What’s in the Box? A Look Back at David Fincher’s Se7en
Revisiting the 1995 classic featuring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt
“What’s in the box?,” pleads a young Brad Pitt in one of the most unforgettable scenes in cinematic history. Many film enthusiasts have pored over this climactic ending, one worth revisiting again and again, even after 25 years since its release. Se7en, the cult classic film from director David Fincher (Fight Club) and screenplay writer Andrew Kevin Walker (Panic Room), is not for the faint of heart. It’s so nauseating that it actually makes your skin crawl.
The ‘90s was, undoubtedly, a cesspool of serial killer thrillers (see The Silence of the Lambs, The Bone Collector, Urban Legend). In 1995, the crime drama top billed by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, paved the way for the rest.
Set in an endlessly bleak and rainy New York ala Gotham City, veteran and rookie duo Detective Lieutenant William Somerset (Freeman) and Detective David Mills (Pitt) sets aside their differences to search for a brutal killer. “John Doe” employs sadistic, well-maneuvered techniques on his victims representing each of the seven deadly sins. (Let me recount in case you forgot your Christian Living lessons: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust.) It’s fascinating as it is revolting but you can’t seem to look away.
Behind the Scenes
Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker actually came up with the idea of the story from living in New York at a time when there was a crack cocaine epidemic. His original script with the bold ending we know now, mistakenly landed in the hands of Director David Fincher; Walker had to alter the ending upon the request of another director because it was too grotesque. Thankfully, he also had the support of the other cast members. For the superfans, you can even view the first draft of the film on Walker’s website.
None of the main actors were the first choice for the film. The role of Detective Mills was offered originally to Denzel Washington who turned it down because of the disturbing material of the script. For Detective Somerset, Al Pacino was offered the role, too, but he declined and did City Hall instead—because he doesn’t have enough mob movies under his belt apparently.
Speaking of actors, Kevin Spacey, the infamous John Doe (which at this point you, my dear reader, already know), insisted on removing his name at the opening credits of the film as to not ruin the surprise for the audience. In the end credits, his name appears twice. Ironically enough, this did not age well for the now blacklisted actor with his slew of sexual allegations.
When they were filming the chase with John Doe, Brad Pitt actually hurt himself and cut his arm on a windshield; we’re talking severed tendons and exposed bones. Still, he remained a trooper and finished the scene; he only showed his injury to Fincher after the take. They eventually worked the injury into the script when Detective Mills gets attacked by John Doe. He filmed with his arm on a cast for the rest of taping.
Since we’re talking about the chase, the intricately detailed handwritten notebooks of John Doe found in his apartment were actually filled with writing; none of them were blank. Each notebook was completed by the props department after two months, and it cost them $15,000. They went as far as researching the handwriting of psychotic people. They also included collages of crime scenes and sexual fetishes to convey obsession, which you can see more of in the opening credit.
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Alas, we get to talk about the climax of the film featuring a brown cardboard box and a decapitated head. No part of the head was shown in any of the sequences but Fincher has had arguments with fans who believe they saw parts of it. Additionally, the long shots in the sequence featured the actors’ doubles because at the point in the production all three stars, Spacey, Pitt and Freeman, had already shot the maximum takes on set and moved on to different projects.
Want more sadistic Se7en content? check out the 2006 comic series of the same name here.
Art Alexandra Lara