So I was watching Se7en, and it got me thinking about wrath and hope…
Se7en is one of David Fincher’s earliest films, and would in many way usher in his career of dark, gritty filmmaking – often centered around crime. The movie follows Detectives Somerset and Mills who are investigating a series of murders that follow the seven deadly sins, and culminates in one of the most unexpected and talked-about endings in recent movie history.
While the movie is memorable and marketable as a crime thriller with a religious-symbolic hook and a crazy ending, it remains highly regarded for being character-driven and philosophical. It manages to be probing and thoughtful without being too showy and heady, which is a fine line that Fincher’s imitators so often cross. Ultimately, the film is about how different characters respond to an eroding culture. How long can you tolerate an increasingly terrifying and unrecognizable world, and what do you do to manage it? As the movie trades in religious symbolism and motivation, it’s only right that this question be engaged theologically.
Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset is on the brink of leaving the job when the movie begins, tired from years of fighting the darkness and not losing. Brad Pitt’s Detective Mills is something of an optimist, believing in the role of the detective to stop people who do evil. But he is also a hothead, and is largely fueled by disgust and anger toward murderers. John Doe, played by real-life-creep Kevin Spacey, channels his disgust at the world into retributive violence, taking up the mantle of God’s judge, jury, and executioner, as well as a prophet of punishment.
In the end, John Doe uses Detective Mills’ anger against him and shatters his hope to change the world for the better. However, in the aftermath, a renewed hope is found by Detective Somerset, who ends the film deciding to stick around, and saying in a post-script voiceover: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.” Somerset has seen the worst of the darkness, and decides that there is still light to be found and fought for. Perhaps he was won over by Mills, or saved by his own principles. The movie leaves this painfully unclear.
Regardless, I couldn’t help but contrast Somerset’s final word of hope to John Doe’s wrath. While Somerset’s ultimate conviction, that the world in all its darkness is still worth fighting for, is not explicitly a religious one, I think it is more theologically Christian than the argument from depravity. I find that within Christianity, there are so many who are far more concerned with God’s wrath than God’s mercy; those who look and see only darkness needing to be destroyed, as opposed to those who see light needing to be kindled.
Certainly some days it is harder to see light than others. On this 25 year anniversary of Se7en, taking place right before the election of 2020, anyone could be forgiven for being skewed by a sense of impending darkness, and even desiring God’s wrath on certain people or systems. Nevertheless, we need to be careful not to allow our theology to be about darkness and wrath. Not because it’s some slippery slope to serial murder – but because God didn’t come all the way into the darkness of the world to condemn it, but to save it. If there is any belief consistent amongst all Christians, I hope it’s that Jesus came to save, not destroy. The foundation of faith is hope, that even in the midst of all this darkness, God believes this world is worth saving – even on the days where we can’t say with conviction that it’s a “fine place.”