Seven (sometimes stylized as SE7EN) is a 1995 American neo-noir psychological thriller horror film directed by David Fincher, and stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, and Kevin Spacey. The film was based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker.
The film follows a newly transferred David Mills (Pitt) and the soon-to-retire William Somerset (Freeman), two homicide detectives who become deeply involved in the case of a sadistic serial killer whose meticulously planned murders correspond to the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy.
The film was released in the United States on September 22, 1995. Grossing $327Â million at the box office internationally, Seven was a commercial success and received positive reviews.
In a large city, soon-to-be-retiring Detective William R. Somerset (Freeman) is partnered with short-tempered-but-idealistic Detective David Mills (Pitt), who recently transferred to the department. They discover an obese man who was forced to feed himself to death, and the next day investigate a fatal bloodletting of a rich attorney. The detectives find fingerprints and other clues that lead them to believe they are chasing a serial killer relating to the seven deadly sins, who in these killings has represented "Gluttony" (a man tied to a chair and forced to eat and eat his vomit till his stomach explodes) and "Greed" (a lawyer who has a pound of flesh extracted from him). Two days later, the fingerprints lead them to an apartment where they find an emaciated man strapped to a bed. Though he initially appears to be dead, they find he has been kept alive and immobile by the killer for one year to the day; a drug dealer and child molester before his captivity, this victim represents "Sloth". Though unable to learn anything from the insensate man, the detectives agree the killer has planned these crimes for more than a year.
Detective Mills' wife Tracy (Paltrow) is unhappy with their recent move to the city. She meets Somerset and he becomes Tracy's confidante. Upon learning she is pregnant but has not told her husband, Somerset confides in her his fear that the city is no place to start a family, and reveals he had ended a relationship years earlier after pressuring his girlfriend to have an abortion, a decision he regrets, despite believing himself to have been justified. Somerset advises her to not tell Mills, if she does decide to terminate.
Using library records, Somerset and Mills track down a man named John Doe (Spacey), who has frequently checked out books related to the deadly sins. When Doe finds the detectives approaching his apartment, he opens fire on them and flees, chased by Mills. Eventually, Doe gains the upper hand and holds Mills at gunpoint, but then abruptly leaves, sparing Mills's life. Investigation of Doe's apartment finds handwritten volumes of his irrational judgments and clues, leading to another potential victim, but no fingerprints. They arrive too late to find their "Lust" victim, a prostitute killed by an unwilling man wearing a bladed S&M device, forced by Doe to simultaneously rape and kill her, severely traumatizing the man. On Sunday morning, they investigate the death of a young model whose face had been mutilated. Having chosen to kill herself rather than live with a disfigured face, she is the victim of "Pride".
At the police station, Doe offers himself for arrest, with the blood of the model and of an unidentified victim on his hands. The detectives learn he has been cutting the skin off his fingers to avoid leaving fingerprints. Through his lawyer, Doe claims he will lead the two detectives to the last two bodies and confess to the crimes, or otherwise will plead insanity. Despite Somerset's concern, Mills agrees to the demand. Doe directs the two detectives to a remote desert area; along the way, he claims God told him to punish the wicked and reveal the world for the awful place that it is. He also makes cryptic comments toward Mills.
After they arrive, a delivery van approaches. Somerset intercepts the driver, leaving Mills and Doe alone. The driver hands over a package he was instructed to deliver at precisely this time and location. While Mills holds Doe at gunpoint, Doe mentions how much he admires him, but does not say why. Somerset opens the package and recoils in horror at the sight. He races back to warn Mills not to listen to Doe, but the killer reveals that the box contains Tracy's head. Doe claims to represent the sin of "Envy"; he was envious of Mills' normal life, and killed Tracy after failing to "play husband" with her. He then taunts the distraught Mills with the knowledge that Tracy was pregnant, asking if Mills will kill him and become "Wrath". Somerset is unable to contain Mills as he repeatedly shoots Doe, killing him and completing Doe's "work". After Mills is taken away in shock, Somerset is asked by his Captain where he will be, and replies, "Around. I'll be around." In a voice-over, he paraphrases a quote by Ernest Hemingway: "'The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for'...I agree with the second part."
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 Somerset role, but he decided to do City Hall. Denzel Washington and Sylvester Stallone turned down the role of Mills.
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 after 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 produce 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.
Filming took place in Los Angeles, California.
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 cameraÂ â" and about what movies are or can be".
The crowded urban streets filled with noisy denizens and an oppressive rain that always 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 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).
On the film's title sequence, Fincher has said:
The sequence for Se7en did very important non-narrative things; in the original script there was a title sequence that had Morgan Freeman buying a house out in the middle of nowhere and then travelling back on a train. He was making his way back to the unnamed city from the unnamed suburban sprawl, and that's where the title was supposed to beâ""insert title sequence here"â"but we didn't have the money to do that. We also lacked the feeling of John Doe, the villain, who just appeared 90 minutes into the movie. It was oddly problematic, you just needed a sense of what these guys were up against. Kyle Cooper, the designer of the title sequence, came to me and said, "You know, you have these amazing books that you spent tens of thousands of dollars to make for the John Doe interior props. I'd like to see them featured." And I said, "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." So Kyle came up with a great storyboard, and then we got Angus Wall and Harris Savidesâ"Harris to shoot it and Angus to cut itâ"and the rest, as they say, is internet history.
Seven was released on September 22, 1995, in 2,441 theaters where it grossed US$13.9Â million on its opening weekend. It went on to gross $100.1Â million in North America and $227.1Â million in the rest of the world for a total of $327.3Â 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.
The film was well received by critics and holds a 79% positive rating at the film-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 68 critics with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. Its consensus reading: "A brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick gore effects, and a haunting finale." The film has a rating of 65 on Metacritic based on 22 reviews.
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". 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.
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains
- John Doe - Nominated Villain
- AFI's 10 Top 10 - Nominated Mystery Film
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 and other key contributors to the film, who talk about their experiences making Seven.
This DVD is also compatible with DVD-ROM drives. Disc One features a printable screenplay with links to the film. The Blu-ray Disc was released September 14, 2010.
Novelization and comic books
In 1995, a novel with the same title was written by Anthony Bruno based on the original film.
Between September 2006 and October 2007, a series of seven publications 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. Each issue included contributions by a group of creators independent of each other. All seven parts became part of a comic book that was released on January 15, 2008 by as SE7EN book 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 the "Closer" single. 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.
- "In the Beginning" â" The Statler Brothers
- "Guilty" â" Gravity Kills
- "Trouble Man" â" Marvin Gaye
- "Speaking of Happiness" â" Gloria Lynne â" written by Buddy Scott & Jimmy Radcliffe
- "Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068 Air" â" written by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Stuttgarter Kammerorchester / Karl MÃ¼nchinger
- "Love Plus One" â" Haircut One Hundred
- "I Cover the Waterfront" â" Billie Holiday
- "Now's the Time" â" Charlie Parker
- "Straight, No Chaser" â" Thelonious Monk (Taken from Monk in Tokyo)
- "Portrait of John Doe" â" Howard Shore
- "Suite from Seven" â" Howard Shore
Samay: When Time Strikes, a Bollywood film, was inspired by this film.
- Seven deadly sins
- Seven at the Internet Movie Database
- Seven at the TCM Movie Database
- Seven at AllMovie
- Seven at Box Office Mojo
- Seven at Rotten Tomatoes
- Seven at Metacritic