If there is one thing we should all take away from the movie Seven (or however it’s spelled) it’s that Brad Pitt can play a true douche. Beyond that, and perhaps more meaningfully, the movie reminds us that we shape one another’s actions and psychopaths make the best manipulators.
Throughout the film, Morgan Freeman serves as Brad Pitt’s anchor, a root in the real world, an older, experienced detective who has seen his fair share of barbarism and depravity over the years. Yet the meticulous nature of the serial killer they are up against–a killer who murders his victims based on the seven deadly sins of Christianity–is unlike anything he’s encountered before. Still, there’s something to be said for experience even if Brad can’t see that.
Brad’s character’s wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) appreciates Freeman’s influence on her husband. She is literally Brad’s better half, his raison d’être, and the reason he does what he does. Of course, she’s also his Achilles heel, his weak spot, the aspect of his life that ultimately makes him human.
This trinity of characters finds their foil in the person of Kevin Spacey. Spacey, the killer, has orchestrated his rampage to conclude with Brad’s character becoming wrath–the final sin to complete the seven.
As Spacey’s character manipulates the principles in the film to complete his master plan, the audience is effectively clueless. There’s no way to anticipate the ending and this makes the stunning conclusion all the more horrific and all the more poetic. Spacey’s “John Doe” exhibits a kind of otherworldly prescience in his anticipation of Pitt’s response as he gently says, “Become wrath.”
The writers made Spacey seem truly (and I prithee beg you, pardon the pun) alien in his actions. He slices off his fingertips. He appears to feel no pain. He exhibits no remorse for his actions. He effectively and compellingly becomes something else, something not quite human but draped in human form. His slow, deliberate actions, his careful, quiet words, his measured and unfeeling response to everything and everyone around him betrays a mind sharper than our own and, at the same time, less than human. His performance is masterful, his delivery brilliant in its deadpan way.
Honestly, I found Pitt’s character insufferable, too hotheaded, too eager. Yet Spacey’s calm, quiet demeanor counters this perfectly. From start to finish the film was brilliant, the acting superb, the resolution bone-chillingly beautiful.
Seven was one of the top-grossing films of 1995, and with good reason. I recall at the time my friends discussing the final scene, how shocked they were by the contents of the box, how Morgan Freeman’s reaction was absolutely perfect. When I finally saw the film, I thought I’d be prepared for the outcome (given everyone’s panache for spoilers) but I wasn’t. No film before or since has ever shocked me like that, ever shown me that forewarned isn’t forearmed.
Ultimately this film portrays a perfect psychopath, a perfect human monster. There’s a reason Kevin Spacey gets to append the letters “KBE” to his name–because he’s a badass no matter what he does.