From Storyboard to Celluloid

If, as Cooper and Fincher suggest, the titles for Se7en are to be understood as having been made by Doe himself, it seems safe to conclude that all of the imagery in the sequence has been "selected" by him and is representative of his interests and obsessions. After all, the sequence offers a fairly straightforward narrative; Doe is actively assembling his scrapbooks (literally stitching stories together) out of the detritus, medical follies, and physical and mental miseries of modern human existence. And yet, if this is indeed the case, these insights simply don't mesh

with what we learn about the character over the next two hours. What we have, instead, is a hotchpotch of images and ideas that have been gathered by Cooper and his crew with the unbridled intention of evoking the notion of a deeply troubled - and troubling - personality.

That the specific visuals changed as the title project advanced through preproduction and into production is obvious when one views the storyboards for the title sequence. These sketches are reproduced in Andrea Codrington's 2003 book Kyle Cooper and also appear as "animatics" on the New Line Platinum DVD.21 What they show are key elements that certainly appear in the finished sequence, more or less exactly as they had been conceived: the word "God" being cut out of a dollar bill, a razor blade being used to slice off a fingerprint, a teabag being lowered into a cup, etc. However, as for evidence of people, the storyboards chiefly show a rather ordinary picture of a woman in stockings, rendered in and out of focus. If her presence is suggestive of anything, it is nothing more than a rather quaint, even insipid eroticism.

All of the above-mentioned still images appear in the animatic on the DVD, along with Doe's hands passing over, or deleting, passages from books on pregnancy and sexual disorders.22 That said, the final version of the title sequence shows not the woman in stockings, but a series of images that are so self-consciously "disturbing" as to be trite and, in sum, rather incoherent: photographs of medical procedures (an autopsy, a lo-botomy), medical curiosities (a pair of severely disfigured hands), and medical subjects (a boy's face, a partially undressed boy perhaps standing in a doctor's office, a very small child lying on a bed or on the floor). The most direct inferences, then, are that Doe is a ghoulish, transsexual, bisexual paedophile, whereas the storyboards only suggest that he is heterosexual and mildly voyeuristic.

Given what we learn about Doe in the movie proper, the latter clues seem to be rather more accurate. Richard Dyer has noted that, in the movie, there is actually only the vaguest suggestion that Doe is homosexual, and even this is highly ambiguous.23 There is certainly nothing to suggest he is at all sexually unusual, despite the taunts of Brad Pitt's character, Detective Mills. Indeed, Doe notes with disdain that one of his own victims had been a "pederast," although it was for his sloth that Doe killed him. Se7en's titles, then, are a mélange of largely inaccurate references; they represent not Doe's mindset but a vessel for every received (even clichéd) idea about aberrant behaviour that Cooper - "a true-believing Christian," in Codrington's words - could come up with.24

This conflation clearly doesn't matter in the sense that the filmmakers are basically interested in telegraphing the fact that the person poring over the notebooks is "fucked up," as Fincher puts it on the New Line Platinum DVD of Se7en. However, it does matter if we are concerned about the consequences of misrepresentation, and the slapdash pathologising that is actually at odds with the specific details of the movie it is designed to support.25

If "evil" is, in essence, the thing that we are not, then the Se7en titles work hard to delimit this distinction. Whatever we might encounter as "evil" in the story itself in terms of actions and events, the titles take a much broader purview; they become a vessel into which every received idea about non-normative behaviour can be pictorially represented. This tendency towards universalisation is apparent in Cooper's comment about his work in this genre: "Why deny the existence of evil? Let's all look at it for what it is."26 Our revulsion (and non-identification) is assured, given the way Doe's ghoulish fixations are manifested.

Clive Piercy, a Santa Monica-based graphic designer who was commissioned to create the notebooks that ended up playing such a central role in the titles, suggested that

John Doe wasn't kinky in a normal way; he was even kinkier than the kinky guys, in a kind of straight way. I don't have another way of putting that, but I definitely felt that way, that we couldn't use sexy pornographic pictures; he got turned on by mutilated limbs and decapitated people, and people whose fingers had been sawn off. That to me is what he found sexual.27

It is only when listening to the various audio tracks on the special DVD relating to the design of the books that one discovers that Piercy and his own designers were under significant pressure to make the content of the books as viscerally unpleasant as possible - to the point that they included a genuine suicide note. Here's the exchange between Piercy and his associate John Sable, which is worth repeating in full:

Sable: Clive kept saying "you've got to make it more real"; he kept pushing me because he was being pushed to go there; that way. And I was really getting fed up, and I'd keep going back through these files . . . there was this one file - the guy committed suicide; there was a letter in there, the actual suicide letter, and I thought -

Piercy: Oh, yeah! That's in! [i.e., in the notebooks and the final version of the title sequence]

Sable: I put it in! The guy killed himself, and Clive looked at this letter and he goes, "wow, how did you write this thing?" And I said "it's real" . . . Let the film makers, for pushing us this far, let the film makers deal with "is this real or not?"28

Ultimately, the note may (or may not) be real, but the concern with upping the ante in terms of shock value is still striking. It remains unclear how the presence of the note in Doe's workspace adds any coherence to an already muddy psychological profile.

Film Making

Film Making

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