David Fincher’s Se7en is undoubtedly one of the great thrillers of the 90’s, showcasing the talent of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as well as that of it’s director. But it is the final scenes of the film that raise it above most ordinary thrillers in movie history. The screenplay written by Andrew Kevin Walker leaves the most interesting part of the film for after the killer, John Doe, is “caught”.
Up until this point of the film Fincher has already taken us on a strange and twisted ride of five murders seen through the eyes of detectives Mills and Somerset, played by Pitt and Freeman. The victims are each guilty of one of the seven deadly sins. At first the film almost seems to reach a sort of anti-climax when the killer, played by Kevin Spacey, suddenly turns himself in.
But he isn’t finished. He needs two more bodies finish his work. He claims that the final two bodies will be found in a distant location which he will only reveal if he can travel there alone with Mills and Somerset. And so for the first time the three main characters get a chance to find out who and what they really are as they sit in the car on there way to the climax of the film.
The conversation between the three men in the car in the end might just be the strongest scene in the film, if not one of the strongest scenes in a Fincher film, period. There is an eerie tension in the air. We know, just as Mills and Somerset knows, that John Doe has something grand planned for the final murders. And so they embark on their final journey together. The bulletproof vests worn by the detectives, the helicopter manned by snipers hovering above the car and the monitoring devices, all for transporting an unarmed man. It is clear, they are afraid of this man.
Somerset looks at John Doe, through the rearview mirror. He is far away, on another side of this world that we don’t understand. We see Doe only trough the steel fence in the police car, like we are watching an animal in a zoo.
The detectives are interested in who he is and they engage in conversation. Somerset being calm, organized and smart, Mills being naive, clumsy and foolish. It is very comfortable for Mills, as it is for us, to label him insane, a barking loon who’s “sitting at home, reading guns ‘n ammo and masturbating in your own feces” as Mills so eloquently puts it. It’s much more frightening to learn that he actually has a plan, insane thou it may be, he sees the same things we see, he is living in the same world as we are. He has just chosen to react on it in a different way. However sick and twisted he is, in some weird way he actually makes some sense. That is what is scaring us. We are taken out of the comfort zone. Doe knows how to push all the right buttons to aggravate Detective Mills. An argument ensues. As Fincher cuts the conversation between Mills and Doe he chooses to have the steel fence in the foreground from both angles. We no longer know who is the animal and who is the spectator. Somerset is the only character not to be portrayed through the fence.
Fincher presents this whole scene in a very calm, yet unnerving way. The music, by Howard Shore, although subtle, is breathing down our necks with it’s constant repetition of the same note.
The cinematography contributes to the storytelling by varying shots with moods of the characters and their actions. Somerset is presented in a very calm, clean and distant shot, while the camera angle on Mills jumps from one end of the car to another, sometimes through the fence, sometimes not. He is restless. Doe is viewed only from one angle, placed in the center of the frame, through the steel fence, looking right at us. The angle never changes. Just like John Doe. Whatever they say, he will have his way.
The writing in the scene is excellent in that it doesn’t hurry anywhere and at the same time the scene never feels long. The entire film has been building up to this moment. We want to know what goes on inside John Does head. And this scene delivers this.
And like in any good thriller, the story saves it’s biggest punch for the end.