Welcome to Written in BLOOD! This monthly series will take a look at the long-lost novelizations of some of horror’s finest films! Sometimes these novelizations stay very true to the final product, and sometimes they go completely and absolutely bonkers! Either way, we will examine the details and the subplots written in these books that add to the stories we already know and love.
I’m going to sound like one of those pretentious, fedoraed cinephiles here, but so many people I know are missing the point about Seven. Until last week, I was one of them. Sure, we’ve seen the memes. We’ve laughed at Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills screaming ‘What’s in the box?”, only to be faced with someone saying “Deez” or Andy Samberg and that guy who wishes he was in Backstreet Boys posing with boxes attached to their junks.
It’s funny, for sure, but it’s also sad. It’s sad that such a monumental moment in film history has been reduced to something to chuckle at while we’re sitting on the toilet at work. Some think it’s generational, but I don’t believe it. It’s true that, when I asked several younger folks that I know what they thought Seven was about, they all answered with some form of “A serial killer murders people in horrible ways in a master plan to be remembered forever”.
It’s not because they are from a different time. Like I mentioned before, I would have given the same answer if you would have asked me a week ago. My memory of the film was almost entirely about the murders committed by John Doe. I vaguely remembered the rain, the relationship between Mills and Somerset, and I vividly remembered the gut-punch ending. None of those memories have changed, but as of a few days ago, I see the entirety of the film in a completely different light.
My mind didn’t suddenly expand to its final form. I didn’t magically become old and wise. It’s because I picked up Anthony Bruno’s novelization of the film and gave it a read. Bruno uses the near-perfect script by Andrew Kevin Walker as a framework and creates a world that feels both lived-in and terrifying. Like many novelizations that are based off great scripts that don’t need much tinkering, the book plays out almost identically to the film. It doesn’t give us any psychic sharks or vengeful voodoo priests (I’m still mad at you, Jaws: The Revenge), but it does give us insight into the minds and hearts of the characters. Unlike other novelizations, this small glimpse that was made to translate the story into print, changes everything.
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Holy Shit, Mills thought, looking at Somerset. This fucker is Sherlock Holmes.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most important themes of the film. I know it’s hard, but try to look past the ending where Wrath becomes man and Doe becomes immortal. Mills is a fantastic character, one who truly admires Somerset and loves his wife more than anything, but he still serves as a viewer avatar more than anything. Let’s move him to the side for a moment and focus on three things the novel taught me about living in today’s world: Humanity, Apathy, and Rain.
Doe seems like a crazy person, but, as Somerset explains in the film, it’s dangerous to think of him that way. He is methodical, he is exacting, and he is patient. What you learn in the novel is that, when you cut through all of the religious bullshit, Somerset actually agreed with most of what Doe preached.
What sick, ridiculous little puppets we are, and what a gross, little stage we dance on. What fun we have, dancing and fucking, not a care in the world. Not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended.- John Doe
Doe’s entire worldview focused on the dehumanization of the self. To put it in today’s terms, his ire would be focused on the monetization of the human person. Our every movement is recorded. Every google search, every store we stop at, and every doctor we contact is saved by the cookies we all accept before proceeding. This information is then condensed and sold for a penny of ad revenue.
Our likes, our loves, our needs, or desires, and our secrets are mined by the highest bidder. Against our will, and without our knowledge. We are blind to the fact that, to the corporations that run our world, we are nothing but information. We have no value, unless it is able to bring in marketing dollars from Buffalo Wild Wings or Casper Mattresses. Who we are means nothing. We are only what we can provide to the corporate gods.
When you combine Bruno’s furious words with Fincher’s delicious film, you begin to understand that the actual crimes committed by Doe are secondary. It’s not what matters. The real evil in the film is not an evil man hellbent on preaching to the sinners of the world, it’s the apathy that has taken over our lives.
The world is a strange place, Mills. It’s always the same, but it’s always a surprise.- Detective Somerset
Detective Somerset is seven days away from retiring. After twenty-some-odd years on the job, he only has to last one more week. Then, it’s off to the country where he can read his poetry and try throwing actual darts instead of his switchblade. When he gets a familiar whiff of serial murder in the beginning of the film, he asks to be reassigned. It’s a cowardly, although extremely understandable, request from a man so close to the end. In the film, it’s implied that he is forced to remain on the case, but the novel paints a different picture. There, he chooses to get involved.
He didn’t need to take the case, but he did. It wasn’t his problem, but he took on the burden anyway. We face the same dilemma every single day. There is a lot going on right now in our world that, technically, is not our problem. We have a choice, much like Somerset, to either put our head down and become apathetic, or to stand up and fight for what is right. The lesson that he teaches us is that we have a duty to those around us to help. To get involved. He is a living beacon of hope in a dreary world, simply because he cannot stand aside while people are taught that apathy is a virtue.
We have no idea what city we are in when we watch Seven. It’s dark and grimy like a noir-era New York City, but it constantly downpours like it’s in the Pacific Northwest. When they leave headquarters with Doe in tow, they drive directly into an arid desert. The book gives us no clue as to where the story is set, but it does lead us to the understanding that the setting doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the evil of apathy has no region. It has no address. It lives inside all of us. Doe doesn’t matter. He is literally anonymous. The story doesn’t matter, the mystery doesn’t matter. The only thing that truly counts is the decision to get involved.
Damn it all, he (Detective Somerset) thought, rubbing his temples, you can’t just let things go. Some things have to be confronted. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. Confront it. Correct it.
When we watch Seven, we are constantly confronted with a torrential rain that floods the gutters and makes Brad Pitt’s hair even spikier and sexier. We have heard, from Fincher himself, that they did this to help maintain continuity in the scenes. Pitt had to shoot all of his scenes first so he could get to the set of 12 Monkeys, so they made it rainy to make stitching everything together easier. OK, I understand that completely, but after reading the novel, the weather takes on a whole new meaning.
Rain. Rain Rain Rain. I’m from the Midwest, so I’m no stranger to a storm. What does a hard rain do to a person? Seriously, what do you do when you’re walking down the street and it starts to pour? You put your head down and hurry to the safety of your home or a store, don’t you? I know I do. You rush past those who might need your help. Your blinders come up and you focus on getting inside. Things that would normally bother you are ignored. The rain is a symbol for the very apathy that Somerset is fighting against. It is a distraction. It is something that keeps us from getting involved. We are more likely to let the dehumanization and monetization of our person happen, just so long as we can get out of this fucking rain.
In a way, Somerset and Doe are fighting the same apathy that has poisoned our world. The difference is that Doe tries to preach to the world about its shortcomings, while Somerset gets involved. At the end of the film, Somerset decides to cancel his retirement. He utters his famous line: “’The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”. The final words in the novel are a little different, but they ring true all the same:
He (Somerset) knew he could never leave now. With Mills gone, someone had to stay to fight the fight.
That’s what Seven is to me now. It’s not about the seven deadly sins represented by John Doe’s murders. It’s the seven days that Somerset had left before he could leave. Seven goddamn days and he was free. Instead, he looked apathy in the eye and got involved. So, the next time the rain is falling down and you see something that is wrong, be like Somerset: Confront it. Correct it.
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