The Words on the Page



by Andrew Kevin Walker

White Draft - November 1994

Crime Drama, 132 pages

"It's always impressive to see a man feeding off his emotions." - Somerset

Although I said I was reading psychological dramas and thrillers this month, I would definitely classify Se7en as a crime drama. To me, a psychological storyline, whether skewing toward drama or thriller, must emphasize the unstable psychological state or psychological breakdown of its main character. While the filmed version is quite different from the script draft I read, on paper there are two major problems with this falling into a psychological genre. First, Somerset is the protagonist. We start and end the film with him, and he is our way in. While Mills, and, it can be argued, Doe, are somewhat having psychological breakdowns, Somerset's world view does not change. Secondly, neither does ours as there is no true mind-bender twist that forces everything into a different light.

A crime drama, on the other hand, has only to focus on crime. With its linear progression of Somerset and Mills trying to track down a serial killer, this is exactly what Se7en does. Namely: An unlikely pair of detectives tracks down a killer using the seven deadly sins as inspiration for his crimes.

The number seven is especially significant. First, when Somerset meets Mills, it is revealed that Somerset will be retiring in seven days. As a result, we know how long the story has to unfold. This is underlined by title cards - "Sunday, " "Monday," and so on - as the days pass. Later, it also becomes the number of bodies the killer is striving toward. The duality of these ticking clocks lend the story its underlying tension as it is entirely possible that time will run out. Of note, when Somerset requests that Mills "keeps [him] on as [his] partner a few more days" toward the end of the script, the tension doesn't really dissipate as, by that time, we're more interested in the mounting body count. However, it might have increased the tension if Somerset had somewhere he absolutely had to be at the end of the week as it would have presented another obstacle/complication that needed to be overcome. AS it is, the seven day timeline for Somerset is only a date he has chosen. There is no outside pressure. But, back to the mounting tension from the body count, this scene sets the last bit of the story spine:

Somerset: One of two things will happen. We're either going to get John Doe, or he'll finish his series of seven, and this case will go on for years.

That line from Somerset misdirects us a bit as it stops us from thinking of a third option. Therefore the scripted ending becomes inevitable yet surprising. Now, the written ending is significantly different from the one ultimately filmed. In the scripted version, after Somerset discovers what is in the box, he keeps his gun, pointing it at Mills as Mills tries to decide whether to exact revenge, and Mills is the one to hit Doe, pistol-whipping him and later kicking him. Yet, ultimately, Somerset shoots Doe. The story ends:

Mills stares at Somerset in disbelief.

Mills: What... what are you doing?

Somerset takes a step forward, gun pointed.

Somerset: I'm retiring.

Somerset's eyes are filled with tears.



This ending is much more ambiguous - Did Somerset kill Mills or himself? - and, I think, more interesting.

#Drama #Film

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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