Seven: There's No Serial Killer. (3200 words)
Back in 1996 there was no internet, I didn’t know anything about the deadly sins and coming back after having watched Seven at the theatre I couldn’t make out what victims corresponded to what sins.
It’s only about ten years later that I saw the movie again and was able to observe the problem. The killer is supposed to punish deadly sinners by killing them in a meaningful fashion and still, David Mills, “Wrath” doesn’t die while his wife, who is entirely innocent, does.
I know Seven is a revered classic but… this doesn’t add up.
Of course, Mills is most certainly not going to recover from his experience easily and having had his wife decapitated for his anger is quite the punishment. The problem is that everything is supposed to have gone according to the plan of the killer, and the deranged man couldn’t have decided from the beginning not to kill his seven sinners. That’s the whole point of his initiative, killing seven persons according to the seven deadly sins. You couldn’t make it more simple and still although everything works according to his plan and only six sinners die.
Very few spectators point this out because there’s no obvious explanation to this inconsistency and therefore ignoring the problem is the best option we’ve got.
Although it explains it, the interpretation I’m about to develop here doesn’t start with this problem. There’s no serial killer in Seven, the rituals surrounding the seven murdered sinners aren’t important.
The core of the story is David Mills. He is self-righteous, sure of himself and willing to put the bad guys behind bars. He is the kind of cop who will not hesitate to put corrupt cops, judges or politicians behind bars and therefore he represents a threat to dangerous people who have the power to hurt him.
If you look at his first interactions with Somerset you’ll notice that the older detective treats him like shit. David Mills has worked at homicides for five years but still has to cope with constant condescending lecturing. On his second day he buys two coffees to show his good will, Somerset not only refuses his but doesn’t even show any kind of gratitude. Mills offers his coffee to an officer and starts asking questions about the murder, he’s new, he’s trying to make friends, he’s trying to get to know his future colleagues, Somerset interrupts them and asks him: “I wonder what exactly was the point of the conversation you were getting into.” Then, on the murder scene he simply asks Mills to shut up, ignores his questions (“You think it’s poison ?”) and then sends him out.
David Mills is a good cop and his transfer represents a serious problem to certain people who have, as a consequence, decided to break his spirit.
Seven is the story of a conspiracy.
Somerset isn’t aware of what’s to expect next, but he was told to be an asshole to his new partner and to as much as possible entice him to resign from his new position.
Tracy Mills isn’t happy to be in this city, as it’s made obvious when Somerset asks her about how she likes it here. She too is part of the conspiracy. The apartment that trembles each time a tramway passes by isn’t a coincidence. Someone pulled a few strings so that Tracy and David visit that specific place and take it. The dissatisfied wife was in on the lie or wasn’t, I don’t know but it’s conceivable.
It is very suspicious that she should invite Somerset suddenly without having ever talked to David about the idea (as if she had been asked to do so). When Somerset arrives, she pretends to be the one doing the presentation, as if Mills didn’t know his colleague. Later on, when she tells Somerset that she is pregnant I’m not even sure that that’s true, knowing how Somerset forced his former partner to have an abortion, telling him that David is going to become a father is one more reason to bully him away from the city. The movie starts with Somerset witnessing again what happens to young kids there (They get killed). So maybe, Tracy was told to tell Somerset that she was pregnant.
Anyway, my point here isn’t in the details, it simply is that David Mills is surrounded by people who want to make him give up on the idea of living in the city.
After the horrible apartment and the insufferable new colleague comes the hideous first case: a fat man who exploded after having eaten too much spaghetti and most probably drown in them.
When Mills betrays disgust when he finds the bucket full of vomit, Somerset asks “Is there blood in it ?” There’s no reason for the question. Mills asks “Do you think it’s poison ?” Somerset doesn’t answer. He just wanted to bring Mills to take a look right into what disgusted him, he wants to break his mind.
At the end of this worst first day ever Mills isn’t disheartened. He finds the energy to have a difficult conversation with Somerset, reminds him that they have the same detective badge and asks him in a very subtly respectful manner not to put him aside ever again.
This conversation is what triggers the second day and the serial killing.
The people who want Mills off the job cannot but assess their failure. The aversive stimuli have to go up a notch. That’s why a new body is found and this time the deadly sin is written in big letters (“Greed”). The Milton quote found being the fridge too announces that it’s just the beginning: “Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light.”
The problem is that Somerset finds “Gluttony” and the quote after he, Mills and their team searched the place and didn’t find these two important clues. It doesn’t make sense. If Doe wanted people to understand the meaning of his murders, he would have written “Gluttony” everywhere in the room with electric lights so that the cops cannot miss it. Also, what about the fact that Somerset got rid of Mills ten seconds after they started inspecting the room ? It is extremely suspicious.
What happened here is that this became the work of a “serial killer” only because Mills wasn’t impressed. There is no serial killer in Seven, only modified crime scenes that are made to impress and scare David Mills… or maybe even murders orchestrated for other reasons. A paedophile who couldn’t be arrested, a corrupted lawyer ? A problematic witness -the prostitute-
And by the way. A paedophile killed for “Sloth” ? A prostitute for “Luxury” ? A lawyer for “Greed” ? The fat guy was obviously a good specimen for “Glutonny” but these following victims really aren’t that convincing. It’s more the client than the girl who is guilty of “luxury.” The lawyer is condemned for defending the paedophile. He’s a lawyer ! It’s his job to defend anybody, it has nothing to do with “greed.” And killing the paedophile for his “sloth” is really not a strong symbol. My point here is that these murders could have been forced into the “deadly sins” script when they had nothing to do with it in the first place. If the lawyer had cheated on his wife, he could have been tagged “luxury” and if the prostitute was particularly expensive, she could have been tagged with “Greed.”
As Mills doesn’t give up after his horrible first day, the seven sins serial killer scenario is green lighted. How suspicious is it that Somerset should specifically tell Mills to just look and listen for “the next seven days” the first time they meet ?
"I don't want you to take any kind of initiatives during seven days, and once your wife is dead and you're destroyed psychologically, you can start working here more autonomously, ok ?" "Did you just spoil me the entire plot ?"
In the same conversation the old detective asks Mills why he specifically wanted to be transferred in that city in that police station. I think that this question isn’t a coincidence, it truly is a strange choice, and in my opinion Mills’ behaviour is truly suspicious in its assertiveness. I think he actually is there in order to investigate a few cops, he is too qualified not to have had a better choice. He is more the best young detective who could ask for whatever he wanted than the average one who had to choose the difficult city.
And so, the farce carries on. After the stupid apartment, the wife who can’t find a job, the insufferable lecturing older colleague and the unimaginably sinister murders… comes the literary research ! For some reason (a quote) it suddenly seems reasonable to read volumes of 17th century English poetry in order to solve a series of murders. That’s ridiculous, but as long as it makes Mills feel out of depth, why not ?
And after the literary humiliation, it’s time for the physical encounter. The ignoble murders haven’t intimidated the new detective so, again, the people who want him to give up have to step up their game.
It is thus decided that Mills should meet the “killer,” get shot at and maybe experience the pleasure of having a gun pointed at his temple, this should calm his ardour. Easier said than done when the victims are chosen according to such an arbitrary logic and there’s no way Somerset or Mills could find anything that would lead them to a possible suspect. As a consequence, Somerset suddenly pulls out this superb idea out of his ass: the killer must be on an illegal library list of library users because you know if he quoted Milton and kills people according to the seven deadly sins then he must have borrowed specific books… this doesn’t make any sense, Mills even points it out, but it’ll miraculously pay off. Just when Mills and Somerset are knocking at the apartment door, the killer comes back from shopping, identify them and start shooting at them.
I wish I could make it obvious how voluntarily clumsy the whole thing is. Mills is supposed to be the last victim on the killer’s list. First, how is that even possible ? Mills is new in town and the killer is said to have been preparing his crime wave for a long time. He wouldn’t have added someone at the last minute. But, supposing that David Mills is his final target, wouldn’t the killer have taken the detective’s picture a long time ago ? And his wife’s ? The cops will find information concerning the prior murders in the killer’s apartment but nothing about the upcoming ones. It’s unbelievable. The guy would already have gathered dossiers about his soon to be victims. He wants to kill one a day during one week and this following very specific rituals. That’s a tough objective to reach and it needs preparation.
But I lost track of the point I was trying to make here: What leads Somerset and Mills to the apartment is already absurd. 1-The killer didn’t need any book to do what he did. He only quoted one sentence from paradise’s lost and knows about the seven deadly sins. 2-There’s no reason why he would have borrowed books at a library. He could very well own them. 3-Many people could have had other reasons to borrow the exact same books.
The reasoning behind Somerset’s initiative is random and the fact that it should work, and this so quickly (I don’t remember whether it is told that they visited other addresses) makes the whole thing very suspicious.
Of course, suspiciousness doesn’t end there. Once the chase is over and Somerset and Mills find themselves in front of the door of the killer’s apartment again, Somerset suddenly decides that it’d be quite problematic if they forced the door. It was fine to come here using illegal means, but once they were shot at and nearly got killed, the end strangely doesn’t justifies the means anymore. How is that ?
What happens here is that Somerset doesn’t know that the apartment was prepared and thus thinks that they may only find a normal apartment behind the door. He tries hard to discourage Mills from entering it but the new detective forces the door anyway.
Inside, they discover a lot of incriminating things. Strangely though, it’s his own picture that convinces Mills that “they had him.” The killer is the guy who photographed him from one meter away in an impossible-not-to-notice manner. It’s ridiculous. If this was the apartment of a serial killer, and if there were chasing such a thing as a serial killer, they would have found pictures of all the victims.
The thousands of diaries too are ridiculous. Mills ask whether there’s anything about the murders inside, as an answer Somerset just reads one creepy passage that proves nothing and explains that it would take too much time to read everything… what about reading a few until you find something about the murders ? Very conveniently, there’s no date to be found inside nor any kind of classification on the shelves.
So, these cops are facing an extremely organised extremely disorganised serial killer who went as far as burning his own fingers so as not to let any fingerprint anywhere but isn’t interested in classifying his personal diaries. Ho, and by the way, how come there’s blood on the sheet of paper when they take his fingerprints at the police station if he burnt them ages ago ? It just doesn’t add up. If he burnt his fingers recently, then there are fingerprints to find on the older books. If he burnt his fingerprints a long time ago, then there’s no blood on the sheet of paper. If he cleant his whole apartment thoroughly in order to get rid of any fingerprint then it should look more like a model apartment than this filthy slaughterhouse. There’s no coherence in all this because it’s all a constructed image.
As they need an excuse to explain their visit, Mills creates a female witness who pretends to have call Somerset because one of her neighbour was suspiciously leaving his apartment at the exact time of the murders, that which is ridiculous as the murders don’t have any “exact time.” Surprisingly, the cops take her seriously.
This element means a lot of things. First, it discredits Somerset’s argumentation against forcing the apartment’s door. Confronted to such a serious killer, it actually would have been reasonable to consider inventing a witness, a better one. Somerset brought the idea of the illegal list of library users, creating a fake witness after what happened shouldn’t have stopped him.
Secondly, Mills fabricated witness is awful and the cop who takes her testimony should spot the scam from miles away, but he doesn’t, either out of solidarity or… because he received orders to do so.
Thirdly, the fact that such a ridiculous testimony should be accepted should put Mills on his guard. It doesn’t because he is trustful and naïve. That’s where his naivety lies. (Or maybe, he was on the contrary making it sure that there’s something really strange going on).
I don’t remember the prostitute’s case enough to extract anything meaningful from it. I just find it strange that Somerset should interview the poor guy who killed her while Mills just has a chat with the owner of the place.
Final joke: the killer’s surrender.
There are a few things that are awesome about the killer in seven, but I’d like to point out at how much they support the interpretation that there’s no killer too. John Doe is the name that is given to a non-identified corpse. A John Doe. The killer has no identity, nor fingerprints. Mills comes across him twice and never sees his face. Paradoxically, the mystery that surrounds him works like a charm when it comes to making him believable; simply because most people love that kind of characters, just like The Joker’s randomness and absolute lack of any motives whatsoever fascinated many viewers in The Dark Knight.
These elements can nevertheless be taken as indicators that there’s no killer. No face, no name, no fingerprint and therefore no real way to tie the supposed murderer to the murders, and one murder to the other… but the modus operandi. Seven’s killer is nothing more than a modus operandi (that isn’t even fully respected).
Mills voices the theory himself, the man who surrenders could simply be an imbalanced person who got sucked into the process of creating this series of murders. He identified with that man who killed people according to the deadly sins and as this man seemed un-identifiable ended up creating the idea that this man was him. It exists in psychosis (I think). When looking at John Doe, does it seem unbelievable that the man could be psychotic ?
Also, John Doe surrenders to Mills inside the police station ! He finds Somerset and Mills and surrenders to them while being covered with blood. Seriously !?! Yes, it’s impressive and a great scene, but it’s just ridiculous unless it’s a mise-en-scène. John Doe, the serial killer is the police station.
How suspicious is it that in the car neither Somerset nor Mills should ask any relevant question to John Doe ? They never check whether he truly is the murderer. They never check whether he did this on his own or with the help of an accomplice for example, or how he organised all this. Of course, it is because they don’t have time, still it’s pretty convenient. Mills doesn’t ask: “Why did you have to make it so complicated ?” “Why cutting the arm of Sloth ?” “How did you manage to maintain him alive for so long ?” He doesn’t ask anything specific that could possibly make the edifice crumble.
And finally, the revelation of Tracy’s death.
I believe that the whole movie could rely on the idea that integrity is the desire to create a world in which you can raise your children. Integrity is love of your children.
Somerset abandoned the idea of having children. This doesn’t mean that he has no integrity, on the contrary. He does have integrity and that makes him horribly depressed in the face of this world, and that’s why he doesn’t have any kids. He doesn’t have kids because he loves them.
Mills is sterile. If he and Tracy could have kids, he wouldn’t have chosen this city. He did because he’s looking for an excuse: he chose the worst place on the planet so that having kids will look like a bad idea. And at the same time, he is fighting “evil” in order to feel capable of giving life. If he rights enough wrongs, then the world might be beautiful enough to welcome his children.
That’s why the ending revolves around this specific topic. When Doe tells Mills that Tracy was pregnant, he is telling him that he had reached his most desired goal and didn’t even know it. If Mills had known that Tracy was pregnant, he would have stopped everything…
…that which convinces me that she truly was pregnant because it gives the final middlefinger to the people who did everything and managed to break Mills.
They went to the furthest of ignominy in order to stop him when all they had to do is tell him he could give life. They just needed a man to have sex with Tracy… which is why she is so flirtatious with Somerset, I know he is black and it would be a stupid move but he represents “the man.”
So, I’m confused… if helping Mills have kids would have made him less of a problem, does that mean that having children make you partially lose your integrity ? (Of course it does).
And because evil must be given a face and it's always your murderers who read your eulogy, I suppose that one of the main vilain behind the whole manipulation is the guy on the left, the chief of the police. You know, that sergeant from Full Metal Jacket who brings a new recruit to mental breakdown and suicide...