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Se7en: Scene Analysis (film article)

Posted on January 16, 2010 at 11:25 PM

[SPOILERS] This shot takes place at the end of the film, when the serial killer John Doe reveals to detective Mills that his wife and unborn child have been brutally executed. Mill’s, unable to restrain his grief and anger, empties his gun on the perpetrator. By enacting vengeance, he becomes the embodiment of Wrath, thus completing Doe’s “masterpiece”. Overcome from exhaustion, Mill’s drops his gun, and limps away. His partner, detective Somerset, bows his head in sorrow. Doe has won.


The camera-angle in this scene is shot from below; looking upwards at these characters. This illustrates the distorted balance of power between cop and criminal (or even good and evil). The detectives seem to be in complete control of the situation—there are two of them, they are both armed, the suspect is in handcuffs, a SWAT helicopter circles above them—and the fact that Doe is on his knees looking up reinforces this dominant stance. However, the audience’s assumptions are flipped completely on their heads, when a FedEx package arrives, and Somerset utters those terrifying words, “John Doe has the upper hand!”

The setting of the image is important, as it contrasts sharply with the rest of the films dark, narrow, gritty urban environment. The landscape is vast and plain, and enormous high-tension towers recede along the road into its horizon. This creates a feeling in the audience’s mind that the narrative is drawing to its climax. It is ironic that the widest, most brightly lit scene in Se7en is also its grimmest, in terms of plot. It’s also important to look at the shape of these power lines, as they each form the shape of cross (the symbol of Jesus), echoing Christ’s own denouement on the Hill of Death. In Doe’s twisted mind, he is in fact sacrificing his life for the sins of humanity.


The most significant aspect of this scene, however, is how it deals with (or rather ignores) the conventions of contemporary crime fiction. Firstly, the killer is not apprehended by the police, he turns himself in. By his own admission, the detectives have Doe only because it is his will to be there. And secondly, the bad guy wins. Doe’s “masterpiece” of “turning each sin against the sinner” is fully realized when Mill’s shoots him (since Doe himself had committed the sin of Envy). He proved to the whole world that any man can be destroyed by the surrender of his own vices.


It is very morbid sequence of events. However, hope is not completely lost, as Somerset resolves to delay his retirement, and to keep fighting the good fight. Despite everything he has seen in the past 7 days, Somerset still believes that this world is not beyond redemption, and “worth fighting for” [/SPOILERS].

Categories: ARTICLES, Cinema

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