When the pressure was on to choose a career path in my final year of high school, I proclaimed that I was going to go to film school and become a cinematographer. In retrospect I know that this rather whimsical idea was inspired by Darius Khondji’s photography for David Fincher’s Se7en (1995). From the opening credits (I dare say one of the best opening sequences in the history of cinema), I was entranced by the stylistic visuals and horrific imagery that filled each and every frame. Yes, I was going to make dark and moody films that commented on the decay of society and shed light on psychological deviance. However, much like a jaded character from one of Fincher’s film, I went to law school. Go figure.
I don’t want to be constrained by having to do something new. I look at it as: What are the movies that I want to see? I make movies that other people aren’t making. I’m not interested in the Hero With a Thousand Faces – there’s a lot of people that do that. A friend of mine used to say there’s a pervert on every block, there’s always one person in every neighborhood who’s kind of questionable. You’re looking for that one pervert story.
– David Fincher
Bringing to life a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, which was purportedly based on his impressions of New York, Se7en tracks two homicide detectives (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) as they try to piece together the details of a series of murders that thematise the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, pride, envy and wrath. The John Doe serial killer (Kevin Spacey) chooses victims based on their transgression of a particular sin, employing the most sadistic and tortuous methods possible to end the life of each sinner. Following from this, one of the central motifs of the film is the moral degeneration of a contemporary society that is wilfully blind to social ills. It is no coincidence that the opening sequence features the eyes of a person being effaced.
Significantly, the first time I watched the film, back in the days of VHS, I thought that I must have rented a bad copy because the exposure and saturation of the film image was so dark. Of course, the film effects and the low-key lighting are completely intentional and complement the idea of a morally filthy city filled with people lacking in vision and foresight. Considering concepts of sight, part of the reason why I find Se7en so evocative is the fact that you never actually see any of the murders, but witness the aftermath as the film camera fetishises rotting corpses, blood and disfigured bodies.
Fincher is extremely gifted at capturing characters that reside on the margins of society and at providing a view into the perversion of humanity, but his films are so satisfying to watch because he is truly an aesthete. In interviews he has discussed his fanatical attention to every element of the set design and this can be see in his near perfect creation of a morbid and depressing simulacra of the modern city in Se7en. It is slightly gut-wrenching and arduous viewing, but well worth it in the long run.