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Monday, May 20, 2013

Se7en

Hello! In the tenor of the infamous voice in Seinfeld, of course. Less than a week since my last post. I reckon we have a record, for the year anyway. I'd like to start off by expressing my manic anticipation for a certain parcel: Dan Brown's most recent Robert Langdon adventure, Inferno. Now, what makes me so edgy in expectation is that I pre-ordered the book in February, and Amazon promised that I would have the book in my possession on the day of  its release. It has been two days and still no parcel. If anyone has received Inferno, in addition to the pleasure of having it and hopefully reading it, please do not brag about your fortune. Onto the show.

Se7en. I rather like the way the title is written. Ever since I've become cognizant of the film's existence and therefore its content, I have been eager to watch a film that has a theme surrounding the seven deadly sins. I'm not one for religion, but those deadly sins are quite intriguing. Especially when one psychotic individual takes the word of God as a guideline and carries out his work. There has been controversy over this idea that John Doe murdered in the name of God, for obvious reasons. It was my first though anyway--why else would an individual dedicate their lives to such a deed if not for religion? It is the most provocative catalyst for violence and a total lack of reason. In my eyes, it lacks reason in itself. The criminal's apartment explains it all: a sparse living space compiled with relics of his murders as well as religious icons such as the Bible--his guidelines. Basically, John Doe is a sort of "angel", or "demon", who is somewhat of an angel in disguise. Be appalled by my words if you must, I say what I learn from Dan Brown and other eclectic sources. John Doe follows the text of the Bible to the extreme, which serves as a (faulty) foundation for the film only to be rescued by a certain actor's superb performance. In other words, this John Doe character murders seven hapless victims in a manner that reflects their sin. Shall I explain the methods of execution? Sure, why not.

Gluttony: A grossly obese man is found, face-down in a bowl of spaghetti, with his arms and legs tied up, indicating that he was forcefully fed. A bucket of the man's vomit is found underneath his seat, which the savvy detectives deduce came on account of being forcefully fed. It is later discovered that John Doe actually went to buy more groceries to continue his torture. Lesson: Manage your weight.

Greed: A lawyer is found in his office with his hands tied and his face planted on a stack of law books. He has bled to death, with his blood scattered across the office; on the floor, they spell GREED, and they also circle the eyes of his wife. Also, a pound of his flesh is placed on a scale--exactly one pound. I don't really understand this murder's relevance to greed. Perhaps John Doe is punishing him by taking things from him because he has too much? Perhaps, indeed. Lesson: Know when something is rightfully yours and when something could be shared with others.

Sloth: A drug dealer is found, mummified, in his apartment with an IV attached to his arm. Scattered with pulpy veins, the corpse takes a desperate breath when the officers are investigating, proving that he is still alive. It is discovered by the savvy detectives that he has been left like this--tied down to his bed, being fed and "cared for"--for a year. Apparently, you can die from lack of activity, though I do not agree with laziness being a sin. Doesn't everyone suffer a bit of procrastination and boredom to do anything on occasion? You know I do. Lesson: Keep yourself busy.

Lust: A prostitute is found (but not shown on screen) with a hysterical customer beside her. The customer describes a strange man--our John Doe--intruding on their good time; the criminal, then, forces the customer, at gunpoint, to "enter" the prostitute. This was their original plan, yet the customer did not plan on wearing an elaborate strap, fashioned with a knife where the organ would be. A murder so gruesome that the film could not depict it. However, this death seems to be merely the idea of John Doe, for he did not physically perpetrate it. I am not pardoning him in any way, but nevertheless. Also, how is the prostitute the victim of lust? Should not the customer suffer the penalty, as he is the one who sought sexual adventure? It's a deadly sin, not a warning. Lesson: Find someone special and form a long-lasting, real relationship.

Vanity: A model is found mutilated in her lavish bedroom, where her self-portrait is adorned over her bed. Her face is wrapped as if she had plastic surgery, and, when revealed, her face has been ripped off her face. The sin is referred to as "pride", which is written in the model's blood over her bed. I think this is a fallacious term because being proud is a good thing, it shows something to be admired. Vanity, the act of being vain, however, is an appropriate word to describe the sin. And vanity has a nicer ring to it, just as sloth sounds better than laziness. No additional elaboration in the crime here, other than it marks the approach of the film's climax--when John Doe emerges from the shadows. Lesson: Be humble.

Envy: The final two murders occur almost simultaneously, if I am correct in my reading of the film. In the conclusion, John Doe shares his jealousy for the life of Detective Mills--how he visited his home to "play husband", and his wife did not appreciate the charade. John Doe, because of his vile sin of envy, punishes Mrs. Mills by cutting off her "pretty little head"--a souvenir, he calls it. Again, as with lust, I feel the murder was misdirected. Why did Mrs. Mills have to die? Just to prove that John Doe is envious? Then shouldn't he, the sinner, die for the deadly sin? I suppose this is just another fault in the script. Lesson: Enjoy your own life.

Wrath: This murder is executed quickly, though with much suspense prior. Detective Mills, struck with agony and rage at the news of his wife's murder, paces back and forth before shooting a satisfied John Doe several times. A deliverer of wrath. Again, he is responsible for the murder while he, himself, having committed the sin. While John Doe rightfully died of envy, based on his doctrines, Detective Mills lives and his wife does not. And the flaws continue to surface. Lesson: Control yourself. That's more of a lesson for every sin, actually.

Quite a nifty spoiler, in case you were wondering what just happened. Though why would you? You're not drunk, nor should you be when reading my blog. Damn. I promised myself I would not refer to this publication as "my" blog. So possessive. Those are simply the giveaways to the execution of the murders, which are, in a nutshell, the basis and only (and I emphasize that only) reason for watching the film. When there are no gruesome crime scenes on screen, Se7en is excruciatingly, and rather disappointingly, dull. Four little letters (no, three little letters) describe the movie Se7en, which can determine an opinion prior to watching the film for a very first time. In addition to being dull, the style in which the movie was filmed was overly pretentious and, quite frankly, weird. Allow me to elaborate.

The major characters in the film are two stereotypical characters in cop-dramas. Furthermore, the dialogue shared between these characters are common among the fictional precinct-slash-cop-car setting: the conversation that concerns the case they're working on, yet relates to their own lives. That intellectually stimulating banter the partners engage in that, really, bores viewers such as myself. The detectives in this production are William Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (played by Brad Pitt). Each of the impressive actors' performances are, shamefully, less than pristine, which makes the movie that much more difficult to endure, but we'll get to that. Detective Lieutenant Somerset is just about to retire, and feels it is his rite to finish this final case involving John Doe before his expiration. David Mills is fresh out of graduating the academy (or whatever) and is ripe with enthusiasm and self-assurance, with a load of aggression that will make him a fine candidate for the criminal he is chasing to abuse. Both police officers are prime stereotypes in such a cop-drama laced with suspense and pseudo-intrigue. Again, the film would, and should, such an element of intrigue since the seven deadly sins are concerned, but, unfortunately, does not on account of, perhaps, rotten directing? I don't know. Depending on the following retelling (sans spoilers), you can decide.

Throughout the film, a disturbing rustling accompanies every scene. At first, I thought it was a fault in my own sound system (I have several high-definition speakers, if you'd care to be informed) yet I discovered this was not the case when the noise intermittently appeared in every other scene. It was not rain either. Basically, the director thought it a fancy idea if he add an ominous ambiance to the film, which, he certainly felt, would add an awe-inspiring element of suspense and intrigue. For me, however, the cacophonous melody ruined any chance of enjoyment I had--pretentious, and not at all profound. There's a word to describe the director's intention. Beyond the sound, there is the plot. An extraordinary idea, indeed: a psychotic carries out "the word of God" by murdering seven individuals based on their sin. Ingenious idea, in my opinion. This is the very reason why I wanted to watch the movie, and the fact that it was a beloved cinematic relic among(st) those who appreciated films of the golden nineties. In my case, I did not receive the retribution I expected; apparently, the writer was not talented to the extent of forming a fantastic picture. Oh well. Without a decently orchestrated plot, therefore, the flaws of Se7en were much more striking, focusing primarily on the two key characters.
Detective Lieutenant William Somerset, as previously stated, is just about to retire, suggesting that he has seen everything there is to see on the job and should not be appalled by any particular case. This particular case, involving John Doe's mission from God, clearly, disrupted Somerset's sanity enough to will him to stay employed just a tad longer, until the maniac was captured. Before tangibly accepting the case, Somerset refused to get involved, while including his rookie partner in that declaration, then he put himself and Detective Mills on the case. Rather indecisive for a police officer, but that is how he is programmed. This being his first role in the crime-drama genre, Morgan Freeman is noticeably fresh here in a sense that makes him completely unrealistic and, consequently, not to be taken seriously. During the film, I had to chastise my dad from making mocking comments at his expense, though I did so with a beaming grin and bursting with laughter. His character is just so ridiculous and typical for those just-retired, wise black men (sorry, police officers) who have not a shred of indecency in their bloodstream. One scene, in particular, when Somerset is conversing with Mills's wife, marks my ridicule: She calls him to confide about a certain marital issue, to which Somerset responds with his own lovely story about getting married too young. Mills's wife--whose name is Tracy-- replies with graciousness and a heart-filled "thank you". If you were not as affected as I, then you may have to watch the scene for yourself to endure the cringing tartness of the display. Throughout the film, Morgan Freeman expresses blankness to such an extremity that I truly thought he had slipped into a snooze. It's hilarious, actually, and inclined my entertainment of the film, in a manner the director did not intend.
Detective David Mills, a rookie on the force, is, just that--a rookie. Shining star he is now, Brad Pitt was not that great an actor when he was just budding the the cinematic stratosphere. Amped with excitement on the idea of starring in a box-office hit of a suspense, Brad Pitt, evidently, was too giddy to apply whatever lessons he learned in acting school to the screen. His character, as aggressive and short-tempered as he was written to be, was accentuated to the extreme by Mr. Pitt. As David Mills, he appeared to have significant anger issues, far too prominent to be enlisted as a detective; moreover, he gave off the vibe of being an abusive husband, on account of them not being able to conceive and their poor living situation. Whenever Brad Pitt shared the screen with his then-fiancee, Gwyneth Paltrow, I had such a vivid instinct that he would strike her. The inherent feeling was heightened by the fact that I knew, beforehand, that Mills was the perpetrator of the sin wrath. Spoiler alert. Never fear, ladies, he never once hit her; in fact, he loved her very deeply, to the brink of killing for her. Suggestive spoiler. Brad Pitt certainly was not "born with talent", as seen here. He was constantly brimming with ecstasy, whether it was about the case or he discovered a lead or he was playing with his dogs, he was overflowing with energy. This contrasted the sage blankness of Morgan Freeman's veteran, as one can imagine. While the latter pondered over the case or fell into a day-sleep, Brad Pitt bounced with unstoppable vivacity in a way that made the average moviegoer cringe. You really feel embarrassed for him here. For both of them, really. Here is a pure example of Hollywood ripeness. Of course, each actor improved and blossomed along the way. Morgan Freeman continued to star in such crime-dramas as this, though in a much better lighting and much better movie; Brad Pitt enhanced his craft by appearing in more comedies, where he shines, as well as in reality as Brad Pitt. In Se7en, neither are remarkably impressive as some usually are "in their prime". At all.

Now for the one truly magnificent element of the film: John Doe. And who could portray the sadistic villain other than Kevin Spacey? Really, who could? He is utterly brilliant in this role. Period. That same year, he assumed the role of also-crippled Verbal Quint in The Usual Suspects, though I do not recall him being quite this magnificent. He appears, for a very transient period of time, near the end, when the film begins as it should have in the beginning. As he explains the logic behind each murder and how they relate to the sin the victim suffered for, one becomes entranced by the actor's deliberate intonation and hypnotic delivery. I can't say I was not convinced by his reasoning--but I did realize he was, indeed, insane. What Kevin Spacey accomplished here was embodying the rare psychotic sociopath. Psychopaths oppose sociopaths in a very subtle way, in that the former is typically more violent and impulsive and the latter has a grasp on reality and the world around them. With this brief analysis, John Doe is an ideal patient for both psychotic and sociopathic behavior, and Kevin Spacey demonstrates this distinction with such eloquence and skill that it becomes a marvelous feat. There is a reason that he was not credited in the opening, which would ruin the audience's anticipation of the question of "who is John Doe?". The impact of Kevin Spacey's performance is remarkably enthralling. Which gives you a considerable rationale to watch the film, if not just the final twenty minutes.

I was just searching for pictures of Kevin Spacey in the film and found a few images of Heath Ledger's travesty of the Joker. This, to me, implies that John Doe and Ledger's Joker are compatible. Don't you dare place this remarkable villain in the same category as that repulsive cretin of a comic-book menace. There is a great difference between the two, the key factor of which involves the talent of one and the absolute absence of talent in the other. Heath Ledger provided the world with an abhorrent performance that will, hopefully, be recognized as one in the years to come. I do not care if the actor has passed. He should not be honored as a relic solely because of that.

Although the film had an excellent foundation, the director or writer or combination of both prevented Se7en from being the profound film it could have been. Instead, viewers such as myself received a half-hearted, inadequate display of trite detective-banter, a simple storyline, and a two-hour long exposition. Rather than beginning in the first ten minutes, the movie finally became interesting during the conclusion, which does not make for a very good or positively memorable film. As for the suspense leading up to the revelation of the criminal and his logic behind his crimes, there is really nothing there other than pointless drivel between Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. They try to connect their lives with the crime afoot, yet fall dreadfully short of the attempt. Neither of their characters are smart enough to connect the dots fast enough to keep the viewer on their toes, so to speak, which causes the film to become a lackluster attempt at an impeccably ingenious premise. While Kevin Spacey spares much of the film's shortcomings, the overall film receives a sour review from me. Focusing on the last twenty minutes, however, and you have yourself a fantastic picture, albeit a concise one.

P.S. I finally purchased Dan Brown's Inferno and am currently and rapturously reading it. Enjoy the rest of your week. I sure will.

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