Philosophy of the 7 Sins
In the face of retirement, police detective Somerset is tasked with working his last ever case with Mills, a hotheaded new recruit, in search of a serial killer. These brutal murders slowly reveal themselves to be more than just a perverted hobby, but rather a series of calculated punishments for the seven deadly sins. All roads lead to John Doe, who confirms and explains his reasons.
The philosophy of the seven is taken to the extreme, though the reason is straightforward and true enough. Over time, society has become impassive against the sins within (today’s children are not as Bible-driven as before). John’s act is violence, in the name of justice, a rude awakening to the complacent city.
To start the ball rolling, Mills and Somerset encounter John Doe’s first victim headfirst in a bowl of spaghetti. There is no denying that he is fat, one meatball away from a heart attack. The man was force-fed to his death, and the rancid conditions of his apartment do not hide the fact that a mystery clue is hidden behind the refrigerator, leading to the next victim. In fact, this is exactly how John Doe purposefully brings both the detectives closer to him.
The male victim does not get so fat from just a bowl of spaghetti. It is from years and years of over-eating, or worse yet, over-indulging. Gluttony is the inordinate desire to massively consume. The Book of Genesis refers to Sodom as the place of vileness and corruption, wherein the sin “fullness in bread” is born.
“When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee. And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. – Proverbs 23:2
Some people may blame it on greed, whereas others might blame capitalism. On a more grounded note, over-consumption is not just seen in the chubby guys featured in Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me. The truth is, North America faces a dietary problem like no one else does. Nowadays, fatty foods are all the rage and fast food has taken over the world. It is unhealthy, obviously. People are stuffing themselves beyond necessity, ignoring their doctor’s advice and also the needs of others. There is only a finite number of bowls of spaghetti, so the impetus lies in whether something will be done to the people unwilling to share.
Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to the light.
What exactly is greed? You could classify gluttony under the greed category, but greed contains more than just a voracious appetite. There is no logical fine line between supply and demand, only more and more demand. It involves the betterment of the self and depravity of others, unethically wanting more than necessary, which leads to deceit and sin.
A pound of flesh, no more no less, no cartilage no bone, only flesh.
Erich Fromm, a German psychologist, states:
Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.
Shortly after the first victim, a defence attorney is discovered in his own office, bled dry. John Doe describes the reason for this murder as the greed sin. The victim dedicated everything to defending criminals in court, all for financial gain. These criminals include the likes of rapists and murderers. In today’s world, greed runs amock the streets, killing the innocent, and polluting nature. Humans have inherently surrendered themselves to greed, which begs if this sort of lifestyle is sustainable forever.
Troubled by the killings, Detective Somerset heads over to the library in order to learn more about the seven deadly sins. In the background, Bach’s baroque piece “Air on G String” is playing on the radio. It was Dante who wrote The Divine Comedy, a 14th century escapade into the three realms of death, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, all wrapped up in an epic poem. Dante describes the nine circles (or layers) of hell, each with their unique characteristics, those condemned were meant to be punished accordingly.
The best definition of sloth is laziness. Nobody can be absolute workhorses all the time, but nobody should be constantly procrastinating either. This is the antithesis of productivity. Whether it may be staring at your television’s next streaming service, or scrolling through your social media feed, the harsh psychological truth of consumer dissatisfaction has paralyzed many of today’s population. Humans can only advance by learning and improving, not by sitting around wasting in a state of limbo.
Following greed, the two detectives find a puzzle piece – a man bound to his bed for a whole year. Through various medications, he has been allowed to barely survive, and once found, can only live out the short rest of his life in douleur. Why tie him there for so long? For not doing anything useful in his life. There is not a single culture in the world that sees laziness as a virtue, so much that progressivism is a product of human ingenuity.
Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him.
– Benjamin Franklin
And then there is sex. Everyone has these sexual ideas, maybe even fantasies. Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness, psychologists will tell you. Lust is propels people’s craving for an object, inducing an intense fervour. The dictionary defines it as fervour for power or sex, but everyone knows it is always the latter. The excruciating need to align your body with another one in a libidinous manner will cause trouble, the fourth victim can certainly relate.
Under the rainy sky, Mills and Somerset get the cue to some kind of underground sex dungeon, and through a hallway of doors, they arrive in front of a petrified male client. He was held at a gun point by John Doe to mercilessly fornicate with an unfortunate whore. This whore, according to John, had sold her body out to lustful men, therefore deserving of the penetrating punishment of lust itself. She was repeatedly stabbed to death by the knife attached to the man’s penis.
Although too much lust will obviously be the downfall of man (or woman in this case), a standard amount of it can be meaningful. Boys have testosterone whilst girls have estrogen. These hormones are designed to create physical attraction. Gluttony, greed and lust are similar sins because they all push people to strive for more. However, if left unchecked, they can fuel hatred, rape and even murder.
The writer famous for his libertine sexuality, Marquis de Sade, whose works have inspired the taboo film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, blissfully summed up the double-edged knife that is pain and pleasure.
Lust is to the other passions what the nervous fluid is to life; it supports them all, lends strength to them all; ambition, cruelty, avarice, revenge, are all founded on lust.
John Doe has been reading his literature.
Call for help and you’ll live, but you’ll be disfigured. Or, you can put yourself out of your own misery.
John Doe strikes again. This time, he permanently damages a pretty woman’s face, and gives her the option to call for help and risk eternal shame.
“Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth.” Ezekiel 28:17
Once the greatest amongst the angels, Lucifer the light-bearer was removed from the skies due to his pride and plot to overtake God’s very own throne.
Today’s biggest sin plaguing people would arguably be pride; social media dominates everyone’s attention span. The difference between self-love and narcissism is often murky, while a pandemic of online beauty pageants renders learning and improvement futile. Consumption has since reached new heights, because people become increasingly dissatisfied with modern-day life, so they are driven to ask for more. Lucifer’s allegorical downfall is that his hauteur, or love for one’s own excellence could potentially lead to one’s undoing.
Much like the rest of these sins, there always seems to be two facets to them. Often times, when someone labels you as a proud person, or any of the other sinful personalities, it usually is not something too damaging. There should be laudable pride in appearance and workrate. There should be pride in knowing your best traits too. The question comes: when do we draw the line? The female victim in question chose self-love over the more important matters at hand.
As Iago makes insinuations about Desdemona’s adultery and Othello pressures him to reveal what he knows, Iago warns Othello against succumbing to jealousy. Of course, Iago issues this warning with a false earnestness. That is, he knows that saying the word “jealousy” and conjuring an offensive visual image will intensify Othello’s concern. Iago’s anthropomorphizing of jealousy as a “green-eyed monster” is famous, and his use of the color green stems from a Renaissance belief that green was a “bilious hue,” linked to an imbalance of the humors that caused fear and jealousy.
Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. (III.iii.)
Envy or jealousy, the results mean the same thing for John Doe. He desires what the other person possesses. On a more important front, it is the indignation of another’s quality of life, maybe even their achievements. In John’s final act, he rears the ugly face of envy and decides to rob Mills of his pregnant wife.
It is in fantasy that people manage to know anything. Between reality and fantasy, we resort to imagination to fill in the gap. The fine line between what is and what is not often becomes too blurry, such is our perception of whom we admire.
Why are many people so unhappy today? It is almost a culmination of several sins; we become jealous of others and fail to realize our own gifts. The sixth victim, John Doe, craves normalcy. He probably is a huge believer in the American Dream, the calm domestic life and a perfect white-dress wife. Why are people so envious of one another? The perfect opposite of those prideful is those who see themselves as mundane and unaccomplished. Freud relatively describes this with Transference, allowing the patient to transfer inner feelings towards another. Envy is a subconscious act after all.
How clean is John Doe’s palate? First and foremost, he cannot escape punishment for what he does throughout the film. Apart from this, it is entirely possible that he too is guilty of the sins he harmed others of. He was unable to learn to live with his own faults and conversely, unable to kill himself for it. Eager to become a messiah of sorts, he concocted this spiteful mission in the alcoves on his mind, so that his own remorse and self-loathing could be numbed, or pardoned. Maybe he is just psychologically deranged and enjoys this type of stuff.
Perhaps he took the Bible too seriously during his teenage years. Perhaps he lived like the Amish do, where religion takes centre stage. Perhaps this devoutly religious background of his often used punishment for misbehaviour, hence the previous five victims. He takes God’s words literally, and he sees himself a servant of God.
In Dante’s own words while he describes wrath:
love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.
When we are resentful of another person, we sometimes induce a psychological interpretation in the form of wrath. This act of “defence” will henceforth be the retaliation against the offender. In the name of vengeance, we can go really long distances for some goals, obviously depicted by Mills.
Sure, individual patience levels can be factors in deciding how far we could go, some individuals unable to come to terms with wrongdoings. Someone must pay. Once the temper is lost, wrath will reveal the brutish creature underneath, the vulgar monster that is no longer governed by the laws of men.
What’s in the box?
The most well-known line from Se7en is one of shock, then rage. After finding out that his wife was killed by the very man kneeling before him, Mills is put at a standstill. Knowing John’s audacity, it is definitely something he is capable of, hence the reluctant belief. Mills loses his pregnant wife to the sadistic maniac, because Seven is not a film with a happy ending. The grim colour schemes already say as much. Mills shoots John Doe in the head. We berate John for his merciless slaughters, calling him evil with a side of messianic delusion. Like it or not, Mills does the same thing. In philosophy, a utilitarian calls for the greater good whilst maintaining the minimal loss of life. There is no need to kill John yourself. Let him face the legal repercussions, locked away without ever obtaining parole. Was Mills right to kill John himself, given the tragedy of his wife?
Perhaps no matter the severity of these sins, Se7en argues the necessity of them. Our humanistic understanding of morality can only go so far, different cultures clashing about what are good and bad. Can divine morality be the type of morality that unites us all? John mentions repeatedly that we have become sick as a society, neglecting the wrongdoings and lacking the courage to punish where necessary.
John Doe believes that morality should not be subjective, the film Se7en does too. There is no shortcut to being morally correct, and those with true morals will often have to contort their rules to fit the amoral’s. The biggest difference between book-smart and street-smart is the realization that man is ugly on the inside. No, this is not an insult, just a mere fact. We like to believe ourselves as rational creatures, capable of higher thinking, but our actions are almost always devoid of reason. In the pursuit of more power, money and beauty, the decay of humanity does not seem like such a bad idea.
The tiny details such as symbols are hints beckoning at the dramatic ending to Se7en. The shaking in the apartment; a backhanded metaphor for the fragile structure of John’s ascribed version of today’s society. Mills cannot even find solace in his own home, a painful reminder that evil is everywhere in the city. The constant rain suddenly replaced by the sun, for when the detectives finally think that they have won the battle, the same society that they are protecting hands them another victim. John Doe may be the person to behead Tracy, but Mills is just one of many innocents who have lost something due to a deadly sinner. When the citizens become unstable, so too does society. Our own actions demand reactions.
It is quite obvious that Somerset is the seasoned veteran when compared to Mills, his experience in the brutal climate has rendered him apathetic. In the beginning, Somerset was getting ready for retirement. Then, he changes his mind.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.
John Doe is not correct in his extreme methods, that much is easy to tell. The hard pill for us and Mills to swallow is that we are flawed, more flawed than we could ever imagine. What is important is that we recognize this fact, then strive for better. Like Somerset, the fight must come within us in order to make the world a better place. It is not an easy task; too many individual differences makes it hard to unite completely. It would require uniform agreement on matters such as capitalism, sex work, and fame. The list goes on really. The world may not be kind, or just, but it is a world worth fighting for.