Se7en 1995 ★★★★★

The night is dark and full of terrors.

I hadn't seen this since high school, and had forgotten almost everything except the first murder and the ending.

I had forgotten so much. It is a perfect example of letting the mind fill in the blanks to create an even more powerful effect than showing the actual violence. What we do see, the aftermath of violence, the characters' reactions, and the dark and disgusting atmosphere, is horrifying enough. The lust kill, for example, is something that could easily be included in a slasher film, probably very effectively, but showing it in this way creates a much bigger impact. From the moment the detectives walk into the dungeon crime scene to the moment the interrogations end, each sitting alone in separate rooms, the effect created is so much more alienating, horrifying, and visceral than the initial shock value would have been.

The production designer deserves all the awards. Every aspect of the mise-en-scene is perfect, but particularly the attention to detail in every set. The screen is just chock full of visual information and the interiors radiate a palpable psychosis. But there is no escape, even outside, where the unnamed city itself is almost a character. To leave the dark and claustrophobic rooms to go outdoors with its unceasing rain and an endless stream of cars, is no escape. Even at each detective's home, the environment fights its way inside. In a way, the city is responsible, and the killer is only an agent. This city is a cesspool of sin, allowing it to breed and overflow.

For me, the story works because of Morgan Freeman and his Somerset character. Somerset is world-weary, humanistic but with a realist's pessimism, and Freeman plays him perfectly. The character is still somewhat of an enigma; we don't know much about him, but we're intrigued. Pitt's character is much more of an established archetype, painted in brash, loud strokes. And the killer does not have to be present for most of the movie to be the most complete of the characters.

The cinematography is beautiful in its darkness. I found out that Se7en shares a DP (Darius Khondji) with Delicatessen and City of Lost Children (among many others). On my next viewing, I will pay more attention to the use of light, both natural and artificial. I like how light is used in the cinematography, but I also like how it plays into the film thematically - not only "shedding light on the case", but instances in which lighting fails to work for Somerset and Mills (the light switch, Mills' flashlight), and how the film ends in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by power lines, still stuck in the killers' game.

24 Comments

  • Bordwell and Kristen Thompson wrote a fairly common Intro Film textbook, and have several other books on film, as well as a pretty active film essay blog. Yea, my essays in college always focused on the technical - even my lit essays. I can do a close reading like no other, but don't ask me about narrative structure! =)

  • Awesome. Thanks! (Though, as if, I don't have enough to read... I keep bouncing back and forth between Letterboxd and Goodreads. :) )

  • ugh. Don't remind me. Last year I read so many books, and this year I have just taken my movie watching to a whole other level, and I have only read I think 4 or 5 books this year =( I'm in the middle of White Teeth right now. Reading anything good on your own right now?

  • Funny you're reading White Teeth, which is one of my favorites. I'm actually reading Zadie Smith's book of essays this week, Changing My Mind. She has some really wonderful essays on film in there that have sent me back to my Watchlist to add more titles.

  • I'm really liking White Teeth. I loved Changing My Mind. I loved On Beauty. I love her voice. She has a new book coming out soon (or is it out already?), which I am very excited for. I think I might be going to the beach in a few weeks, so I'll be doing some reading then, for sure!

  • Seems we're both Zadie fans. :) I have enjoyed everything but The Autograph Man, which I found unbearably pretentious. Her new novel comes out in the fall. It's a big fall this time around, with Michael Chabon, another of my favorites, releasing a huge novel as well. And there's still that massive Haruki Murakami book on my coffee table. And 350+ films on my watchlist. And classes to teach... Yikes. :)

  • I didn't know about that one, but sounds like I'll skip it. LOOOOOVE Chabon. Hope that Kavalier & Clay adaptation never makes it off the ground because I just love that book too much and it would hurt too much to see it ruined. I lived in Pgh for many years, and knew someone who went to school with him, claimed that he was in the group of friends that was the inspiration for Mysteries of Pittsburgh. My next big project is probably 2666. so...much...media...to...consume... =)

  • I agree. And nice to find someone with similar tastes. I heard Chabon speak at the AWP Conference a few years back and he was amazing. Also hope that KC never gets ruined by Hollywood. I've loved everything by him since I read Mysteries as an undergrad. :)

  • Wonderful insights Julie. Especially the last paragraph. Great review of a great film.

  • Thank you!

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