I have to back into this post by saying that the ending of this movie never fails to hit me like a kick in the stomach, squeezing the gorge into my throat. Those scant blond hairs blowing in the wind when Somerset opens the box…wow. I’m pretty sure that if there was a preceding novel, that scene would still have been as grotesque and painful as it was on screen. Another thing that always struck me was the fact that we never really know what city they’re in. I verified this by looking up the summary of the movie, just in case I missed something. The lack of a pinpointed location immediately set the scene as something that could happen in any large city where people ignore all that’s going on around them in desperate attempts to live their own unfulfilling lives.
Detective Somerset would like to achieve this level of apathy with his impending retirement. It’s interesting that Somerset has the same habit I have of requiring background white noise in order to fall asleep at night. I know I do this because it’s difficult for me to turn off the internal dialogue inside my head. I can only imagine that he has the same problem, except his conversations and endless thoughts are fueled by the horrors he witnesses on his job. The point when he takes his trusty clock and throws it to the floor is very telling. He and Mills are in the throes of the case and the thoughts and mental tail chasing seem welcome in his deliberation. Somerset is a patient, learned, cultured man, always asking the questions others gloss over. This trait in itself makes him a prime victim to turn into The Longsuffering One.
Detective Mills is not nearly as patient as Somerset, but he serves his purpose. Headstrong and determined to make a name for himself and get time on the playing field, Mills actually disagrees with Somerset about the state of the world. He feels that as a detective, he can help to do some good in the pit of decay, and he chases the killer with that idealistic passion. His wife, Tracy, isn’t as naive as he is, in that she sees the horrors that surround them in the city where they’ve relocated, and also sees a kindred spirit in Somerset. She worries about her and Mills’ unborn child and the thought of raising the child in the midst of the terror. She’s right to worry.
The crafting of Somerset and Mills as opposites in almost every way was integral to the birth of the killer they were up against. Even if he didn’t know either detective at the start of his mission, John Doe knew before the end of the movie which one would be most damaged by him touching their life in a personal way. I think that was only partially because Somerset was presented to us as a loner. By refusing intimate connections, he was in a way, protecting himself from being hurt if harm came to his loved ones. His constant reflection on the ills of life and the indifference of others would likely have made an attack into his world less permanent. For Mills, on the other hand, the murder of his wife was more than he could even fathom. John Doe thought long and hard about not only carrying out what he viewed as his mission to send a message to the world about the seven deadly sins, but also about how to have a perpetual impact on Mills.
John Doe was smart and stated to be independently wealthy. And in my opinion, although he was a religious zealot, I have to agree with his statement to Mills towards the end of the movie, “It’s more comfortable for you to label me insane.” I don’t believe he was insane. Cruel, yes. Dedicated to his religious cause with his heart, body and soul, absolutely. His plan to relay the message he says he was required to send included his own absolution through being murdered. Then he wouldn’t have to be counted among the dreck of society he was preaching to, though he concedes he is guilty of feeling envy of Mills for his wonderful life. He was then a victim of the same sins he was helping society be rid of. Crazy? No. Definitely just evil to the core.
Seven. Prod. Arnold Kopelson. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman. DVD. New Line Productions, Inc., 1995