Seven (1995 film)
Seven (stylized as SE7EN) is a 1995 American neo-noir psychological crime thriller film directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker. It stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, R. Lee Ermey and John C. McGinley. The film tells the story of David Mills (Pitt), a detective who partners with the retiring William Somerset (Freeman) to track down a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as a motif in his murders.
|Directed by||David Fincher|
|Written by||Andrew Kevin Walker|
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Richard Francis-Bruce|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$327.3 million|
The screenplay was influenced by the time Walker spent in New York City trying to make it as a writer. Principal photography took place in Los Angeles, with the last scene filmed near Lancaster, California. The film's budget was $33 million.
Released on September 22, 1995 by New Line Cinema, Seven was the seventh-highest-grossing film of the year, grossing over $327 million worldwide. It was well received by critics and was nominated for Best Film Editing at the 68th Academy Awards, losing to Apollo 13.
Soon-to-retire Detective Lieutenant William Somerset is partnered with short-tempered but idealistic Detective David Mills, who has recently moved to an unnamed large city with his wife Tracy. After forming a friendship with Somerset, Tracy confides to him that she is pregnant and has yet to tell Mills, as she is unhappy with the city and feels it is no place to raise a child. Somerset sympathizes, having had a similar situation with his ex-girlfriend many years earlier, and advises her to tell Mills only if she plans to keep the child.
Somerset and Mills investigate a set of murders inspired by the seven deadly sins: a morbidly obese man forced to eat until his stomach burst, representing gluttony, and a criminal defense attorney killed after being forced to cut a pound of flesh from himself, representing greed. Clues at the murder scenes lead them to a suspect's apartment, where they find a third victim, a drug dealer and child molester, strapped to a bed, emaciated and barely alive, representing sloth. The third victim is in critical condition and unable to respond to Somerset and Mills' questioning. Daily photographs of the victim, taken over a year, show the crimes were planned far in advance.
The detectives use library records to identify a John Doe and track him to his apartment. Doe flees and Mills gives chase, during which Mills falls from a fire escape and injures his arm. Mills searches a truck before being struck in the head with a tire iron. While Mills is incapacitated, Doe walks up and holds him at gunpoint for a moment before escaping. The apartment contains hundreds of notebooks revealing Doe's psychopathy, as well as a clue to another murder. The detectives arrive too late to stop a man forced by Doe at gunpoint to kill a prostitute by raping her with a custom-made, bladed strap-on, representing lust. The following day, they attend the scene of a fifth victim, a model whose face has been mutilated by Doe; she was given the option to call for help and live disfigured or commit suicide by taking pills, and chose the latter option, representing pride.
As Somerset and Mills return to the police station, Doe unexpectedly turns himself in, covered in the blood of an unidentified victim. Doe offers to confess to his crimes, but only on the condition that he escort Somerset and Mills to a secret location where the victims representing envy and wrath are presumably buried, otherwise he will plead insanity. Somerset is wary, but Mills agrees. During the drive, Doe expresses his lack of remorse for his crimes, declaring that his victims deserved to die, and professes himself to be a martyr chosen by a higher power to shock the world out of its state of apathy. Doe also makes cryptic, threatening remarks towards Mills, who maintains his belief that Doe is simply insane.
Doe's directions lead the detectives to a remote deserted location. Minutes after their arrival, a delivery van approaches. Mills holds Doe at gunpoint while Somerset goes to intercept the driver, who says he was instructed to deliver a box to their coordinates. Somerset opens the box and, in a sudden panic, tells Mills to stay back. Doe reveals that he himself represents the sin of envy, as he envied Mills’ life with Tracy, and implies that the box contains Tracy’s decapitated head. He goads Mills, telling him that Tracy begged for her life and the life of her unborn child, and reacts with surprise and delight when he realizes Mills was unaware that Tracy was pregnant. Despite Somerset’s warnings, an enraged Mills fulfills his own role as wrath and shoots Doe fatally and repeatedly, completing Doe’s plan. Somerset and the police captain watch as the devastated Mills is taken away. When the captain asks where he'll be, Somerset says he will be around, implying that he will not retire. In a voiceover, he then quotes Hemingway: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote 'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."
- Brad Pitt as Detective David Mills
- Morgan Freeman as Detective Lieutenant William Somerset
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Tracy Mills
- Kevin Spacey as John Doe
- R. Lee Ermey as Police Captain
- Richard Roundtree as District Attorney Martin Talbot
- Richard Schiff as Mark Swarr
- Mark Boone Junior as Greasy FBI Man
- Michael Massee as Man in Massage Parlour Booth
- Leland Orser as Crazed Man in Massage Parlour
- Julie Araskog as Mrs. Gould
- John C. McGinley as SWAT team leader California
- Hawthorne James as Library night guard George
- Bob Mack as Gluttony Victim
- Gene Borkan as Greed Victim
- Michael Reid MacKay as Sloth Victim
- Cat Mueller as Lust Victim
- Heidi Schanz as Pride Victim
- Reg E. Cathey as Dr. Santiago
The primary influence for the film's screenplay came from Andrew Kevin Walker's time spent in New York City while trying to make it as a screenwriter. "I didn't like my time in New York, but it's true that if I hadn't lived there I probably wouldn't have written Seven." He envisioned actor William Hurt as Somerset and named the character after his favorite author, W. Somerset Maugham.
Jeremiah S. Chechik was attached to direct at one point. During pre-production, Al Pacino was considered for the Detective Somerset role, but he decided to do City Hall instead. Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone decided to turn down the role of Mills. Washington later regretted turning down the role. Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman turned down the role of Detective Somerset. Christina Applegate turned down the role of Tracy.
The ending of the screenplay, with the head in the box, was originally part of an earlier draft that New Line had rejected, instead opting for an ending that involved more traditional elements of a detective thriller film with more action-oriented elements. But when New Line sent David Fincher the screenplay to review for his interest in the project, they accidentally sent him the original screenplay with the head-in-the-box ending. At the time, Fincher had not read a script for a year and a half since the frustrating experience of making Alien 3; he said, "I thought I'd rather die of colon cancer than do another movie". Fincher eventually agreed to direct Seven because he was drawn to the script, which he found to be a "connect-the-dots movie that delivers about inhumanity. It's psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it". He found it more a "meditation on evil" rather than a "police procedural".
When New Line realized that they had sent Fincher the wrong draft, the President of Production, Michael De Luca, met with Fincher and noted that there was internal pressure to retain the revised version; De Luca stated that if Fincher promised to direct the movie, they would be able to stay with the head-in-a-box ending. Despite this, producer Kopelson refused to allow the film to include the head-in-a-box scene. Actor Pitt joined Fincher in arguing for keeping this original scene, noting that his previous film Legends of the Fall had its emotional ending cut after negative feedback from test audiences, and refusing to do Seven unless the head-in-the-box scene remained.
The film was shot over a long period of 55 days. Fincher approached making Seven like a "tiny genre movie, the kind of movie Friedkin might have made after The Exorcist." He worked with cinematographer Darius Khondji and adopted a simple approach to the camerawork, which was influenced by the television show COPS, "how the camera is in the backseat peering over people's shoulder". Fincher allowed Walker on the set while filming for on-the-set rewrites. According to the director, "Seven is the first time I got to carry through certain things about the camera – and about what movies are or can be".
The crowded urban streets filled with noisy denizens and an oppressive rain that seems to fall without respite were integral parts of the film, as Fincher wanted to show a city that was "dirty, violent, polluted, often depressing. Visually and stylistically, that's how we wanted to portray this world. Everything needed to be as authentic and raw as possible." To this end, Fincher turned to production designer Arthur Max to create a dismal world that often eerily mirrors its inhabitants. "We created a setting that reflects the moral decay of the people in it", says Max. "Everything is falling apart, and nothing is working properly." The film's brooding, dark look was achieved through a chemical process called bleach bypass, wherein the silver in the film stock was not completely removed, which in turn deepened the dark, shadowy images in the film and increased its overall tonal quality.
The 'head in a box' ending continued to worry the studio after filming was completed. After the first cut of the film was shown to the studio, they attempted to mitigate the bleakness of the ending by replacing Mills' wife's head with that of a dog, or by not having Mills fire on John Doe. However, both Fincher and Pitt continued to fight for the original ending. The final scenes of Mills being taken away and Somerset's quote from Ernest Hemingway were filmed by Fincher after initial filming was complete as a way to placate the studio (the original intention was for the film to suddenly end after Mills shot John Doe).
Originally, Fincher planned the title sequence of the film to show Freeman's character buying a house in a remote country area and traveling back into the city. However, days before a test screening, they had yet to film the sequence and had no budget to do it in that time. Fincher approached Kyle Cooper to suggest a replacement. Cooper recognized the amount of money used to make John Doe's notebooks (created by Clive Piercy and John Sabel), and used the sequence to display them in a slideshow set to a remix of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer". The hand-drawn credits font was used to suggest that Doe had written the credits himself.
The studio liked the sequence and suggested he stay with that. Fincher instead asked Cooper to "pretend we've never met and come back and propose something else", according to Cooper. Cooper came up with a more detailed version of this photographic sequence: "The idea was that this is John Doe's job: he gets up, makes his books, plans his murders, drinks his tea." Fincher liked this approach, but cautioned Cooper, "Well, that would be neat, but that's kind of a 2D glimpse. Figure out a way for it to involve John Doe, to show that somewhere across town somebody is working on some really evil shit. I don't want it to be just flipping through pages, as beautiful as they are." Cooper reworked the idea, working with Wayne Coe to create a storyboard for a live-action shot and adding in filming along with photographs of the books, new props include film reels and additional notebooks, visual effects for the title credits, and elements inspired by Doe's behavior in the movie, such as cutting his fingertips. Fincher liked this approach, and considered getting Mark Romanek, the director of the "Closer" music video, to produce the sequence, but Cooper insisted he direct it. Cooper was assisted by film editor Angus Wall and cinematographer Harris Savides in making the final title sequence. The filming took two days and five further weeks to edit. The credits were hand-etched onto black scratchboard and manipulated by the camera, rather than using digital effects. The final sequence used a remix of "Closer" created by the band Coil.
Seven was released on September 22, 1995, in 2,441 theaters where it grossed US$13.9 million on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $100.1 million in North America and $227.1 million in the rest of the world for a total of $327.3 million, making Seven the seventh-highest-grossing film in 1995. The film also spent 4 consecutive weeks in the top spot at the U.S. box office in 1995.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 82% based on 79 reviews, with an average rating of 7.90/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "A brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick gore effects, and a haunting finale." At Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Gary Arnold, in The Washington Times, praised the cast: "The film's ace in the hole is the personal appeal generated by Mr. Freeman as the mature, cerebral cop and Mr. Pitt as the young, headstrong cop. Not that the contrast is inspired or believable in itself. What gets to you is the prowess of the co-stars as they fill out sketchy character profiles." Sheila Johnston, in her review for The Independent, praised Freeman's performance: "The film belongs to Freeman and his quiet, carefully detailed portrayal of the jaded older man who learns not to give up the fight." James Charisma, in a list of Spacey's greatest film performances for Paste, wrote: "Spacey's portrayal is a perfect balancing act: John Doe is detached from the murders he commits, yet deliberate and meticulous in his execution ... Unemotional yet smug. Analytical, violent, patient, impenetrable." In his review for Sight and Sound, John Wrathall wrote, "Seven has the scariest ending since George Sluizer's original The Vanishing ... and stands as the most complex and disturbing entry in the serial killer genre since Manhunter." In his "Great Movies" list review, film critic Roger Ebert commented on Fincher's direction: "None of his films is darker than this one."
New Line Cinema re-released Seven in Westwood, Los Angeles, California, on Christmas Day and in New York City on December 29, 1995, in an attempt to generate Academy Award nominations for Freeman, Pitt, and Fincher, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
|68th Academy Awards||Best Film Editing||Richard Francis-Bruce||Nominated|
|49th British Academy Film Awards||Best Original Screenplay||Andrew Kevin Walker||Nominated|
|1996 MTV Movie Awards||Best Movie||Seven||Won|
|Most Desirable Male||Brad Pitt||Won|
|Best On-Screen Duo||Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman||Nominated|
|Best Villain||Kevin Spacey||Won|
|22nd Saturn Awards||Best Action or Adventure Film||Seven||Nominated|
|Best Director||David Fincher||Nominated|
|Best Writing||Andrew Kevin Walker||Won|
|Best Actor||Morgan Freeman||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Gwyneth Paltrow||Nominated|
|Best Music||Howard Shore||Nominated|
|Best Make-Up||Jean Ann Black, Rob Bottin||Won|
American Film Institute recognition
2003: AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains
- John Doe – Nominated Villain
For the DVD release, Seven was remastered and presented in the widescreen format, preserving the 2.40:1 aspect ratio of its original theatrical exhibition. Audio options include Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES Discrete 6.1, and Stereo Surround Sound.
The Seven DVD features four newly-recorded, feature-length audio commentaries featuring the stars, director, and other key contributors to the film, who talk about their experiences making Seven. Disc one features a printable screenplay with links to the film.
A Blu-ray version of the film was released on September 14, 2010 by Warner Home Video and retained nearly all of the special features from the DVD.
Novelization and comic books
Between September 2006 and October 2007, a series of seven comic books were published by Zenescope Entertainment with each of the seven issues dedicated to one of the seven sins. It told the story from the perspective of John Doe rather than the two homicide detectives as in the film, and gave Doe a backstory. Each issue included contributions by a group of creators independent of each other. All seven issues were collected in trade paperback form, released on January 15, 2008, as SE7EN, edited by David Seidman and Ralph Tedesco.
The opening credit music is a spliced sample of an uncredited remix of the Nine Inch Nails song "Closer", available as "Closer (Precursor)" (remixed by Coil) on Closer to God. The song during the end credits is David Bowie's song "The Hearts Filthy Lesson", found on his album Outside. The film's original score is by Howard Shore. The soundtrack was released in 1995 by TVT Records in conjunction with the movie. Shore's score was finally released by the Warner Archive Collection in 2016.
- "In the Beginning" – The Statler Brothers
- "Guilty" – Gravity Kills
- "Trouble Man" – Marvin Gaye
- "Speaking of Happiness" – Gloria Lynne – written by Buddy Scott & Jimmy Radcliffe
- "Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 Air" – written by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Stuttgarter Kammerorchester / Karl Münchinger
- "Love Plus One" – Haircut One Hundred
- "I Cover the Waterfront" – Billie Holiday
- "Now's the Time" – Charlie Parker
- "Straight, No Chaser" – Thelonious Monk (taken from Monk in Tokyo)
- "Portrait of John Doe" – Howard Shore
- "Suite from Seven" – Howard Shore
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- Mottham, James (2007). The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood. Faber and Faber. pp. 153–155. ISBN 978-0-86547-967-8.
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- "Seven (Se7en) (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 6, 2021.
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- Arnold, Gary (September 22, 1995). "Sinister Seven a killer of a thriller". The Washington Times.
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- Bruno, Anthony (1995). Seven: a novel by Anthony Bruno based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 248. ISBN 0-312-95704-1.
- Comic Book Resources.com Horrific sins: SE7EN comes to comics this September
- MyComicShop: Seven (2006 Se7en) comic books
- Dyer, Richard (1999). Seven. London: British Film Institute. ISBN 978-0-85170-723-5.
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