“Emotional response to a popular film is dependent on the ways in which we are made to identify or align ourselves with particular characters.” How far has this been your experience?
An emotional response, when watching a particular film, is triggered by something that affected the film’s main protagonist or central characters, so in a sense, from a first time viewing, we definitely align ourselves with these types of characters. The director of ‘Se7en’, David Fincher wants us to emotionally engage with both Somerset and Mills, despite the fact, their characters arcs are complete binary opposites from one another, yet emotionally, we respond to them both in similar ways.
At the start of ‘Se7en’, we are made aware of the differences between both Somerset and Mills; one is calm, collected and reserved whilst the other is arrogant, outspoken and physical. We wonder at first whether or not this detective pairing would work but in a way, the two characters balance each other out. We as the audience respect Somerset’s sense of integrity, but Mill expresses his opinions through swearing and looking hopeless in some scenes, which does have the essences of a flawed characters. Both characters, in effect, want to achieve the same objective, capture the 7 deadly sins killer/John Doe by any means necessary, but they are both completely different in their nature of how they approach the case. Somerset is meticulous in his thoughts and has a high level of patience, being able to sift through countless books in the library such as ‘Dante’s Inferno’ along with other texts relating to the 7 deadly Sins. The sequence where we see scenes crosscutting with Mills, through a high-angled shot is showing sign of his fatigue and his posture is similar to an image in Somerset’s book, featuring a man suffering with his body stretched. This reflects Mills suffering of not being able to conclude his own thoughts regarding the crime scene.
The music is key within this scene, as the library guards choose to play the piece of music by Bach, ‘Air on a G-String’. The choice in music is a deliberate method used by the director so that we can align ourselves with Somerset’s calm, soothing presence, not to mention his cultural knowledge as well as the contextual background surrounding the 7 deadly sins. The use of high-angled shots is commonly used to signify Mill’s sense of hopelessness. At the crime scene with the image of ‘Greed’ on the blood-stained on the floor, his body language suggest that he has no intuition or any sense of hope within him as he scratches his head with his gun, which could signify how he wants to wants to solve the case by force but he knows he has to endure this logical and meticulous merry-go-round.
It is true to suggest that our emotional responses are altered massively after a second, third or fourth viewing of the film, particularly within the final act of the film. John Doe’s dialogue in the back seat of the car is increasingly more disturbing and sadistic towards Mills as we know already that the final sin-related murder is his own as well as Mills’. After arriving at the location, a delivery van approaches; Somerset intercepts the driver, leaving both Mills and Doe alone. The driver hands over a package that he was instructed to deliver at precisely this time, [7:00pm] but in fact arriving at [7:03pm] and location. While Mills holds Doe at gunpoint, Doe mentions how much he admires him, but does not say why, thus creating more and more tension. Somerset opens the package and recoils in horror at the sights of its contents. The camera then shifts rapidly as he races back to warn Mills to not listen to Doe, but by then, the killer reveals the box contains Tracy’s head. Doe claims to represent the sin of ‘Envy’ as he was envious of Mills’ life in which he killed Tracy after failing to ‘play husband’ with her. He then taunts Mills with the knowledge that Tracy was pregnant, a fact that we as well as Somerset knew of which makes this scene even more emotionally crippling. Somerset is unable to contain the distraught Mills as he kills Doe by shooting him repeatedly, thereby becoming the seventh and final embodiment of sin, ‘Wrath’, thus completing Doe’s ‘work’.
Even though audiences, tend to emotionally respond/align or ‘root for’ characters that are in control and are powerful figures. We totally align ourselves with Mills despite his flawed characteristics because we are seeing a central character immensely crippled, psychologically, at the expense of a psychotic killer’s view of the world. However it should be said that without the performance of Kevin Spacey as John Do, the entire final act would not have worked and it would not evoke the same emotional response, time after time. The late American film critic, Roger Ebert, said about both the final act as well as Spacey’s performance; ‘The killer, as I said, turns himself in with 30 minutes of the film left to go, and dominates the film from that point forward. This actor has a big assignment. He embodies Evil. Like Hannibal Lector, his character must be played by a strong actor who projects not merely villainy but a twisted complexity. You observe his face. Smug. Self-satisfied. Listen to his voice. Intelligent. Analytical. Mark his composure and apparent fearlessness. The film essentially depends on him and would go astray if the actor faltered. He doesn’t.”