“Ernest Hemmingway once wrote, the world is a fine place and worth fighting for,’ I agree with the second part.” The movie Seven ends with that quote stated by Somerset, attempting to justify the many moral dilemmas touched upon by the movie but mainly to bring the character of Somerset and the audience back to the beginning. The symmetry of the characters that the quote creates between the beginning of the movie and the end would have been lost if the director David Fincher would have gone with the original storyboard ending.
The beginning sequence does a great deal in showing the audience the personality of the two main characters. It fades in to Somerset’s apartment where we see a medium-long shot of Somerset over the sink. He is not yet ready for work. It cuts to a medium shot of him looking in a mirror, adjusting his tie and collar very meticulously and yet as if he has done this many a time before. The camera shoots the dresser top where Somerset’s personal items (keys, badge, pen, eyeglass case) are set, side-by-side, in order of their importance, in which he picks them up one by one. The camera cuts to the bed, neatly made, where his suit coat lies, precisely placed. He picks a piece of lint we cannot really see off of the coat before putting it on. Somerset has said nothing in this scene and yet we have already deciphered the type of person he is: a very neat, well-organized, meticulous person whose life seems to evolve around routine.
With Somerset turning off his lamp, it fades into the darkness of the next scene, focusing on the large man lying face down on the floor dead. It cuts to a long shot of Somerset slowly walking away from the light, looking around the room and stopping to notice what was on the refrigerator. When Somerset asks the other cop if the child saw the crime, the cop rudely replies,
What kind of fucking question is that? You know, we’re all gonna be real glad when we get rid of you, Somerset. You know that? It’s always these questions with you. Did the kid see it?’ Who gives a fuck? He’s dead. His wife killed him. Anything else has nothing to do with us.
This quote does two important things for the character of Somerset. First, it verifies our ideals of Somerset from the previous scene. His eye for detail entails us to conclude that he is a very skilled detective. It also shows that he is quite different from the cop in that he expresses compassion for the victim and his family.
Right before the entrance of Mills, the camera shoots a long shot of the cop on the far left, looking at the stairs as Mills comes up them. This gives the impression of Mills rising in his career, maybe taking over Somerset’s position eventually. Mills looks quite different from Somerset, more noticeably in his attire. He looks young and somewhat disheveled, not wearing a suit coat but a black leather jacket. As Mills introduces himself to Somerset, he is chewing with his mouth slightly open on something unknown. It cuts to Mills and Somerset walking out of the building as the body is being taken away in the rain. They both stop right outside of the door. Somerset would like to go to a bar and talk a little but Mills wants to go straight to the precinct. Now we see a contrast in personality between the two. Even though Mills just got into town, he is eager to begin work. The camera follows them with a medium-long shot as they walk along the sidewalk conversing. Somerset asks Mills, “Why here?” and then clarifies with, “Why all this effort to get reassigned here. It’s the first question that pops into my head.” Mills becomes defensive and says, “I’m here for the same reasons as you, I guess. Or, at least, the same reasons you used to have for being here before you decided to quit.” Conflict between the lieutenant and the detective shows the dualism between young and old, experienced and naive, optimistic and pessimistic. They begin to walk and talk again, stopping once more when Somerset has offended Mills once again. Mills becomes frustrated and says, “Look, it’d be great by me if we didn’t start out kicking each other in the balls.” Mills’ remark shows his abrasiveness, cockiness and ability to become easily agitated. During their talk, the camera shows them juxtaposed, at an angle that is looking up to them. This shot adds to the characters’ personalities and how they both feel that the other is questioning their ability as a cop. It also puts both characters on the same level, showing that both feel the need to impose authority on each other or at least show that both feel that they have authority over the other.
We see the contrast between Somerset and Mills throughout the movie, as well as the expansion of their relationship beyond their dissimilarities. So when the ending sequence occurs, the personalities of Somerset and Mills come into play and ultimately control our emotions and reaction to the unforeseen outcome. This sequence is much too long and has too many cuts to describe with detail in this paper, so I will chose the shots that best illustrate the points I am going to make.
Let’s start when Somerset has opened the box from John Doe to Mills. As Somerset backs away from the box, the camera shoots him with a medium shot looking up at him as the words, “California stay away from hereJohn Doe has the upper hand,” are spoken. At this point we do not know what is in the box but Somerset does and so this shot coincides with Somerset’s position above the audience. Skipping a few shots, let’s go to the part where Doe is telling Mills of his sin. “I tried to play husband. It didn’t work out,” Doe speaks as the camera shoots him from a lower angle, making him look bigger then Mills. Doe is on his knees at gunpoint, which would suggest his apparent submission and vulnerability. But we were just told that he has the upper hand and so the camera puts him above all of us, including Mills. He continues with the very important speech, “So I took a souvenir,” with a close up of a profile shot bracing the audience for his disturbing secret, “her pretty head.” Somerset runs up to Doe and the camera, until he is the same size as Doe. Somerset is the apparent good while Doe is evidently evil, both side by side while Mills is the representation of the typical person. This is the key to the entire movie, will Mills “become wrath” as Doe/evil wishes or will he heed the advice of the virtuous Somerset and “drop the gun”? Evil shows himself even more as Doe continues, “She begged for her life and for the life of the baby inside her.” But as he says those words, Somerset backslaps him. Somerset acted for the audience. His action is very heroic in that he just slapped Evil.
The camera shows the next shots with an unsteady hand. Close ups of Mills, eyes full of tears, with the gun, out of focus, pointing at the camera. He looks down with sorrowful eyes and quickly looks up with hatred, repeating this a few times. The last time, right before he looks up, there is a flash of a picture of his wife, Tracy. If there was doubt about Mills vengeful side it is now indubitable. Mills looks up and begins to walk forward. The camera cuts to a close up of Doe closing his eyes and then goes to a long shot of all three. Now they all look very small and insignificant. The long shot brings us back to reality. Mills is about to kill a man, a man who has killed others for their sins while Somerset’s attempt to obtain Mills’ gun is in vein. The camera cuts to a close up of the gun going off and then back to the long shot as Doe falls to the ground. What the camera does next is very important. The camera is looking up at Mills and Somerset from what would be Doe’s perspective as Mills is still shooting and Somerset has his back turned. Somerset/good has turned his back to the sin/crime being committed by Mills/common man when faced with Doe/evil.
The original storyboard ending changes the sequence I have just described drastically. Mills is upset by what he was told by Doe. Both cops have their guns pointed at Doe, while Somerset attempts to talk Mills out of shooting him, “David, who takes my place?” Mills is struggling with his emotions, unable to make his next move. A gun goes off and Mills asks Somerset, “What are you doing?” to which he replies, “I’m retiring.”
The studio and the screenplay writer Andrew Kevin Walker favored the original ending since they felt that Doe should not get the satisfaction of being “killed by the person that he wanted to be killed by” (Se7en). But the ending goes against everything the movie has shown the audience about the characters of Mills and Somerset. Mills is portrayed as someone who is not afraid of consequences. He is extremely rash, readily giving into his emotions without much thought to the effects of his actions. With this ideal in mind, why then would he not kill the man who has killed his wife and soon to be child? Staying with this thought, why would Somerset, who shows such restraint and composure, kill a man? If we were to say that evil conquers us all, then Mills would have shot Doe before Somerset did. Fincher felt that the ending with Mills killing Doe was “the most direct dramatic wave. Mills lost too much and has nothing left to lose. It goes along well with the notion from the beginning that if you step in evil then you have evil on you” (Se7en).
The personalities of the main characters, Somerset and Mills, are set up from the very beginning of the movie Seven and are carried throughout. The moral dilemmas that the characters represent coincide with the final ending, creating symmetry that the audience can readily grasp, unlike the storyboard ending. The idea of original sin lies within the characters themselves, forming a bond with the audience that it depicts.
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