Throughout my tenure as an individual who watches films for gems of meaning, I have turned my gaze to the fertile soil that is the masterpiece Se7en many times. I imagine if I continue to both live and write in the world for any fair duration of time, I will repeat this exercise many times over.
The film plays on these basic premises:
1) The world is broken.
2) People retain the capability to love and to be lovable.
The formula is quite simple, but its effects can be devastatingly real to our own lives.
I have a bad habit. It's quite moronic, really, but nevertheless, it keeps pushing itself to the surface.
Wherever I'm living, I have this awful tendency to allow one small area of my dormitory to slowly devolve into an utter mess. Sometimes its a very small area -- a corner of the room, the closest... -- and at times it can be a big problem -- like when I caused my bird to die because I inextricably suddenly refused to clean his cage, and simply let the pour creature wallow in its filth until death (I was 12, so don't assassinate my character for this one, please). When I do finally undertake the job of cleaning the abominable mess I have long procrastinated at cleansing my residency of, it is often too late to undo the damage I've caused (like the death of my bird). This past winter, some water spilled underneath my bed, and I forgot for awhile about it, until a faint smell from time to time would waft under my nose. My solution was to keep the window in my bedroom open all the time. Two months later, when I found myself determined to eradicate the source of the stench, I discovered a small, but vitriol fungus had been thriving in the darkness, and it had already climbed up into my mattress. The damage was contained to a small location, but it was uneradicatable.
Se7en takes place in a world where the junk was left uncleansed for too long. The damage has been done. Humpty-Dumpty won't be fixed.
And yet, people still dwell in this place. Lovely people. Detective William Somerset is a somber, quiet, intellectual, cautious, caring, orderly, nurturing man. His replacement on the Force, Detective Mills, is easy to engage with because of his rambunctious vitality. He's the new kid on the block and we love the enthusiasm he brings to the game. And then there's his wife, the lovely blonde, Tracy. She is soft on the eyes and equally soft on the heart. She never raises her voice, and immediately sees the goodness in the aging Somerset that we've known from the start. These three people are worth knowing, are worth loving, and yet, here they are in this barren world.
Their endgame will not be pleasant. Tracy will have her head cut off. Her husband will be driven by madness, rage, and wrath --- the perversions of the innocent, rambunctious vitality that we appreciate in his character. And Detective Somerset, who from the getgo of the film was seeking a way out of the city, seeking a place to find some rest, comes to a somber, inevitable conclusion. There is no escape.
These things I have known about the film for some good measure of time now. The novel idea that sprung to my mind was that maybe John Doe, our vicious serial-killer puppeteer extraordinaire, may himself be lovely. Perhaps his character is not made of pure evil.
This thought floated upon me as the the three men (the detectives and their prisoner) travel by car to their allotted final destination. Mr. John Doe had for most of the car ride kept his voice miraculously monotone. Despite Mills' coaxing, John was actively restrained in manner, and even appeared to be emanating peace from his orange jumpsuit. But the veil was lifted when Mills dared to speak of the innocence of John Doe's victims.
Doe can't handle the blasphemy. He leans in towards the detectives and his voice gradually crescendos as he lists the vile attributes of those he caused to suffer. He concludes with the line:
Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that's the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it's common, it's trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I'm setting the example. What I've done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed... forever.
Doe had come to the conclusion that it was time to clean the fungus that was eating at the mattress. He would fix that which was broken. Maybe you don't want to believe in Doe's conviction, but realize he dies for his cause willingly. He himself is full of the stuff of brokenness, and so at least he finds a way to eliminate himself.
This is not a story of two diametrically opposed forces. This is not good versus evil. There is no joker, here, toiling about evil for the hell of it. This is a car of three men, each of which must come to the same conclusion -- it's all gone wrong. We can abhor John Doe's actions, and we can pity Mills' inevitable vengeful retaliation, but we still must look inward to find our own answer to their dilemma. What do we do with a world that is broken bit by bit?
If the world is worth fighting for, maybe John Doe was just fighting with the wrong weapons.
I think maybe Se7en's gentleness is expressed in its concluding sigh.