Seven (1995) aka Se7en, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, is a classic 90s thriller. I had the chance to read an early draft of the script. Let’s analyze it.
- Draft Read: January 27, 1992
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 157
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Unnamed City
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning one week
- Genre(s): Thriller, Action, Horror, Mystery, Detective
- Theme(s): Christianity, Psychology, Crime, Morality, Critique of Society
- Protagonist Change: Minimal
Seven is loved by many… and hated by others. Probably more so at the time of production, when it’s pre live leak graphic content was that much more shocking. Unfortunately for me, I tend to read scripts when eating meals, and being easily repulsed my reading pacing slowed to snail… sloth… speed.
Truthfully, there isn’t too much to say about Seven… because everything worth saying has been noted by those who have come before me.
Spoiler alert: In this version of the script, both Mills and Doe die. The pivotal climax occurs in the sewer system (think Marathon Man (1976) or for true fans of classic cinema The Third Man (1949)). It’s kind of a mess and it’s no surprise the actual movie has a different ending.
Regardless, the different ending is interesting for a few reasons. First, I vaguely remember feeling the movie climax, while of course the subject of great “membeable” moments, always felt out of place in the middle of a random desert-like-area when the rest of the movie was set in a dystopian city.
Second, the point of the ending was for Doe to fulfill the seven sins. Regardless of whichever ending was chosen, they all completed the plan.
The inter-character dynamics between Somerset and Mills are complex, believable and strong. More or less they represent youth and hope versus experience and realty, which is said directly on Page 66:
You really meant what you said to Mrs. Gold. You really believe we’ll get him don’t you?
And you don’t?
I wish I still thought like you. I’m so far gone from that.
This is so much so the case that many of the scene locations aren’t all that relevant or memorable. Examples include a bookstore, a bar, a diner, etc. What we really are meant to focus on are the characters and the decisions they make.
There are some odd supporting characters. For example, an drug-addicted artist named William who is friends with Somerset. It’s shared that his business has picked up since he has changed his focus to what I believe is abstract art. There’s a whole little sequence where he essentially butchers a painting then comments that it will sell for a lot (Page 38-39). I guess it’s supposed to be an analogy of how people have lost the true value of art (i.e. society’s decay)… But it’s weird. And it’s yet another example of critiquing society, of which there are many before and many after.
Dialogue & Pacing
Stepping back from the strong dialogue, there are so many moments where what isn’t written speaks louder than what is. What? Well, it’s pretty simple. Let’s take a look at Page 6:
Did their son see it happen?
What kind of question is that? Huh?
He’s dead. His wife killed him. There it is. That’s all. Anything else has nothing to do with nothing.
Somerset replaces the book, digs a cigarette from his pocket.
You and your fucking questions, Somerset. I’m glad I’m getting rid of you today. You know that, you fuck?
The scene goes on, but it’s a great example of using subtle character actions to provide deeper insight into who they really are: In this case, we learn that Somerset feels emotions toward the child AND that he is cool under pressure. Pretty good for saying nothing.
There’s also a nice little hat tip to Midnight cowboy (1969):
(as car leaves)
Fuck you, you son of a bitch! I’m walking here.
The movie does, however, cast the unnamed city in a very negative light. Some lines just don’t have any clear point. For example, there is a “strange” (perhaps psychotic man) whose not very interesting dialogue is shared in detail for a few pages (roughly Pages 18-22). This is followed by an old man angry at Mills and Tracy, which ends the scene (Page 22):
The strange man starts humming a new tune. An old man tries to get through the aisle where Mills and Tracy are kissing.
Excuse me. Excuse me!
What’s the point here? Love is dead, people are hopeless… I really have no clue.
Moving on to pacing, this version of the script takes a bit to get going. We finally learn that it’s about a serial killer on Page 29. Of course, there’s the unexpected moment that sets up the climax where Doe surrenders himself, and most of Acts 1 and 2 follow classic mystery/detective beats.
Obviously it’s an emotional script. It has everything from life and death to love and betrayal. And there are so many themes brought under the magnifying glass in unique and interesting ways.
I will note that I’ve never been a big fan of these 90s neo-noir psychological thrillers. These movies often have big moments followed by minutes of simmering dialogue. I never feel like I can truly connect with the plot or the characters. With that said, this script is one of the best examples of this type of film I have analyzed. Give it a read.
Best Part of The Script
The climax isn’t the best part of the script, but it’s probably the most educational part to read as it’s pretty obvious which parts were problematic and ultimately led to the revised ending. Start on Page 131.