn't care less about this film.

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Essentially it's between being influential V more worthy Fincher films portraying his nihilism being available.

I'd argue Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is more intense, stylish and terrifying than this; but then again, it has kind of been forgotten in these past 5 years, and yet Se7en hasn't.

I honestly don't know.

Probably a soft, soft yes.

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Not only is it an incredibly influential movie but arguably Fincher's best. I do agree he can be hit or miss, but I don't agree with Amy who basically described him as a more competent Zack Snyder.

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I finally signed up for an account on this forum just to say how enthusiastically I agree with Amy on this. I think David Fincher is tremendously overrated, and that Seven is, at best, the 4th best of his 10 films (and probably 5 or 6 that I'd rather watch than this).

This is a solid no for me.

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I always found this movie to be like a mediocre stand-alone X-files episode.

 

Also, I was the 69th person to vote! (Nice)

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I voted yes.

 

I'm sorry Amy. I hear you on name dropping old books or using classical music in movies makes people feel smart and cultured, this film influenced people who used those cheats, but I don't think that's what is happening here.

 

And on the ending. I was once asking my Mom what it was like to live through and experience famous movie twists, surprisers or revelations for the first time. When I got to SE7EN and the box scene. She said gently placed her hand over her heart, looked down, and said,

"Oh... I just get so sad thinking about seeing that poor woman's head in that box." I excitedly told her you don't actually see the head. I was excited because this was clearly Fincher's directing talents at work here. He did so well with that scene, my Mom was CONVINCED you saw the head.

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I am 100% on Team Amy here because I think Se7en is a pretty half-assed movie, in large part because it's script and director are so mismatched.

 

Let's be honest: Se7en's script is goofy. It takes the cheesy premise of the Vincent Price movie the Abominable Dr. Phibes and then layers on top a bunch of "shocking" details that are meant to be gruesome but just come across as juvenile. All of John Doe's convoluted murders are so intricate that they are utterly implausible - which I could forgive if their lavish extremity served a purpose. Unfortunately, they just feel like an excuse to let a frustrated young writer vent his spleen at the world. It drives me crazy how this movie pretends as if Doe's punishment-fits-the-crime scheme is deep even though it actually displays a third grade understanding of irony.

 

And that's before you get into the cliched "rookie cop teams up with grizzled cynic cop" stuff which has always been the most frustrating part of this movie to me. Both Somerset and Mills are thinly drawn caricatures of cops that only work to the extant that they do because Freeman and Pitt are the sort of actors who can invest real humanity into such stock characters.

 

I could probably tolerate the script's weaker elements if Se7en had been directed with a hint of self-awareness, but David Fincher isn't the type to wink at his audience. He wants to create an overwhelming atmosphere, one that really hammers home how gloomy and hopeless the world is, and as such he won't let himself step back for a second and acknowledge how far-fetched the whole thing is. He treats the whole thing as if it was mind-blowing but the movie's overwrought premise isn't built to carry all the seriousness he wants to inject into it.

 

Se7en could have been a great movie. If this script had been directed by a less competent director it would have ended up being silly, which means that it could have been fun instead of being a self-serious slog. Or if Fincher had directed a smarter script then Se7en would have worked as intended instead of feeling like the pettiest fantasies of an angsty nerd come to life. But alas, we got a ridiculous script being delivered by a man who doesn't seem to understand just how ridiculous his material is, leaving us with a mess that isn't worth suspending our disbelief for.

 

Like I said: half assed.

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Easy yes. I've been with Amy a lot recently, and I usually agree with her when the two strongly disagree, but I am 110% with Devin on this one, top to bottom. I'll just touch on a few things that didn't make it into the discussion.

 

What I love about Se7en is how David Fincher manages to have it both ways by creating this overbearingly scummy aesthetic but still make it feel, as Devin alluded, just grouinded enough for the emotional and thematic beats to land. Even in the visuals, Fincher really only cranks it to eleven in the background set touches and a few of the murders. And he manages several achetypally familiar, but well portioned characters for the harshness of the plot to bounce off of. Se7en wouldn't work if exaggerated elements bounced off exaggerated characters; they instead bounce of Paltrow, a very downshifted R. Lee Ermey, and Freeman.

 

Freeman's Somerset is my favorite example where Se7en shows restraint when it must have been tempting to go full-bore. Walker allows Somerset to pick up and set back down many "older cop" archetypes. He's by-the-book, but he'll still bribe a contact for information that almost snares the killer. He's an old vet, but he tries to mentor Mills to not taint evidence by busting into Doe's apartment. He's stoic, but he laughs hysterically at the Mill's dinner. And he's the wise old man at the library, but even that's turned on its head. The movie starts to set Somerset in contrast to the rest of the world by having him study in solitude in the heavenly-by-comparison library set. But just after he knocks the security staff for shrugging off the library's value, they surprise him by playing classical music to their poker game. And when Somerset approaches his literature as some purer kind of wisdom, the film luxuriates in showing the brutality of Doe's inspiration. The "classics" are shown in montage as a litany of pictures and text of mutilations, rapes, and injustices. Even these are foul. It's a direct humbling of Somerset in its editing, and I'm unsure coming out of it whether he even realizes it. I love that the film uses this scene not just to shade Somerset's character, but to widen the thematic scope past one particular era in a fictional city. Se7en is suggesting that this awful city isn't some happenstance in time or place - it's the reflection of the same horror of existence everywhere, always, and unchanged since life began.

 

Somerset feels so familiar, but I'd argue he's a totally unique creation. You just don't see a character respond to a hostile world in the way he does; it's at once cowardly and dignified. The movie opens on Somerset beginning his day, and it reflects him perfectly - it's simple and methodical. You understand immediately, and are reassured throughout, that Somerset is a man who has found the order, the habits, the outlook, and the emotional investment appropriate for him to be able to function in this world in a way that's tolerable. You can see that he may have been a Mills-level idealist once, suffered the trauma of living, and has now compromised and compartmentalized his life in a way that gets so close to a full surrender, but preserves just enough of his humanity, quietly, in a way where he can feel like he's resisting this world in his own small way. If he had given up his humanity entirely he could've done the job in perpetuity, coldly, like his homicide cop partner from the opening murder. But he can't resist any more, and he can't live with how little he's doing, so he begins the film determined to quit. He believes in the fight, somewhere, but he's too burnt and knows better than to commit himself to it ever again.

 

The film pairs quiet restraint with grim excess throughout, and that culminates in the film's crowning achievement: The Doe/Somerset/Mills car ride to the desert. This scene alone deserves a full discussion, and I hope it happens in the comments. But it's the next best example of Se7en's restraint. So many films before and since feel obligated for it's dumb villain to have a "sympathetic" goal or some kernel of pathos to invest the audience in their pain. And it's to the movie's credit that when Doe goes into his screed about how sinful and apathetic the world is, you can simultaneously understand and recoil in recognition of how he can see himself as a vigilante hero. The viewer of Se7en shares disgust for this world with Doe, and all three characters in the car share a desire to see it vanquished, albeit by different means. But it speaks to the light touch of the film that it sells that understanding and its grossness with Somerset, Mills, and the viewer.

 

I definitely concede to Amy that there are moments of empty style, and I think the movie has a huge flaw in the characterization of Mills. The film goes way too far to pile on how annoying a man and terrible a cop he is. It's packed with moments designed for Mills to disappoint us, and it crosses the line well before the halfway mark of the film. Pitt's performance doesn't help; he nails the dramatic moments but clutters Mills with too many irritating affectations. The true villain of this film isn't Doe, but that goddamn basketball tie Mills wears throughout, introduced tied on a hangar to drive home that a grown man and a homicide cop of five years can't even tie his own tie. The movie's true gratuity goes to Mill's characterization as debilitatingly immature.

 

This movie is a perfect example of what the Canon should be. Amy has a point - this movie can be over-praised. It isn't one of the Greats. Fincher's only made ten films and I can easily name four of his that are better. But it's a lower-case great, and one that easily passes the Canon bar. It has flaws, it has shortcomings, but it's exceptional in several ways. It's not a sledgehammer, as Amy put it - it's a Trojan horse. Se7en plays its brutal tone and art direction against delicate performances, themes, and characters. The results sing, and dismissals of this film's depth may be the greatest slothful sins of all.

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This was a really tough choice.

 

For Amy's points: I agree on Fincher having a lot of shots in this movie that have no meaning, but look cool for cool-looking's sake. BUT, there are also really great uses of tracking shots to shift perspective (as I disagree with Devin about the entire movie being from the lense of John Doe). Also, the use of tropes was not progressive or off-kilter enough to not just feel tropey to me. Also, Pitt's character is stupid as all hell, even if he did get through those Dante cliffnotes.

 

For Devin's points: Historical impact: check. Even if it did influence a bunch of films that I despise, the influence it had on culture is undeniable. Spacey is amazing, yes. This is also extremely entertaining, and the death of the author is so fucking important while looking at film, in order to have production discussions about the medium without arguing about intent.

 

BUT, this movie wasn't much more than entertaining. This happens often with Fincher, where I feel like after I break down the film in my head, often times beat-by-beat (the scripts he picks to shoot do have a TON of plot-points), I'm left with nothing. With Se7en and Fight Club (a film I do NOT care for), there is the aspect of influence at which you can look, but I don't it carries enough weight to make Se7en canonical. The characters are underdeveloped, I actually disagree with both hosts about the use of Gweneth Platrow (who played her emotions much more grounded and was more intriguing in something like The Royal Tenenbaums) as her character fell into that typical women-of-Fincher mold.

 

I vote NO. I know that there isn't a one-film-per-director rule, but with my mixed feelings on Fincher's aesthetic, I'd rather wait for a possible Social Network episode to use the one vote that I'll allow myself to cast for Fincher. Or ZODIAC, which I think is the closest he's come to making a masterpiece.

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Also, I don't think that the dialogue was talked about enough.

 

The script is good in terms of structure, but this dialogue is nearly laughable. This is actually rare for a Fincher movie, I love the dialogue of his recent movies especially. Maybe the dialogue is hidden to people; you know, you can't really tell that what they're saying would never be said by a real human, because there are great, convincing actors reading the lines. Well, that worked about 80% of the time, but the other 20% was tough not to try to replace in my head with more sensible words.

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It's disappointing that Amy gets so bogged down with 'yellow scarves' because there are so many legitimate debates to have surrounding this film.

Is this film a parable about nihilism?

Does the film transcend the cop cliches?

Should this be included as one of the few Fincher films placed in the Canon?

But no, let's discuss fucking Aspirin bottles.

 

Its kind of infuriating because I reckon she could have seriously engaged with this film and break down things like tonal choices; script etc.

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Dear Amy,

 

You are wrong, and 'Se7en' is one of the greatest films of the contemporary era, and I would wager it stands just as well and just as tall as any of Hitchcock's greats. I will listen to and support your wrong opinions from here to MovieFights--- but sometimes I just can't help but be flabbergasted beyond measure when you so bravely go full Armond White on a movie, and while I appreciate your reticence to sample Fincher's world and join the collective nod... this is really and truly that one time when you really should.

 

Loyal listener from Rockford, IL--

 

PS I still love your opinions. I just couldn't have found myself farther from your take on this one.

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Not at all surprised that the man who nominated Cannibal Holocaust would love Seven.

 

I can spend hours talking about this movie. I actually am a David Fincher fanboy, despite agreeing that he's not a passionate storyteller and can sometimes be style over substance.

 

But I have never liked this movie, and was actually surprised to learn over the years how popular Seven is, and how seemingly everyone feels the opposite way I do. At least until this podcast! So I 100% expect this to get into the Canon, even if I wish it were Zodiac instead (Fincher's true serial killer masterpiece).

 

My thoughts feel more scattered than an aspirin bottle-strewn apartment, so all I can think to do is bullet points:

  • Cultural influence and historical significance are the most boring Canon arguments ever. Canon-worthy movies should stand up on their own.
  • I liked Freeman, Pitt, & Paltrow fine, but Kevin Spacey so oversells the heaviness and "doesn't this blow your mind??!"-factor the movie goes for (especially during the final scene), I was giggling in the theater. Really killed it for me. The dialogue throughout is not great either.
  • I agree with Amy I didn't feel hope in the movie. Seven is consistently anti-hope. Why does the ending land with audiences? It's an easy "aha!" moment to anyone familiar with the 7 deadly sins... which is everybody.
  • I feel Seven does setup the standard buddy cop dynamic, cliches and all, but only in service of the 'shock' ending - to subvert our expectations of 'good guys always win' in movies like these.
  • Movies where retiree cops don't die but bad shit nonetheless goes down: No Country For Old Men, Falling Down, The Pledge, Lethal Weapon 3, Face/Off, uh... Men in Black (does that count??)
  • My chief beef is that the plot is so heavy-handed. It so wants to make John Doe's perfect plan to come together, it ignores the sheer Saw-like implausibility of it all to go off without a hitch. And Hannibal Lecters don't exist in real life - serial killers are the opposite of organized. I know, I know... it's just a movie. But really all the film IS is John Doe's 'genius' plan, what else is there? Aside from the production design, which is great. Arguably all Fincher movies are well made, but so what?

 

So that's a no for me.

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Yes, hands down... I hear ya Devin! Amy's critiques seemed to be fixated on trivialities (incorrectly to boot!). This is a great film and really one of the very few serial killer films that is worth watching.

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Let's be honest: Se7en's script is goofy. It takes the cheesy premise of the Vincent Price movie the Abominable Dr. Phibes and then layers on top a bunch of "shocking" details that are meant to be gruesome but just come across as juvenile. All of John Doe's convoluted murders are so intricate that they are utterly implausible - which I could forgive if their lavish extremity served a purpose. Unfortunately, they just feel like an excuse to let a frustrated young writer vent his spleen at the world. It drives me crazy how this movie pretends as if Doe's punishment-fits-the-crime scheme is deep even though it actually displays a third grade understanding of irony.

 

 

I think this pretty much sums up my feelings on Seven. I'm just not a fan of the hyper-intelligent serial killer cliche. When it was done with Hannibal Lecter, it was more of an interesting contradiction. That Lecter had this crude animal inside of him in spite of his education and cultured upbringing and not because of it.

 

I also wonder if Seven is premised on taking place in the real world or some hyper-realized fantasy city because the way the film is put together is so disjointed. The idea of intellectual heavyweights like John Doe and Somerset in the police and criminal element seems very much in the realm of fantasy but the story purports to be about the sins committed in this world so the tone is never really all that consistent. Seven's really never fish or fowl.

 

Also on Devin's point on nihilism - it's a tough string to thread in any sort of story and you have to really come at it with more emotional heft than in a film about a serial killer who acts like an a first year art student. Some of the more effective nihilistic or nihilistic leaning tracts usually deal in more common place realities and are interested in the potential emptiness of daily interactions as opposed to grotesque quasi-operatic gestures.

 

As an aside I love Zodiac. It's a far stronger, more provocative and fully realized look into the moral void of crime and our fascination with it. Seven doesn't really touch that film's maturity and seems like a rough draft for a more assured work.

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