Se7en: Ideology and Deviancy

Posted: February 28, 2015 by anthngonick in Uncategorized

Summary – *Spoiler Alert*

The film: Se7en, written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by David Fincher, was released in 1995 and portrays two detectives: a soon-to-be retiree, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), and his newly-transferred, rookie partner, David Mills (Brad Pitt), as they try to unravel a string of murders all relating to the Seven Deadly Sins. The film begins with William Somerset beginning his day before he goes to work, then he is later introduced to David Mills. Not long after, the first of the series of murders scenes is discovered: the death of an obese man. The scene is quickly described as a homicide and the detectives search for the motives.

Later at the police station, Somerset speaks with the police chief seeking to be reassigned, not wanting this case to be his last before retirement, but to no avail. The next murder is of a wealthy lawyer, with the word ‘Greed’ painted on the floor in blood. Through autopsy on the first victim, clues were left for the detectives to find and lead them to a message the murderer left behind. The message in the first murder dubbed the theme of the death as ‘Gluttony’ via grease spelling the word; a note was also left to find, a little excerpt from Paradise Lost by John Milton.

Next, Somerset is invited for dinner at David Mill’s house where upon Somerset meets Mills’ wife; the three converse and character development is ensued. From the second crime scene, the lawyer, they find a note with a quote from The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare and another clue, ‘Help Me’ written in finger prints, but not of the victim’s, behind a painting on the wall.

Once they find a match for the prints they move out with a task force, only to find the third victim. The prints were used from the third victim. This theme was ‘Sloth’, as written on the wall above the victim. He was found strapped to a bed with many different medical instruments and drugs in place to keep the victim alive, however he would not be able to function due to the brain deterioration. A record of pictures was also found dating back exactly one year to the day that the detectives arrive.

The scene changes to Somerset receiving a phone call at his home from Mills’ wife needing someone to talk to; more character development and Somerset is informed that Mills and his wife are going to have a child, unbeknownst to Mills. The detectives then meet an informant from the FBI who has access to library records of flagged material and pin a suspect, John Doe; however, the action of the FBI monitoring these records was described as not legal; technically the records did not exist and neither did their meeting with the informant. They later go the suspect’s apartment in hopes of talking to him. As they knock on the door the suspect appears heading to his apartment but opens fire on the detectives. Unharmed, the detectives give chase. The detectives are separated; Mills finds the suspect but was overcome. Mills is held at gunpoint, but Doe chooses to let him live and flees just as Somerset arrives. The detectives then go to Doe’s apartment and after arguing that they cannot enter because they don’t have a lawful reason to knock on the door, a warrant, or probable cause, Mills breaks down the door in anger. They then bribe someone nearby to give a false testimony in order to lawfully obtain a warrant to search the apartment they had already broken the door to.

When searching the apartment, they find much of Doe’s earlier plans, documents, and even pictures being developed of the crimes as they were taking place, yet, no fingerprints could be found. The phone rings and Doe congratulates the detectives but says that his plans will be shuffled but not disrupted.

The next day the detectives go to another crime scene that happened during the night. The result, ‘Lust’ etched into the door of a room in a brothel containing a dead prostitute, and a distraught man who, at gunpoint, was forced to kill her. With ‘Gluttony’, ‘Greed’, ‘Sloth’, and ‘Lust’ being dealt with, those remaining of the Seven Sins would be ‘Wrath’, ‘Pride’, and ‘Envy’.

Following this event, John Doe phones 911 and reports that he has done it again. Mills and Somerset go to the scene only to find the ‘Pride’ written above a deceased female model with her face bandaged. From a phone glued to one hand and sleeping tills the other, the detectives arrive at the ultimatum given to the woman: waking up with her face disfigured then choosing to either calling for help and live with face mangled, or ending her own life and be ‘put out of her misery’, with suicide being her choice.

Nearing the end, John Doe turns himself in and offers a proposal for his guilty plea. Claimed that there were two more victims (one of which was confirmed at the crime scene of Pride containing blood of another party) John Doe would would lead them to the bodies if Somerset and Mills, only, would take him there at a specific time that night or else he would opt for the insanity plea in court. Fearing the public learning of two murder cases not being investigated by the police, and wanting to end the investigation Mills and Somerset agree.

The detectives then drive Doe to the location of the bodies; they then reach a point where they need to go on foot. As they are walking, a delivery van races towards them. Mills points his gun at Doe as Somerset rushes to meet the vehicle at gunpoint. The driver of the vehicle explains that a man paid him to deliver a package to that destination to Detective Mills. As Somerset cautiously opens the package, Doe explains to Mills that he envied Mills and his normal life. Somerset runs back them and yells at Mills to drop the gun, consecutively Doe explains that he had killed Mills’ wife and describes how he did it; inside the package was her remains. Somerset reaches them and does not answer when Mills questions him about the contents of the box; realizing that Doe was not lying, Mills wails in frustration and anguish. Doe tells Mills to finish it and become ‘Wrath’. A gunshot sounds and Doe falls to the ground. More officers then arrive and arrest Mills and investigate the scene. The film ends as Mills is drives off and the Seven Deadly Sins complete with Doe as ‘Envy’ and Mills as ‘Wrath’ (Se7en, 1995).

Deviancy within the film

There is not an abundant amount of police deviancy within the movie, however there are elements of officer classification and explanations of how different ideologies sins/deviancies are tolerated. The first major corrupt act that the detectives, mostly Mills, committed were ‘fixing’ their means to obtain a search warrant (Roebuck and Barker, 1974); this act was morally justified and helped further the detective’s investigation, however it was not lawful. Punch (2009) would most likely classify both of the detectives as ‘Professionals’, “they believe in achieving results by ‘good’ – meaning skillful and honest – policing […]” (p. 24). However, Mills actions in that scene would be classified as a ‘Dirty Harry’, “tough and devious methods are deemed appropriate to achieving a result such as an arrest and confession” (Punch, 2009, p. 24). In addition, Mills also committed the most significant, and last, act of deviance in the final scene of the film. Due to the circumstances Mills could have turned into a ‘Lone Wolf’, as Punch described, “an individual driven by a sort of personal crusade” (2009, p. 25). Besides the lack of full-blown corruption within the agency, the antagonist, John Doe, explains how deviance is tolerated and accepted once an ideology is born. If a police organization is corrupt and sickness grows to the point where, as the Knapp Commission explains, ‘Grass-Eaters’, ‘Meat-Eaters’ and ‘Birds’ are present it becomes a norm to be involved in some for of corruption, be it directly involved, or turning a blind-eye (1973). In the film Se7en, John Doe explains, “We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it is common; it is trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon and night, well not anymore” (Se7en, 1995). Deviancy, or sin, may seem despicable and extreme, but if it engrained within the norms of society, the line becomes blurred (Se7en, 1995).

References Cited

Punch, M. (2009). What is Corruption? In Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (pp. 18-52).                    Portland: Willian Pub.

Roebuck, J.B. and T. Barker. (1974). A Typology of Police Corruption. Social Problems 21(2: 423-437)

Se7en [Motion picture]. (1995). United States.

The Knapp Commission report on police corruption. (1973). New York: G. Braziller.


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