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By Megan Janet Turner · May 15, 2017
Written By Andrew Kevin Walker
Every aspiring filmmaker knows about “Se7en” and its signature ending that changed the way we think about plot twists. Even though this twist (no spoilers if you haven’t seen the film – but I highly recommend watching it) isn’t in the original screenplay, it set the film apart from all other crime thrillers and subsequently exposes any replications that poured out of the Hollywood machine for years to come.
In this article, I will flesh out the key elements of structure, tone, genre, theme and character introduction.
We’re immediately introduced to Somerset, the first protagonist. The descriptions are blunt and straight forward, no bullshit. This also sets the tone for his interactions with Mills, the second protagonist, and exposes his character in a few short paragraphs.
INT. OLD HOUSE — DAY
Sunlight comes through the soot on the windows, more brown than bright. SOMERSET, 45, stands in one corner of this small, second-story room. He looks over the ceiling, looks down at the worn wooden floors, looks at the peeling wallpaper.
He walks to the center of the room, continues his study, taking his time. He halts, turns to one wall where the current wallpaper is torn away to reveal flowery wallpaper underneath.
Somerset goes to this wall and runs his finger across one of the pale, red roses which decorates the older paper. He pushes the grime away, brings the rose out more clearly.
He reaches into his suit pocket and takes out a switchblade. He flips the thin, lethal blade free. Working deliberately, delicately, Somerset cuts a square around the rose, then peels the square of dry wallpaper away from the wall. He studies it in his hand.
Somerset is cold and calculating, and his meticulous nature is ever vigilant. He analyzes everything. We’re left wondering why he’s purchased an empty house, and whether or not he’s running away from something… Or someone.
The latter is revealed on Page 3:
INT. SOMERSET’S APARTMENT — NIGHT
The curtains are closed. The SOUNDS of the CITY are here as they will be everywhere in this story. A CAR ALARM is SOUNDING, shrill and clear. Somerset’s life is packed into moving boxes, except for some clothing in a closet and hundreds and hundreds ofbooks on the shelves of one wall. Somerset is lying on the bed, dressed only in his underwear.
He reaches to the nightstand, to a wooden, pyramidical metronome. He frees the metronome’s weighted swingarm so it moves back and forth. Swings to the left — TICK, swings to the right — TICK. Tick… tick… tick… measured and steady.
Somerset situates on the bed, closes his eyes. Tick… tick… tick. The metronome’s sound competes with the sound of the car alarm. Somerset’s face tightens as he concentrates on the metronome. His eyes close tighter. Tick… tick… tick. The swingarm moves evenly. Somerset’s breathing deepens.
Tick… tick… tick. The car alarm seems quieter.
Tick… tick… tick. Somerset continues his concentration.
The metronome’s sound seems louder. Tick… tick… tick.
The sound of the car alarm fades, and is GONE. The metronome is the only sound.
Somerset’s face relaxes as he begins to fall asleep. Tick… tick… tick…
It always rains in the City, as it remains unnamed in another ominous tone, with constant noises keeping the beat in a city that never sleeps. Somerset feels overwhelmed by it, consumed to the point of being claustrophobic. The home he’s just mortgaged is the polar opposite of the City, and he believes that is what he needs.
Mills is introduced on page 4. Right off the bat, it’s established that Mills is hot headed and coiled. He’s everything you’d expect from an eager young detective desperate to prove himself. This is another example of the classic and often cliché character trope known as the “Odd Couple” pairing. Two polar opposites are forced to work together and end up providing what the other is lacking.
For those of you who’ve seen the film, you’ll notice that none of this is in the first few minutes. The actual film begins at the bottom of page 5, and has become one of the creepiest opening sequences I can remember.
EXT. URBAN STREET OF ROW HOMES — NIGHT
This rotting neighborhood lives in the shadow of a single fat skyscraper. Mills walks, looks at the broken refrigerators and pieces of junk in the gutter.
Ahead in the street, TWO YOUNG THUGS struggle with a crowbar to break into the trunk of a parked car. Mills draws near. One thug looks up, doesn’t think Mills will be a problem, continues prying. Mills stops, calm.
Is that your car, man?
What the fuck do you care?
Mills pauses, switches his beer bottle to his other hand.
Does that car belong to you?
The thugs look at each other, gauging. They face Mills.
Yeah, it’s my car, alright? Fuck off.
You’re telling me that’s your car?
The second thug starts the long way round the car.
Well, for some strange reason, I don’t believe you.
Mills gives a “isn’t that silly” laugh, shifts his gaze — Sees the first thug slide the crowbar so it’s held as a weapon.
You can fucking suck my…
Mills swiftly finishes that sentence by smashing his bottle against the first thug’s head. The thug falls, swings blindly.
Tracy (Mills’ wife) is introduced on Page 9. The first time I watched the film, I immediately dismissed her character as a filler to flesh out Mills’ character, but I can’t believe how naïve I was…
INT. MILLS’ APARTMENT, LIVING ROOM/KITCHENETTE — EARLY MORNING
Across a living room full of boxes, TRACY MILLS, 30, a beautiful woman, stands in her bathrobe. She’s upset about something, takes dishes out of boxes, puts them on the kitchenette counter.
She pulls a mug from a clump of newspaper and pours some tea from a pot on the stove. Blowing on the steaming tea, she leans back on the counter, looks over at the closed bedroom door.
The tea is too hot to sip, and as Tracy is placing the mug on the counter behind her the PHONE RINGS. Startled, she releases the mug too close to the edge. It falls –
Crashes to the floor, shatters.
Tracy is obviously upset about something. Possibly moving to a new city has put her on edge. The constant drone of car alarms and sirens can grate on your nerves. This also sheds more light on Mills’ character and his sheer determination to advance in his career. He uprooted them both from their familiar hometown of Philadelphia and brought them to a damp and unrelenting city.
Somerset and Mills don’t get off to a great start and almost immediately butt heads on their first meeting at a crime scene. Somerset quickly establishes his seniority and dominance of their partnership for the one week before he retires.
All this effort you’ve gone through, to be transferred from Philadelphia to here.
It’s the first question that pops into my head
Mills formulates his response.
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 give up.
Somerset stops and faces Mills.
You think you know me? You just met me two minutes ago.
Maybe I don’t understand the question.
Tone & Genre:
The tone is hard to miss. A bleak and unnamed urban cesspool where the rain never stops. Yet, you slip comfortably into the world of the story and quickly find yourself forgetting the rain is even there. It’s an interesting twist on the expected. In most films, rain can be used to establish the ominous climax, but in “Se7en”, the only time we see the sun is when our two heroes are face to face with John Doe at the end.
This unique perspective of the Crime Noir subgenre breathes new life into an ever-changing cornerstone of film heritage. You walk away feeling unsure whether or not you’ve just watched a detective story, a horror film or a drama. All three are intertwined to masterfully, taking the positive and negative tropes of each and forming a jigsaw puzzle that you have to solve.
Good vs. Evil is the theme that stands out the most, and is tied in with Corruption, as the two go hand-in-hand.
Mills is the knight in shining armor who goes head-to-head with the quote unquote dragon that is John Doe. He’s been emotionally and physically beaten down by the seemingly unattainable goal of catching a serial killer and his mental state is at its most fragile when they ultimately come face-to-face. His quest to vanquish the dragon leads him to a path of corruption that no one expected.
Somerset, on the other hand, knows the rules of the game and is able to keep himself emotionally detached while trying to reach the same goal. His cold and calculating nature pays off and he’s able to stave away corruption, although the line between good and evil is quickly diminishing.
A serial killer whose murders are based on the seven deadly sins is an idea that had never been attempted, and Andrew Kevin Walker did it flawlessly. All the characters are well rounded and complete, balancing each other out. The foreboding world of the story keeps us on edge, and the bleak tone evokes a sense of unease throughout. If you haven’t seen the movie by now, it’s worth a look. Just make sure to watch the ending with the lights on.
Written by Megan Janet Turner