David Fincher’s film Seven is a tragic, moody, gritty, gross and dark movie; both in cinematography and narrative. The climax scene, “Envy and Wrath,” encapsulates all these traits in one scene. Detective Mills, Detective Somerset and John Doe (the serial killer antagonist) have a bleak faceoff to conclude the story and this will be the point of focus for my “alt-viewing” of the film. Doe has decapitated Mill’s pregnant wife and had her head couriered to a lonely desert location north of Los Angeles. Doe does this to provoke Mills to commit the seventh of the Seven Deadly Sins, Wrath, in order to complete Doe’s pious scheme; having Mill do God’s will. I wanted to alter the concluding scene of the movie to be even darker to match the themes of the unbroken Neo-Noir (a modern branch of Film Noir) tone of the rest of the movie.
The major modification in my alt-viewing of this scene was replacing the original score with my own. I initially created the song used as the replacement score, for other purposes. Trent Reznor of the industrial metal band, Nine Inch Nails and Fincher are friends and there is a remix of NIN’s hit song – “Closer” accompanying the opening credits, thus, the score I made has that industrial metal sound rather than a conventional symphonic score. I then played my song on iTunes while watching the scene on YouTube and the rhythm of the music and the imagery of the video, without modification, coincidentally happened to synch to one another perfectly in timing and tenor. I wanted the score to seemingly speed up the sequence and have it play louder to add a little more anxiety and chaos to the scene. An illusion of having sped up the sequence with the score was important, as I wanted to assist the cliché within the plot narrative of: “his entire life changed in a flash.” The beat of the score acts like a metronome, specifically in the latter half when Mill’s is on the verge of making his critical decision to kill Doe.
Here are some points about the changes I made to the scene that may have elevated the viewer’s experience, giving the scene a more three-dimensional feel. The score starts with an abrupt symphonic hit, then breaks into a slower beat whilst the characters are all generally remaining put. Then Mills begins his “rage-quit,” moving aggressively towards Doe with his gun pointed at Doe’s head yelling – “You lie! You’re a fucking liar! Shut up!” (Carlyle & Fincher, 1995). The faster drum beat rushes in with a phat bassline and a video clip transition: motion blur giving a heightened sense of motion to the shot. The beat pulsates over the dialogue for a few measures, then Doe pushes our stress level into a new realm of dysphoria with the quote – “…become, Wrath.” (Carlyle & Fincher, 1995). This cues the text “WRATH” to appear in red on the screen. “WRATH” is given a voice by Mills’ chill-inducing shout in reply to Somerset – “Tell me she’s alright!” (Carlyle & Fincher, 1995). A hidden gem within the mis en scène rendered onto the screen when I added the darker filters in the latter two-thirds of the sequence. The natural lighting of the sun burned an extra – hot and brightly coloured line into the left third of each of the three characters’ close-up shots just before Mills executes Doe. During two of Somerset’s close-up shots, he is seen speaking but the audience cannot hear him; I muted him here because I imagined that in the heat of the moment Mills had selective hearing willed by his mental trauma, further coaxing him toward his fateful decision. I added a white flash effect to the video when Mills fired his gun to exaggerate the power of his flash decision. After Mills shoots Doe the first time, the next shot of Mills is a low-angle – point of view shot from Doe’s perspective. The harsh red colors and dark lighting of the filter I added, I think helped the shot look a little more stylized like a Zak Snyder film. The last two gunshots Mills takes are half muted in slow motion sound for dramatic effect. And the final shot is interrupted by blackness but continuing the score until the end of the track, again, for more dramatic effect.
When I imported the scene to iMovie – video editing software, I added more sound effects to my score; for the sake of audible cues for different plot-related purposes. Audible cues for example; a hockey puck ricocheting off of a rink wall to add a reverberated strike sound to the internal mental impact within Mills’ psyche. At the point of exposition, in which Doe inhumanly reveals to Mills that his wife was pregnant when Doe murdered her; there is another audible cue in the form of a choral swell, followed by a radically faster, time-sensitive drum beat. This is also the point in which the visual cues for my imagined sense of Mills’ experience of “psychosis” begin with Mills – “seeing red,” through the blurring effects that lead into the red-tinted filters. “Seeing red” is significant to this alt-viewing, as it is a metaphorical term for humans, originating from the sport of bullfighting, in which a bull is provoked into aggression at the sight of the color red; that being similar to Mills – “seeing red” when being provoked to commit Wrath.
Upon reading that Seven is categorized into the film genre Neo-Noir, I ramped up the low-key lighting of Fincher’s mis en scène. In my opinion, the desert in cinema usually carries a vibe of desolation, death, and decay. Because of that, the desert setting adds to the anguish Mills endures in this part of the movie. But, in my opinion, the available light could have used some filtering to assist the emotional energy of the sequence, thus, adding the reddish filters to again typify that “seeing red” phenomenon I imagined. The blackness also added some flavour to the three characters’ images. The more shadow on Doe’s face helped to shroud him in his anonymity and the additional shadowing to Somerset and Mills’ faces helped in making them appear more ashamed. My edited composition of the final shot of the video clip featured seems to further stitch the narrative and style of Film Noir to Seven. The way Fincher had Somerset positioned at an angle, primarily with his back to the camera adds a lot of shadow to Somerset’s image. The shadowy shot of Somerset calmly looking down at the ground in defeat is practically a direct illustration of his lack of surprise that Mills decided to kill Doe in the act of vengeance. Somerset’s character expressed in several quotes that he was cynical about human nature. Mills’ action was the “final straw” for Somerset to which Somerset ends the movie in narration, quote: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.” (Carlyle & Fincher, 1995).
– John Doe
Carlyle, P. (Producer), & Fincher, D. (Director). (1995). Seven. [Motion Picture] United States: New Line Cinema.