Monday, July 5, 2010

Seven

Seven screens at the Toronto Underground Cinema Wednesday July 7th and Thursday July 8th at 7pm to kick off the Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival.

Caution: Minor Spoilers Ahead (but none that will ruin it if you haven't seen the film)

"In any big city, you see things every day that if you dwell on them you're going to be miserable. If you walk down the street and pass a homeless person begging for money, whether you give them money or not, two blocks later there'll be another homeless person. Five blocks later, if you're still dwelling on the inherent tragedy of what you've just seen, you'll be unable to function. There's a required apathy in big cities, in life in general - you have to carry enough apathy to make it through the day, unfortunately. If you walk out your front door and the street's strewn with trash and there's a car that's been abandoned, and a week later that car's still there, but the windows are smashed in, and a week after that it's burnt out - if that's the environment you live in, why not throw your own garbage into the street? Apathy breeds apathy." - Andrew Kevin Walker, writer of Seven

"Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention." - John Doe



I can count on a single hand the number of movies that have truly shocked me to the point of gasping. I don't mean shocked in the sense that I was particularly disgusted by what I saw, but how I had the wool pulled over my eyes by the filmmakers. Seven is the first movie to have ever done that to me and since that first viewing films with twist endings rarely ever measure up. Seven is an incredibly intense B-movie style gumshoe thriller with an A-list pedigree.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Welcome to the beginning of my coverage of the Toronto Underground Cinema's Seven Deadly Sins Film Festival. For the remainder of July, I will be looking at all the sinful films to be shown during the festival. And there is no better way to start the festival than with this film. There probably couldn't even be a festival without it's inclusion.

Seven is quite possibly the most effective horror film of the past twenty years and easily the most philosophical. Which is why I opened with the quotation from Seven scribe Andrew Kevin Walker. Sure, the festival is all about sin, but when it comes to this film and the films to be screened over the next month, I think we need to first examine what can be seen as the root of almost all sin: apathy.

Referring back to the quotation, it is very clear that the concept of apathy is what Walker and director David Fincher's nameless city is based around. The film gives us three characters viewing the crimes on display with varying degrees of apathy.

Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is made out from the opening scene to be seen as someone who cares too much. He is the stereotypical cop only days away from retirement tasked with training a hot headed rookie. Somerset is always questioning if he can really make a difference, but try as he might, he can't pull himself away from a final case the could ultimately ruin him on an emotional and possibly physical level. This is a man who needs apathy in his life. No wonder he needs a metronome to help him sleep.

New to the force, but not to being a homicide detective, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) believes with all his heart and soul that he can make a difference. Despite all of his bravado and bragging that he can take on a case such as the seven deadly sin murders, Mills is constantly acting with only the best of intentions in mind and generally ignoring the apathy of the city that surrounds him. Somerset knows that not only is this the wrong attitude to have while investigating a serial murderer, but also the wrong attitude to have in the city. Somerset has had years of apathy wash over him and it is a testament to who he is as a character that he hasn't given into the same feelings as his coworkers and superiors. Mills chooses to ignore the apathy and charge head long into things. Even Mills' wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) can see the apathy all around her and has serious doubts about raising a child in such an environment.

Then there is John Doe, the criminal mastermind behind the gristly "murder" scenes based around the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. Doe operates almost in the space where Somerset and Mills' personalities overlap. Doe has created elaborate set pieces, almost like pieces of demented performance art, to use as sermons. This makes sense since the seven deadly sins were basically created as something to sermonize about in the first place. Doe sees the apathy in daily life that lies behind the sins and is willing to go to great lengths to punish people for it.

So why did I use quotes around the word murder back there? Well, this is where we get into (kind of) spoiler territory.

Doe uses his victims apathy against them; both apathy towards their fellow man and apathy towards their own outward appearance. Without getting into too much detail, it doesn't give much away to state that Doe only actually murders two people during the entire film and one of them is an accident. The other victims succumb to suicide, assault from another person, or they actually survive. It is quite unfair that Seven is often seen only as a serial killer thriller. It is really more of a meditation on the nature of evil than anything else.

Without getting too long winded here, since this is a blog and not an academic paper, it is this concept of apathy in relation to the seven deadly sins that I will focus on in the weeks to come. Think about how each of the upcoming films uses an apathetic attitude to display a "sinful" nature.

Now for the twist ending. One of the films during the festival is actually the complete opposite of what I just said. It might not look like it, but it really is. However, without the entire schedule posted yet, I refuse to let the readers know which movie it is just yet. In fact, it is a film that shows that sometimes sin can be inherently good. It is also a film that I really don't like that much, but respect simply because it works against an established norm. But much like Seven does in it's second and third acts, I shall play my cards close to my chest on this one.

Film Geekery Side Note #1: This film really was a make or break proposition for New Line Cinema. If New Line was "the house that Freddy built" and home to the Ninja Turtle films (which for a long time held the record for the highest grossing independently released features), Seven was a huge leap forward for the studio. It proved that it could create a film with a A-list cast and budget, while pushing the envelope and still managing to be successful. Without Seven, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Boogie Nights, Blow, and many other classic films might never have found a home at another studio.

Film Geekery Side Note #2: I know a lot of useless facts about this film, but the one I like to share the most often deals with something a lot of people like to look into quite deeply: the fact that it is raining during the entirety of the film except for the final scene. In truth, this was really just a happy accident and there really wasn't any symbolism intended. David Fincher says this in early commentary tracks for the film and now he kind of disingenuously goes back on his word in more recent tracks. The truth was, the rain was there for continuity. Brad Pitt was only available for a limited amount of time and all of his scenes were shot first because he had to leave quickly to film 12 Monkeys. It rained the first few days Pitt was on set, and they simply decided to keep everything that way since they were filming out of order anyway.

Film Geekery Side Note #3: This may be your last chance to see Seven in 35MM the way it was first screened. In ten years, if any prints exist, they probably will not be originals. The reason? For the most recent DVD release (the New Line Platinum Series), Fincher completely digitized the original negative and put it into HD. While Fincher knows what he is doing when it comes to HD, he also destroyed the original film negative. Now the HD version is the only negative that exists for Seven.

When Seven was first released, the prints were processed using a resilvering technique. Silver is normally taken out of a print to save money and to give the film a less contrasted look. For Seven, however, the silver was taken out, the print was properly colorized, and then the silver was put back in again. This made the blacks blacker and the colors denaturalized. Three Kings used the same process to similar effect, but with a much brighter looking movie.

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